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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Kelsey Mays
March 11, 2010
With all-new half-ton pickups from Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, GMC and Toyota hitting the market since 2007, the light-duty truck segment is experiencing a wave of new products not seen since the early 2000s. Meanwhile, over in Nissan's stable, the Titan — introduced in late 2003 with the ardor of a presidential bid — soldiers on. Its reliability has been spotty over the years, and it still doesn't offer a V-6 engine or regular-cab configuration. That means the least expensive trim level is still $5,000 more than a stripped-down Ford F-150, Dodge Ram or Chevy Silverado. The Titan is an adequate truck, as full-sizers go, but the years are ticking away and Nissan hasn't kept up with the competition. The Basics In ascending order, Titan trims include the XE, SE, PRO-4X and LE (see a side-by-side comparison with the 2009 model to see what's different this year). All Titans have a standard 5.6-liter V-8 engine and five-speed automatic transmission, and the only cab styles available are an extended King Cab and a four-door crew cab. The interior comes in five- or six-seat layouts, and beds range from 5.6 to 7.3 feet; last year's 8.2-foot bed, available on the King Cab, has been dropped. Most trims can have rear- or four-wheel drive, but the offroad PRO-4X comes only with four-wheel drive.
I drove a four-wheel-drive, five-seat King Cab PRO-4X. Going & Stopping Nissan's stout 5.6-liter V-8 makes 317 horsepower and 385 pounds-feet of torque, and E85 flex-fuel compatibility is a no-charge option. Peak torque comes at just 3,400 rpm, giving the Titan lusty acceleration off the line. I didn't have a chance to drive with a loaded cargo box, but with four adult passengers the drivetrain still made easy work of uphill on-ramps.
That's impressive for a standard engine, but other trucks' optional V-8s are pulling ahead. Our cohorts at PickupTrucks.com held a light-duty V-8 shootout in late 2008, comparing the Titan with a 5.7-liter Toyota Tundra, a 5.4-liter F-150, a 6.2-liter Silverado and GMC Sierra, and a 5.7-liter Ram. All six had crew-cab layouts and four-wheel drive. The Titan ran the quarter-mile in 15.96 seconds unloaded and 21.04 seconds with a 6,500-pound trailer — placing fifth and fourth, respectively. If you want to see the full comparison, click here.
We drove a 2008 four-wheel-drive Titan LE a few years back and found the five-speed automatic to lag a bit in kickdown response and the shifts to be generally on the slow side. That doesn't seem to be the case now: The 2010 Titan's five-speed responds quickly to light accelerator prods, so maneuvers in the passing lane come easily. Videographer Matt Avery took the Titan on a round-trip interstate drive between Chicago and Detroit and reported good passing power and little transmission lag.
That said, hilly terrain and heavy loads can stymie this drivetrain. At PickupTrucks.com's 2008 shootout, driving a 7.2-percent hill climb with a 6,500-pound trailer, the Titan required 32.38 seconds to go a third of a mile — placing it dead last in the competition. The first-place Silverado, by comparison, took less than 29 seconds.
With proper equipment, the Titan can tow up to 9,500 pounds. That's also the lowest maximum tow rating in the segment. Dodge upped the trailer rating for its 1500 series Ram from 9,100 pounds to 10,000 pounds for the 2010 model year.
Pickup Capacities Compared
Chevrolet Silverado 1500
Dodge Ram 1500
$26,320 - $39,120
$21,820 - $39,675
$20,850 - $41,775
$23,455 - $42,455
$20,610 - $42,650
Available cab styles
Max. towing (lbs.)
Max. payload (lbs.)
Bed lengths (ft.)
5.6 - 7.3
5.6 - 8.1
5.8 - 8.2
5.6 - 8.1
5.6 - 8.2
4.6L V-8 2V, 4.6L V-8 3V, 5.4L V-8, 6.2L V-8
4.3L V-6, 4.8L V-8, 5.3L V-8, 6.2L V-8
4.0L V-6, 4.6L V-8, 5.7L V-8
3.7L V-6, 4.7L V-8, 5.7L V-8
*Prices for 2010 models exclude destination charge and options or accessories. Source: Manufacturers
Four-wheel-discantilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are standard. The brakes are among the Titan's high points: They're powerful but easy to modulate for smooth stops. The Tundra's discs feel even stronger, but as full-size pickups go — or stop, I should say — the Titan feels remarkably sure-footed. (That impression holds up in a comparison, too. In PickupTrucks.com's shootout, the Titan averaged about 158 feet to stop from 60 mph, placing it second only to the Tundra.)
That said, the Titan still doesn't offer factory-installed trailer-brake control, which the Silverado, Sierra, Ram and F-150 do. Simple trailer-brake prewiring is optional on the Titan, but you'd still have to go to the aftermarket to get the system. If Nissan wanted to gain some sales back, a factory trailer-brake option could be low-hanging fruit.
The four-wheel-drive system employs a part-time transfer case with separate high and low gears. I didn't have a chance to blaze any trails, but the system switched seamlessly from one setting to the next. The PRO-4X model adds an electronically locking rear differential — a very useful piece of four-wheel kit — which ensures equal speeds for each rear wheel in low-traction situations. It also includes Rancho shock absorbers, a lower 3.36:1 final drive ratio, larger tires and skid plates over the oil pan and transfer case. Ground clearance increases to 10.7 inches, versus 10.2 to 10.6 inches in lesser Titans; that figure beats all but the F-150's available 11.2 inches. Though not as hard-core as Ford's F-150 Raptor, the PRO-4X is fairly robust, as off-road packages go. It's comparable to Ford's F-150 FX4 offering. Ride & Handling Like most large pickups, the Titan's ladder frame rides an independent front and leaf-spring rear suspension. That bodes well for off-roading and heavy-duty wear, but not so well for bumpy roads, where the rear wheels dance around a bit. As pickups go, the Titan does an admirable job keeping its footing. Potholes and speed bumps elicit some reverberations, but the suspension regains its composure after a moment or two. Throw some weight in the pickup bed, and the ride quality becomes SUV-like.
On the highway, things aren't quite as impressive. On smooth pavement in the '08 Titan LE, I cruised in near silence, with little road noise and none of the unsettling creaks that characterized body-on-frame trucks just a few years ago. Rougher patches bring out the Titan's roots, however. On one stretch of Chicago expressway, the dashboard and headliner rattled incessantly, and the suspension settled into a turbulent rhythm. On his drive to Detroit and back in our 2010 tester, Avery noted significant tire noise — likely the result of the PRO-4X's massive BF Goodrich Rugged Trail all-terrain rubber.
Like many trucks, the Titan exhibits noticeable body roll, and the suspension dives forward a bit under heavy braking. The steering wheel has less power assistance than I would expect in a pickup, so tight parking-lot maneuvers require a bit of effort. The payoff comes on curvy roads, where the wheel delivers a feeling of connection with the road that's rare in this class. During PickupTrucks.com's six-truck comparison, testers agreed: In extreme cornering situations, the Titan's spirited handling impressed. Styling & Utility The Titan's massive grille has long been a familiar sight; in Nissan's lineup, it adorns one other truck and three SUVs. Most Titans have 18-inch steel or alloy wheels, while the LE upgrades to 20-inch alloys. Crew-cab beds measure 5 feet, 7 inches or 7 feet, 3 inches; King Cab beds measure 6 feet, 7 inches. Last year's 8-foot, 3-inch bed, optional on the King Cab, is gone, but Nissan still claims the longest-in-class bed for crew cabs. (Automakers are like politicians sometimes: They never stop squabbling over who has the most of what.)
Cargo options include a spray-in bedliner, a lockable compartment behind the left rear fender, a 12-volt power outlet in the bed and a tie-down system with C-channel rails along the floor and walls. The rails carry movable tie-down cleats, each rated to hold 200 pounds. The cleats have sturdy metal construction, which is more than I can say for the cleats in some pickups.
Interior storage features include standard flip-up rear seats. They create a nearly flat load floor, save a low driveline hump in the center. On SE models, a fold-flat front passenger seat is optional. The Inside The cabin in my test truck had a lot of typical big-pickup fixtures — hefty door handles, a big armrest and no shortage of overhead storage bins — but its textures are starting to look low-rent, particularly compared with the cabins of the Detroit competition. The front seats are wide and comfortable, though the adjustment range of the power driver's seat in my truck was limited. The rear doors swing open nearly 180 degrees to access the rear seats, but they also anchor the front seat belts, so people in front have to unbuckle if someone in back needs to get out. Legroom is limited back there, but I have yet to find an extended-cab pickup where it isn't.
Nissan's chrome-ringed radio and A/C dials are attractive, but they might prove difficult to use if you're wearing gloves — especially because the fan settings are now arranged in seven or eight separate buttons instead of a single knob, as they used to be. (The Silverado's automatic climate control is even worse for glove-handed usability, while the Tundra's oversized dials are much better.) Safety & Reliability In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Titan earned the highest score, Good, for front impacts. Side-impact results are disappointing, however: Even with its newly standard side-impact and side curtain airbags, the Titan earned a score of Marginal. IIHS cited poor torso protection for the driver and marginal head protection for rear passengers.
Crash tests like that used to be par for the course for pickups, but others have done better; the F-150 earned IIHS' top score, Good, in front- and side-impact tests. After some structural revisions for the 2010 model year, the Silverado now scores Acceptable in side-impact tests.
IIHS has not yet performed its roof-strength tests — required for a model to earn Top Safety Pick status — on any full-size pickup.
Major standard safety features on the Titan include six airbags and front active head restraints. Click here for a full list. Antilock brakes are standard, and for 2010, so is an electronic stability system. Stability systems are an important feature, and in past years pickups have trailed the market in making them standard. This year, all six major players finally include standard stability systems.
The Titan's reliability is spotty. Consumer Reports gave the truck poor marks in recent years, citing trouble spots on rear-wheel-drive models with squeaks and rattles, braking hardware and power accessories. For 2010, the publication rated the rear-wheel-drive Titan Much Worse Than Average for predicted reliability, while the four-wheel-drive Titan was rated Average. Full-size pickups are a mixed bunch: Since its 2009 redesign, the F-150 has returned decent reliability scores, while the redesigned Ram 1500's scores are slightly worse. The Silverado and Tundra vary a great deal, depending on drivetrain. Features & Pricing A rear-wheel-drive King Cab XE starts at $26,320. Standard features include 18-inch steel wheels, a CD stereo and air conditioning. The SE ($28,320) adds alloy wheels, cruise control, remote keyless entry and various power accessories. The XE and SE come in King or crew cabs with rear- or four-wheel drive; SE crew-cab models also offer the extended-length bed.
The PRO-4X ($34,050) has various off-road enhancements and standard four-wheel drive; it also comes in either cab arrangement. The LE ($36,420), meanwhile, comes only as a crew cab, with rear- or four-wheel drive. It loses most of the off-road hardware but gets 20-inch wheels, leather upholstery, heated power seats and more. A navigation system, moonroof and backseat DVD entertainment system are optional.
On the SE and PRO-4X, moving from the King Cab to the crew cab costs an extra $2,200. It's $2,550 on the XE, but you get a few more features with that. Four-wheel drive adds $2,700 to $2,880, depending on trim level, and upgrading to the long bed on the SE crew cab adds $450 to $480. With a full range of options, the Titan LE tops out around $42,500. Titan in the Market The Titan might be a solid choice for some, but if Nissan wants to broaden its appeal, it needs to improve the truck's reliability and expand the available features and configurations — that means single cabs, V-6 engines, factory trailer-brake controls and more. Nissan has announced plans to build a next-generation Titan at some point, but we have yet to see any sign it's coming. Future possibilities mean little right now, and in a competitive segment with at least three entrenched leaders, today's Titan falls short.