Truckin' Tennessee Trails in a Nissan Titan XD


Nissan's Titan pickup truck is the new kid at school — picked on, not given any respect, overlooked when it comes time to choose teams for sports. But that's OK; Nissan seems to relish being the underdog of the pickup class as it gives the automaker freedom to do things a little out of the box. The latest version of the Mississippi-built Titan has been out for a couple of years now, and Titans are still a rare sight in most parts of the country. But that doesn't bother the Nissan crew; they're soldiering along with a truck that they're eager to prove is as capable as domestic-brand pickups.

With that in mind, I found myself in the parking lot of the Hilton at McGhee Tyson Airport staring at a 2018 Titan half-ton and Titan XD pickups as journalists converged upon Knoxville, Tenn., for the first part of Nissan's Great Titan Meat Up. The Meat Up was the latest in a series of special events designed to showcase the Titan in the wild. Meat Up weekend kicked off with a day off-roading in the Smoky Mountains followed by a smoked meat cooking competition in Pigeon Forge.

A Mix of Off-Road Titans

The off-road event took us into the hills of Windrock Park, one of the largest off-road parks in the country encompassing more than 72,000 acres laced with more than 300 miles of off-highway trails that accommodate everything from side-by-sides to dirt bikes to full-size 4×4 trucks like the Titans. Our fleet was a mix of Titan half tons with the 390-horsepower, 5.6-liter Endurance V-8 and Titan XDs — Nissan's 'tweener pickup that's not quite a half ton, not quite a heavy duty — powered by a 310-hp, turbo-diesel 5.0-liter Cummins V-8. All trucks were the Pro-4X off-road trim, with higher ride heights, all-terrain tires, Bilstein shocks, an electronic locking rear differential and some additional underbody skid-plate protection that came in handy on the trails.

Unfortunately, rain the night before our off-roading adventure rendered the trails slick and muddy, with puddles of deep, standing water everywhere. Perfect for getting photos of trucks plowing through the muck, less great for keeping everything in one piece and paint off the rocks. I drove a Titan XD Pro-4X King Cab with two rear-hinged doors opening wide to a junior-sized rear seat. On the road, the Titan XD is an excellent truck, with an astonishingly compliant ride and plenty of grunt from the Cummins engine that puts out 555 pounds-feet of torque. The Bilstein off-road shocks that are meant for trail bashing soaked up any road imperfections on the pavement, and the steering had a heft to it that imbues the driver with plenty of confidence. Visibility was good, thanks to deep side windows that feature a kickdown in the beltline, and the interior has seen some improvements in assembly quality since I first sampled this generation of Titan. It felt as solid, well-built and upscale as any of the American-brand pickups.

How It Performed

Once the pavement ended and the trails began, the Titan XD soldiered on with no issue at all. The electronic four-wheel-drive selector slipped into 4-High with the twist of a knob, and 4-Low with a brief shift into neutral and another twist of the knob. Despite its size and heft, the Titan XD barreled up loose, rocky inclines and maneuvered around tight bends with an impressively tight turning circle. In most conditions, the all-terrain tires would be fine, but a more aggressive tread would be needed for conditions any wetter than the ones we encountered. Deep ruts and thick mud occasionally required us to give some hills two or three attempts, but not once did our beast leave us stuck.

And only once did we leave some paint on a rock, thankfully, after our Titan slid sideways on a slippery section of the trail, bashing the front left bumper and destroying the foglight. Even though I assured our Nissan hosts that it would just buff right out that's, of course, not so; it's going to need a new bumper.

Up Next: A Smokin' Competition

But off-roading was only half the tale of the Great Titan Meat Up. Day Two was a smoked meat cooking competition, wherein your favorite team faced off against four other media teams and two Nissan teams in the hills of the Smoky Mountains. See, the former head of Nissan Trucks, Billy Hayes, is a huge smoked meat hobbyist — and one day he asked, "Why don't we build a smoker into the back of a Titan?" before inviting other teams to face off against Hayes — who is now vice president of Nissan Regional Operations, North America — and Team Nissan in several smoked meat categories.

Stay tuned to see whose cuisine reigned supreme. photos by Christian Lantry



Photo of Aaron Bragman
Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

Latest expert reviews