In a surprising development, the 2021 Nissan Titan crew cab fared worse in a major crash test after getting recent structural changes and at least one additional safety feature for the 2020 model year. For the 2021 model year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety issued the full-size pickup truck a rating of acceptable in its small overlap crash test for the passenger side (out of good, acceptable, marginal or poor). That’s down from the good rating IIHS issued in the same test for most 2017-19 Titans.
Although such downgrades are rare, it’s important to keep this in context. IIHS regularly conducts six crashworthiness tests, an evaluation of headlight effectiveness, two tests for crash-avoidance technology and an evaluation of child-seat fitment. All but the child-seat test play a role in the agency’s influential Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus awards.
The Titan’s downgrade comes in one of the six crashworthiness tests. The news doesn’t necessarily mean the Titan got less safe for 2021, and possibly 2020, though not all testing was performed on a 2020 model. (Nor is the opposite necessarily true; you’ll have to weigh your own needs.) Nissan added automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a critical safety technology, as standard equipment beginning with the 2020 model year. The system passed IIHS’ tests with flying colors for both vehicle and pedestrian detection.
Here are four takeaways on the 2021 Titan’s IIHS crash tests:
- Beginning with 2021 models built after September 2020, Nissan added a passenger-side knee airbag. Following that, IIHS published results for the passenger-side small overlap test on both those crew-cab and extended-cab models with the extra knee airbag. The agency issued an acceptable rating for both variants, citing in a Feb. 2 press release that the downgrade stemmed from increased intrusion of front-seat passenger space.
- Headlight effectiveness for the Titan declined beginning with the 2020 model year.
- Across the board, crew and extended cabs added effective automatic emergency braking systems with pedestrian detection beginning with the 2020 model year.
- If gaps in safety data bother you, avoid the Titan extended cab entirely; it’s missing more results still. In a similar vein, note that these results are specific to the light-duty Titan, not the heavier-duty Titan XD.
What About the 2017-20 Titans? And King Cab?
For the current-generation Titan, which hit dealerships in late 2016 as a 2017 model, it’s the tip of a complex iceberg that could easily befuddle any safety-minded shoppers considering a new or lightly used example. Here’s the breakdown:
- Aside from an early batch assembled through August 2017, the 2017-19 Titan crew cab received top scores in all six IIHS crashworthiness tests. The extended cab (which Nissan calls the King Cab) received top scores in four tests, with results unpublished on the remaining two. Both variants received marginal ratings for headlight effectiveness, and neither one offered any collision-avoidance technology.
- For 2020, Nissan revised the Titan’s airbags, added a driver’s knee airbag and new rear seat belts, and changed the front frame structure, hinge pillar, roof rail and lower sill, according to IIHS. That garnered top scores in five out of six tests for the crew cab, with the sixth test — the passenger-side small overlap evaluation mentioned above — unavailable. Also beginning with the 2020 model year, headlight performance declined on both Titan cabs to the agency’s worst grade, poor.
- For the King Cab, meanwhile, results for the passenger-side small overlap test are unavailable for 2017-20, and a separate roof-crush test is unavailable across all model years.
The agency has not published any results on the passenger-side small overlap test for the 2020 Titan or model-year 2021 examples built before September 2020. As such, it’s unclear how the extra knee airbag played into the lesser rating, or how any 2020-21 Titan built before September would have fared in that test. What’s more, the King Cab still lacks full results dating back to 2017, as IIHS has never published roof-crush tests for that truck.
With less-than-stellar results in two of the nine criteria tests, Titan is ineligible for a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick Plus; as of publication, the 2021 Ram 1500 crew cab is the only full-size truck with an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Either 2020 award requires top results in six tests and top or second-tier results in the remaining three. Finally: If you’re wondering why a 2021 model is eligible for 2020 awards, it’s because IIHS’ calendar-year awards don’t always align with model years, leading to overlaps where cars from the next model year receive awards from the old calendar year. The agency plans to roll out its 2021 awards in the “late winter,” spokesman Joe Young told Cars.com in December 2020, but criteria won’t change.