Cars.com photos by Matthew Barnes
Nissan has been in the U.S. pickup truck game for a long time, starting with the Datsun in the late 1950s. A lot has changed since then, and Nissan has come a long way. The full-size Titan began life in 2003 as a 2004 model and is currently in its second generation, which went on sale as a 2017 model. Nissan has refreshed the half-ton Titan for 2020 with an updated interior, engine and transmission, making it more competitive.
Just as in years past, Nissan is offering the Pro-4X off-road trim for those interested in a more capable truck. This trim comes with 275/70R18 General Grabber A/T tires, which are about 33 inches tall. While the tires aren’t much bigger than those available on other trim levels, they are more aggressive. Along with the upgraded tires, the Pro-4X gets additional convex mirrors for better visibility, off-road gauges, Bilstein shocks, hill start and hill descent control, steel skid plates and, most importantly, a locking rear differential.
How does all this gear help it perform off-road? To find out, we put the 2020 Titan Pro-4X through some typical off-road paces: dirt and gravel roads, an articulation hill climb and a steep hill climb.
High-Speed Dirt and Gravel
The Titan Pro-4X is really in its element when traveling well-maintained dirt and gravel roads. Over relatively smooth sections of gravel and dirt, the Titan was planted with predictable steering and good traction. The Bilstein shocks kept the ride smooth without any jarring. It performed less admirabley on less-maintained dirt and gravel roads with significant holes, whoops and bumps. The suspension travel is limited and it struggled to overcome the larger deformities in the road. (The suspension wasn’t designed for desert pre-running, which shouldn’t be an issue for most customers.)
Nissan has two main traction systems for the Titan Pro-4X: active brake limited slip and four-wheel drive with a rear locking differential.
ABLS, which is similar to Toyota’s active traction control, Jeep’s brake traction control and many other systems, uses the antilock brake system to apply the brakes to the wheels that are slipping. ABLS is standard on all 4WD Titans. The ABLS system works in 4WD High, but it applies the brakes with a jerky motion. It only adds a little bit of power to the wheels with traction, then releases. It was enough to climb a small hill, but as I found out later, it wasn’t as effective on steep hills. In 4WD Low, the ABLS performed much smoother and the truck had a much easier climb even with two wheels without traction.
Differential lockers are superior to brake-based systems and limited-slip differentials in many off-road situations. In the case of the Titan Pro-4X, the rear differential lock can only be engaged when the truck is in 4WD Low. It’s also worth noting that there is no center differential in the transfer case, so with the rear differential locked and the truck in 4WD Low, both rear wheels and one front wheel must be without traction for the vehicle to get stuck. Not surprisingly, with the rear locked, the Titan had no problem on the articulation hill.
Suspension travel on the articulation hill was about the same as the non-off-road variants. All half-ton trucks have similar setups with solid rear axles and independent front suspensions, and the Titan falls in this group. The amount of articulation on the Pro-4X is on par with the Ram 1500 Rebel with air suspension, but not as good as some others in this class.
Steep Hill Climb
The steep hill had three sections with two main lines in the middle section. The entry section tested the approach angle with a flat spot ascending into a steep climb. The middle section was a steep climb that was fairly flat on the right line but very rutted out on the left. The exit section transitioned from the steep hill to level ground quickly, which tests the breakover angle. I always start my tests on the hard line and if the vehicle can’t make it, I then move to the easy line. No vehicle I have tested has made either line in 2WD, and the Titan Pro-4X was no different.
When entering the steep hill, I had to carefully approach at an angle so that the front bumper wouldn’t drag on the ground. The Titan does have a beefy radiator skid plate to protect the important bits, but the painted plastic bumper can be easily scratched.
In 4WD High, the Pro-4X struggled quite a bit on the hard line. There were many sections where I was going full throttle, but due to the ABLS and traction control systems, the vehicle was barely crawling. Eventually, it made it up the hard line in 4WD High, but it took a lot of effort.
The Titan had a much easier time making the climb in 4WD Low. There was still some slipping and sliding as it transferred power side to side, but it was much more controlled and effortless than in 4WD High. Flipping the rear differential lock on made a massive difference. The climb was nearly effortless with minimal wheel slippage. Taking the hardest section of the hard line was a breeze.
Upon cresting the hill, I was surprised to find that the underbelly didn’t touch. The breakover angle of the Titan Pro-4X is slightly less than many of its competitors, which have raised suspensions.
How Does It Compare?
There are many competitors in the half-ton off-road truck class. The Ford F-150 Raptor sits on the wild end, while the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Trail Boss resides on the mild end. The Titan Pro-4X is much more the latter; its closest competitors are the Silverado 1500 Trail Boss, Ram 1500 Rebel, Toyota Tundra TRD Pro and Ford F-150 with the FX4 Off-Road Package.
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For high-speed driving, the Tundra TRD Pro is the best — excluding the purpose-built Raptor. The Pro-4X is about even with the Ram Rebel and Chevy Trail Boss when hitting the dirt fast. When it comes to slow-speed crawling, the Pro-4X is on par with the top dogs due to its locking rear differential and best-in-class crawl ratio. Holding the Pro-4X back are its lack of lift and average approach, breakover and departure angles. In those areas, it’s more equal with the Tundra TRD Pro and F-150 FX4. The Rebel and Trail Boss are both lifted and provide better angles. Ground clearance is 9.8 inches, which is slightly less than the Ram Rebel, Tundra TRD Pro and Chevy Trail Boss, but higher than the F-150 FX4.
Should You Buy One?
If you’re looking for a half-ton truck that can do it all and for a good value, then the Nissan Titan Pro-4X might be for you. The 5.6-liter V-8 has good power and torque, and the nine-speed automatic does an excellent job of getting that power to the ground. It can tow more than 9,000 pounds and still has some great off-road features for the person who needs some capability to get to their favorite spot.
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