In the pickup truck world, one thing is certain: there’s the Ford F-150, standing head and shoulders above the rest in sales, marketing, and good old American heritage, and then there’s every other truck on the market. That’s the rule. Now let me introduce you to the diesel-chugging, earth-moving, miniature American flag-waving exception: the new Nissan Titan XD.
(Full disclosure: Nissan wanted me to drive a Nissan Titan XD so badly that I had to wrestle the keys away from Chris Chin, Editor-in-Chief of egmcartech, during a weekend road trip to pick up a car from upstate Pennsylvania. A full tank of fuel was provided by Nissan.)
Being in possession of a pickup truck is weird. The mere mention of one prompts every acquaintance in the Tri-State area to ask you to help them with hauling around DJ equipment for their step-cousin’s bar mitzvah or carry away the spoils of their yet-unclaimed IKEA shopping spree. It’s a magnet for moochers.
That’s why every pickup truck owner, before thinking about tow ratings, locking hubs, or rolling coal, needs to think of a plan of what the truck will be used for—not only to give the long-ass, hard-to-park piece of pig iron a purpose, but so you’ll have something to tell your brother in law when he asks you to help him move.
In my case, that wasn’t an issue. I had a plan and the keys to a brand new, $62,000 Nissan Titan XD. I was to drive from New Jersey to just outside of Pittsburgh, PA, with the hopes of towing back an old Mercedes S-Class that did not belong to me, along with another automotive journalist.
The Titan, unlike its namesake, was not an imposing truck in appearance and looks smaller in the flesh than its 151-inch, crew cab wheelbase would suggest. Perhaps it was because of the almost-outlandish Forged Copper color (I called it Luxury Blurple) fitted to the press version I had, or perhaps it was the fact that the design lines were half as aggressive as your average inner city bus.
In any case, it’s bound to offend no one, and although that might be a detractor for the average Ferrari buyer that needs a steady flow of Instagram followers to feel whole, it’s right at home with a truck that’s designed to do nothing but work.
The cabin features the same sort of premium plastics seen in every new car made within the last five years: a mix of fingerprint-prone gloss black on plastic, painted silver plastic, and a dusting of leather on everything within skin’s reach.
The cooled and heated two-tone perforated leather seats were just on the right side of luxurious, with a nice attention to detail in the stitching and color selection, and were the perfect combination of supportive and cushy, especially on the 12 hour combined round trip to and from my trek upstate.
The infotainment setup had enough responsiveness that it wasn’t cumbersome to use, nor was it as frustrating as a comparable system by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, or Lexus. It didn’t beat you over the head with features and allowed everything that you needed to be within arms’ reach, with a five minute learning curve.
But let’s be frank, buying a truck not made by the Big Three for an amount that costs more than the average U.S. annual salary will likely have nothing to do with how it pumps out tunes and everything to do with how it pumps out torque, And holy hell does this truck ever deliver on that front.
The all-new Cummins 5.0-liter V8 turbodiesel engine situated in the bay of this truck makes a frightening amount of sense. Its 310 horsepower figure may not cover the Earth in a cloud of tire smoke, but it can move your ass and everything you own in a hurry, with its monumental 555 lb-ft of torque.
Couple that with an amazing AAM 9.84 inch rear axle with a 3.916 gear ratio and this truck has the capability to literally draw and quarter its competition - a commercial I would pay to see, if you’re listening, Nissan.
For demonstration purposes, a derelict and braindead 1975 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL was towed with an old U-Haul auto transporter for more than six hours.
For reference, the Merc’s curb weight was pushing 5,000 pounds because back in those days, it was apparently cheaper to make cars out of depleted uranium than steel. The ‘70s were weird.
The partially rusted and scratched to hell U-Haul car carrier weighed another 1100 pounds, and two rotund auto journalists in an already heavy truck made the gross weight of the tow package something that would prompt most people to fill out a police report in advance.
However, the Titan was made for this shit. Nissan knew that it couldn’t just compete with the light-duty Ford and Ram variants because it would get clobbered with brand loyalty and middle-aged men that had “If you can’t Dodge it, RAM it” on their back windows.
For the Titan, it had to annihilate the competition both on paper and in real world tests. That’s why a comparably-priced half-ton Ford or Ram can tow a little under 11,000 pounds, but the Titan XD, without the PRO-4X trim, can tow a tad under 13,000. That’s damn near dually territory.
What this meant is that not only was the Titan perfectly suited to towing the impossibly heavy Mercedes, it could’ve towed another one behind it and not skipped a beat. Its steering and front suspension system, borrowed from the Nissan NX van, also meant the truck had road manners befitting an economy car, despite having a bit of tacked-on girth in all dimensions.
In addition, the long-legged six speed Allison gearbox was made to take the massive torque output of the engine, and do its best to multiply that work into as many tire revolutions as possible. Coupled with the high pressure turbocharger that leaned out the fuel mixture to such a degree that on the 400 mile, mostly-highway journey, the Titan averaged more than 16 miles to the gallon. For a truck towing a vehicle of almost equal weight behind it, this is groundbreaking.
With the Titan XD’s massive capability reserves, it also meant that it rode remarkably well while towing a large load behind it, at speeds that I am legally bound not to disclose to U-Haul, out of fear of a lifetime ban. If you’ll allow me to elaborate, while driving most trucks of the size, when maintaining speed, you’ll likely feel a jerk coming from the trailer behind you.
This is caused by weight shifting or the center of gravity changing from one end to another on slight acceleration or deceleration. It may be jarring for a novice tower, but elementary to anyone that understands the first thing about physics and weight transfer.
With the Titan, this sensation was all but nonexistent and the ride felt as natural as it did without any load hanging off the truck’s back axle. Granted, braking distances were increased substantially and there was a lack of forward thrust when merging to highway on-ramps from low speed, but when cruising and passing at actual highway speeds that may have differed from the posted limit, I could not have had piloted a more perfect truck.
Having said that, the experience of towing wasn’t the most enjoyable part of driving this truck; far from it. The Titan’s real show-stopping ability is how it handles when paved roads and civilizations end. While it may be little more than a standard half-ton truck, it drives over rocks, mud, and tree trunks with the agility of a mountain goat with a coke addiction.
Its low range gear set coupled with the diesel’s already low-revving, high torque nature meant that moving forward was always on the menu, so much in fact that the truck successfully pulled a faulty Ford SVT Raptor up a steep, muddy hill in torrential rain, while simultaneously rock crawling, without as much as a tire losing an inch of grip at any point.
If it weren’t for the headlights annoyingly illuminating the rear view mirror, you’d be hard pressed to feel that you were pulling anything to its inevitable salvation from an impossibly muddy fate.
Even when heading over a mud pit at speed, the suspension soaked it up as if the truck was moonlighting as an undercover trophy truck—a far cry from the incredibly stiff and unsettling feeling of a new Ford F-150 FX4 under similar conditions.
For any prospective truck owner that’s seriously thinking about dropping $60k on a high-falootin’ spec aluminum monster Ford F-150, consider this: Nearly everything in that truck worth mentioning is beefed up and improved with the Nissan Titan XD.
It’s American made, easier to live with, stellar off road, has enough interior appointments to make any Land Rover owner jealous, and can make your weekend project of moving your entire house down the block much, much easier.
Better yet, since these brand new trucks won’t catch on with the truck buying crowd right away and likely won’t take significant market share away from the big players anyway, wait a few years until the model depreciates to around the $30 grand mark, then buy it, and sleep well knowing that you now own a truck that can put a whooping on any truck at twice its price, both on paper and on the road.