When Nissan introduced its second-generation American-made full-size Titan pickup truck in 2015, it included something new — the Titan XD model. But Nissan didn’t explain as well as it should have what the truck was. It was called a “light-duty-plus” or a “heavy-duty-lite” pickup, a white-space model that didn’t exist among the American manufacturers. It had more towing and payload capability than the regular Titan but couldn’t match the crazy numbers put up by the Ford, Chevrolet or Ram heavy-duty pickups. It was for people who towed heavy things but didn’t want to put out the cash required for an expensive American HD pickup. It had an expensive Cummins diesel engine for people who tow, one you couldn’t get in the regular-duty Titan.
Related: 2020 Nissan Titan Review: No Longer a ‘Yeah, But’ Truck
Consumers responded with a yawn, understandably. Now, there’s a revised Titan and Titan XD for 2020, and it’s finally a truck with no compromises or issues. Nissan has simplified the lineup, eliminated the rarely purchased diesel engine, made 4×4 standard and put together the new XD with a new marketing idea: Don’t think of it as a separate model, but rather as the ultimate towing package for the regular Titan. The idea makes sense — trim by trim, the XD costs anywhere from $1,300 to $4,190 more than a four-wheel-drive regular Titan. Most of the parts are common to both trucks: The bodies are the same, the interiors, the stuff you see and touch is identical between the Titan and the Titan XD. The powertrain is the same between the Titan and XD as well. But underneath, they’re not the same truck at all.
Bigger and Brawnier
The Titan XD may look the same up top, but it rides on a completely different frame underneath. It’s 15 inches longer and fully boxed, meaning the truck gets a full-length bed to go with the crew cab, whereas you only get a short bed with the regular Titan crew cab; the long bed can be had only on the King-Cab regular Titan. The suspension is beefier as well, and the truck is 3 inches taller than a standard Titan. So it’s a bit more of a climb up into the cabin than a regular Titan, which is made a little more challenging in the off-road Pro-4X trim level that doesn’t have any side steps to help you.
Once you’re there, the Titan XD drives much like the lesser Titan does with the exception of a slightly firmer ride. It’s not choppy or punishing by any means, and expansion joints passing beneath you on highways are little more than a whump and a memory. The XD’s steering is similar to the regular Titan’s, meaning it’s direct, well boosted and confident when the truck is empty or loaded with a trailer. The 5.6-liter V-8 gasoline engine is the only one available, which might limit the Titan’s appeal to some folks, but it shouldn’t — it’s a fantastic motor with plenty of power and torque (400 horsepower and 413 pounds-feet of torque, up from 390 hp and 394 pounds-feet in 2019). Acceleration when empty is brisk, and when loaded up with a heavy trailer, it’s still impressive, even up some moderate grades (I drove the Titan in Mississippi, so there were no steep grades, but we did find some brief 3 to 4% highway rises). Braking performance was excellent, thanks to the bigger 14.2-by-1.5-inch front rotors and 14.4-by-1.2-inch rear rotors, larger than what comes on the regular Titan (13.8-by-1.2-inch front, 13.6-by-0.8-inch rear).
I did a lot of towing with the XD model at the launch drive just west of the truck’s birthplace of Jackson, Miss. (per our ethics policy, PickupTrucks.com pays for its own lodging and airfare at such automaker-sponsored events), and was impressed with just how easily it handles itself when towing anything from a bumper-pulled Airstream trailer to a skid-steer on a gooseneck flatbed. The XD brings some beefier powertrain bits, such as a commercial-grade rear differential and a larger axle with a different final drive ratio (4.083:1 versus 3.692:1 for the regular Titan). All of this allows the Titan XD to tow up to 11,000 pounds, about 1,600 pounds more than a standard Titan can do, but considerably less than a typical American-brand heavy-duty pickup or even some light-duty ones, considering a Ford F-150 crew cab can be optioned to tow 13,200 pounds (ironically, with a twin-turbo V-6 instead of a V-8) and a Chevrolet Silverado 1500 crew cab can go up to 12,000 pounds. Not that you ever should tow that much with a light-duty pickup, but the Americans say you can.
And while it sounds like this puts the Titan XD at a disadvantage to some other pickups in the market, it really doesn’t — all Titan XD models can tow 11,000 pounds. There’s no “maybe it can with this specific powertrain and wheelbase, and 4×2 instead of 4×4,” and so on. Since there’s only one length of XD, one body style and one powertrain, every Titan XD can tow the same number. While that does mean that there are far fewer variations and options available on a Titan XD than you can get with an American-brand truck, it also does simplify the process of choosing one — there is only one.
So the Titan XD isn’t going to win in a numbers war in terms of “which truck is rated to tow the most,” but as I’ve often said, I don’t care which one has the highest number. The majority of people who tow don’t actually know how much their stuff weighs anyway — and the towing demonstrations I put the Titan XD through proved to me that not only can it tow the things you’re likely to be towing (a 6,000-pound pontoon boat, a 10,000-pound skid-steer, an 8,000-pound box trailer), but it does so with absolutely no drama, no difficulty and no issues. Even the Pro-4X off-road model tows with better steering feel and control than the latest Tremor-package-equipped Ford Super Duty I tried recently. There’s plenty of grunt from the V-8 engine; I never ran out of steam even when I had my foot to the floor on a grade. I felt perfectly confident passing slower traffic with a load behind me in a Titan XD. Is the Titan XD a valid rival for the American heavy-duty pickups? No, it really isn’t. Is it a good tow package add-on if you want the most space and utility from a light-duty pickup? Yeah, that’s a pretty good argument.
No Longer Bottom Rung, Inside
The interior upgrade seen on the Titan carries over into the Titan XD as well. So all the improvements seen in the lesser model like dramatically better materials; a big, clear, high-mounted, optional 9-inch touchscreen with a revised multimedia system; the Zero Gravity seats; and the quiet, mostly well-organized layout that I enjoyed in the regular Titan can be enjoyed here, too. It’s not as cavernous inside as the American-brand pickups — it’s noticeably half a tick smaller in the cabin, but I’m not upset about this. After spending some time in the latest GM beasts, which I think are actually too big to easily drive in most suburban areas, the slightly tidier dimensions of the Titan XD are welcome. It didn’t feel hard to park anywhere, and I didn’t feel like I had no room to maneuver in my own lane.
Fuel economy really couldn’t be tested at this drive event, not accurately, so that will have to wait for a longer, in-depth test later this year. But overall, I’ve come away impressed at what Nissan has crafted with the Titan XD. I’d say it easily drives as well as the latest generation of Chevrolet and GMC pickups, and is a more pleasant place to be thanks to material quality that’s better than what GM is slapping in pickups these days, even on their supposed luxury trims. The ride isn’t quite as supple as the Ram 1500’s coil-spring rear suspension allows, but again the interior materials aren’t far off the Ram benchmark, and the big touchscreen’s ease of use rivals the Ram’s massive 12-inch vertical stack for clarity and usability, and bests the Ford F-150’s Sync system in terms of size.
It’s also reasonably priced, starting at $46,175 (prices include destination fee) and ranging up to a loaded $63,285, which puts it comfortably in the neighborhood of the comparable American-brand pickups as well, albeit with more standard safety equipment. No, the Titan XD won’t be all things to all people — you can’t get one made “your way,” enjoying the myriad combinations afforded to the Big Three brands thanks to the massive volume they enjoy. But for the majority of casual buyers and enthusiast users, the Titan XD might actually make a lot of sense thanks to its comfort, usability, capability and amenities.
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