2004 Nissan Titan Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Is this America's best full-size pickup?.
A man and his truck. It's a beautiful thing.' So read the legend on a sweatshirt. I smiled in understanding. Most certainly pickups inspire in their owners, male or female, an emotion rarely generated by other wheeled objects. It's a feeling more often associated with a favored dog, or maybe a sports team.
That unique relationship is a force to be reckoned with if you're a manufacturer looking to move up in the market. That's the task Nissan has set for itself with what it terms the first truly full-size pickup from a company other than Ford, Dodge, or General Motors. Titan is significantly larger than the Toyota Tundra, which is not quite full-size.
Nissan has done its research, benchmarking favored pickups and edging the bar higher for its Titan. The Titan boasts best in class headroom; best in class torque; best in class interior volume (for the Crew Cab); best 4x4 ground clearance; best 4x4 approach angle; largest in class 4x4 tires. Titan can tow up to 9,500 pounds, putting it at the top of the class alongside the new Ford F-150.
The Titan features a new 5.6-liter V8 and five-speed automatic that deliver dazzling response. Its handling is equally responsive, making it among the most enjoyable of the full-size half-ton pickups. Brakes, suspension, drivetrain all feel refined. This is a serious pickup that pleases all the senses.
Titan boasts clever innovations that improve on the traditional pickup bed, such as the factory-applied spray-in bedliner and a C-channel tie-down system. A stash box integrated into the driver's rear fender offers a neat place to store a hitch or other small items. The rear doors on the King Cab open nearly 180 degrees for quick access.
The Titan was designed in California. It's built at Nissan's new plant at Canton, Mississippi, and its new V8 is built at Nissan's Decherd, Tennessee, production facility.
Nissan Titan is available in two body styles: King Cab with a 6-foot, 7-inch bed or a Crew Cab with a larger cabin and conventional doors and a 5-foot, 6-inch bed.
All Titans boast Nissan's new 5.6-liter V8 engine and a 5-speed automatic transmission. All models are available in 2WD and 4WD versions.
Three trim levels are available, XE, SE, and LE. The XE comes standard with a split front bench seat with a fold-down armrest storage bin and split pop-up rear seat; XE comes with 17-inch aluminum wheels, but has manual door locks and wind-up windows. SE adds captain's chairs, a better grade of cloth, 18-inch wheels, power everything, and host of other features; SE is expected to be the most popular trim level. LE comes with leather front seats. All models come with a high level of standard equipment including features such as a tire-pressure monitor, automatic headlamps, cruise control, and a CD stereo.
A navigation system is optional and comes bundled with a rear park-assist system. Also optional is a package that includes front-seat side-impact air bags and curtain air bags, always good choices in tall vehicles like SUVs and trucks. The Utility Bed Package includes a clever channel system in the bed for flexible tie-down configurations to fit a wide range of cargo; a lockable storage system in the outside of the bed; tailgate lighting; a power point at the rear; and that factory-applied spray-in bedliner. The Rockford Fosgate system boasts 10 speakers and is standard on LE, optional on SE.
An off-road package is available with a unique lower-ratio Dana axle, switch-on-demand electronically activated locking rear differential, off-road-style Rancho performance gas shock absorbers, large all-terrain tires, fog lights and lower radiator, oil pan and transfer case skid plates.
Nissan has made no effort to match the staggering mix of options in engine, transmissions, body styles and accessories that greet, say, a Ford pickup buyer. So you'll have to look elsewhere if you want a big duallie or a cheap, V6-powered regular cab. Nissan says its plan is to get the basics right and then build on that with a new level of style and innovation. We think the Nissan Titan has achieved those goals.
For that all-important view in someone's rearview mirror the Titan styling bellies over toward the Dodge Ram school of intimidation rather than Ford or Chevy. (The Ford F-150, deemed almost too pretty in its present guise, has also shifted toward Ram ruggedness for its new version.) The Titan's blocky front-end view with its twin sloping chrome bars angling down across a bee-comb radiator says 'here's a BIG truck.' At that the look is simple and direct, short of braggadocio.
The rest of the truck fulfills that impression. Direct and shaped by its function. True truckness. Big square-shaped fender flares give it a look of rugged sportiness. Lots of chrome up front adds to the boldness.
The Crew Cab features four full-size conventional doors.
The King Cab's unique door design is one of the prize light bulb innovations on the Titan. Like most extended cab pickups, the Titan's has a conventional front door hinged at the front with a rear-hinged back door and you must open the front door before you can open the rear door. But the Titan's rear door opens not just to the near 90 degrees expected; it swings farther yet, yawning all the way open, flat against the truck's body. Wide-Open they call it and it is. On both sides, too. It's surprising how often this feature becomes useful. At the grocery store, it makes it much easier to maneuver a cart closely into position for unloading. Next to a curbside tree, you can open the main door just wide enough to get out, open the rear door nearly 180 degrees, close the main door, and you have unencumbered access to the cargo area behind the seats. Doing the same thing on the driver's side means you can unload cargo without having a big door open into the traffic. This clever door design adds greatly to the King Cab's utility.
King Cab models come with 6 1/2-foot beds. Crew Cab models feature 5 1/2-foot beds, trading a foot of bed space for roomy back seats and more interior cargo room. With the tailgate lowered, the beds can accommodate 4x8-foot sheets of building material between the wheel housings. Four big eyelets are bolted to the insides of the bed for tying things down. Like the Ford and Dodge trucks, the load height (the distance from the bed to the ground) is high on 4WD Titans, measuring approximately 37 inches to the open tailgate by our tape measure. On 2WD Titans it's about 34 inches, a big difference. Higher may be better in terms of machoism, but lower is better when loading heavy cargo. A 2WD Chevy Silverado appears to be the lowest in this regard.
The optional sprayed-in bedliner looks terrific. The anti-skid surface keeps cargo from sliding around, prevents scratches and rust, and reduces noise. Unlike plastic drop-in liners, it doesn't trap moisture. Covered by the truck's warranty, the coating is applied at a $2 million facility specifically built for this purpose at Nissan's spanking-new truck factory in Mississippi. The anti-skid surface can make it harder to slide a box out, but this seems to be greatly outweighed by the upsides.
The available C-channel tie-down system is designed to accommodate a variety of scenarios. It features C-section rails mounted in the bed, two on the floor, and one each on the side and forward walls of the bed. Removable cleats slide into the channels and can be positioned anywhere along its length thus permitting customized securing of cargo. Sliding cargo trays, a sliding tool box and other modular storage units are being designed by Nissan for kayaks, bikes, and other needs. The bed channels feature protective caps that slide on to keep out debris when they're not being used. It appears to be a great system.
An innovative storage compartment integrated into left rear fender is convenient for storing at tow-hitch ball, work gloves, road flares, or a first aid kit. Measuring 11x15 inches, this small bedside compartment is double sealed to be weather and dust proo.
The Titan interior manages to feel spacious and snug at the same time. It's roomy in cubic feet, yet the interior is organized into handy tucking spaces and storage bins that corral all the stuff we are heir to.
Two interior configurations are available: a standard bench seat with column shifter that seats six passengers or an optional Captain’s Chair Package that features two front bucket seats with a gated floor shifter and a large center console. The leather upholstery in the LE models is sporty, attractive and quite pleasing; the rear seats in the LE are covered in matching vinyl that most people will assume is leather.
The bucket seats are firm and comfortable. The seat bottoms are relatively flat, making it easy to slide in and out, yet they offer good support and feel like they'd be comfortable on crosscountry trips. We find them more comfortable than the cushy seats in the GM trucks or those we've seen in the new Ford F-150 which could use more side support. The driver's seat and passenger's seat are power adjustable. Memory and seat heaters are available.
The King Cab has 60/40 flip-up rear seats and the nearly flat floor beneath makes loading and toting a wide mix of people and things a breeze. Three people can ride in the back seat, enjoying lots of legroom and headroom, but the upright seatbacks make anything longer than a trip to the restaurant or store feel like a journey. Bottle holders are provided in the rear doors to keep back-seat riders contented. Flip up the rear seat bottoms and the King Cab can carry a 160-pound dog in comfort. Hooks provided on the seat bottoms useful for hanging grocery bags, tote bags, or gear bags so their contents don't end up scattered around the floor. The seat backs also fold down, adding another cargo-carrying option. Add the benefits of the 180-degree rear door and the King Cab offers real flexibility.
The Crew Cab is roomy and comfortable whether sitting in the front or rear seats. Nissan claims the Crew Cab offers more front legroom and rear legroom than other full-size half-ton pickups and it feels like it. The rear seat is large and relaxing, with a full 24 degrees of seat back angle. The rear seats are split 60/40 with bottoms that flip up, revealing much more interior cargo space than what's available in the King Cab. The fold-up seat bottoms leave more usable space available than fold and tumble designs. Ample storage is available in the rear compartment, including door storage bins and rear door bottle holders in the armrests.
Up front, both models feature large knobs, handles and grips friendly to hands wearing heavy work gloves. Increasingly, Nissan interiors are standouts and the Titan continues the trend. 'Smart' could be the operative word both in looks and in function. It looks as if it would work and it does.
The manual heating/air conditioning controls feature big knobs. The topline Rockford Fosgate audio system has a big volume knob and large station buttons that can be set simply by holding them down for a couple of seconds. Secondary audio functions are easy to access and operate. An auxiliary input is provided on the dash for plugging in an Apple iPod or other MP3 player.
Thoughtfulness in the design is everywhere in evidence, inside and out, making the Titan a singularly useful truck. The lid on the center console is flat, so you can set a clipboard there without having it slide off; the lid is indented and lined with rubber for small items. The center console on bench-seat models is larger than that in the Dodge Ram, large enough to accommodate laptops. The center console in bucket-seat models is designed to hold DVDs and CDs. Well-designed cup holders are provided that are welcome homes for that sleeved grande cappuccino. Decent-sized coat hooks are easily accessed for hanging a coat or a load of dry cleaning. The glove box is large with a damped lid that doesn't slam open. Battery power points are pr.
Looking good isn't enough for a truck, not even one bristling with clever ideas. It has to perform well, too. The Nissan Titan does just fine in that department. Driving the Titan is a pleasure. Nissan in the past has sometimes muddied a neat package with weakness in power. Lesson clearly learned.
The Titan's 305 horses are hairy-legged enough to get the job done. Doubly welcome is the well-shaped torque curve with the segment-leading 379 pounds-feet of torque. The Titan's engine delivers 90 percent of its peak torque across a wide band down to low rpm. (Torque is that force that propels you from intersections and pulls heavy trailers up long grades.)
Nissan's new Endurance 5.6-liter V8 is a modern design with double overhead-cams (four total) and four-valve heads (32 valves). It's designed to strike the ideal balance between performance and fuel economy. Titan 2WD gets EPA ratings of 14/19 mpg City/Highway, while Titan 4WD models are rated 14/18 mpg. Regular unleaded is recommended.
Towing capacity is 9,500 pounds, which is more often seen in 3/4-ton trucks, not 1/2-ton trucks like this. Nissan thought it had a first in class for towing but it got snookered by Ford. Ford purposely understated the towing capacity in the specs it first released on its new 2004 F-150 hoping to con its rivals into benchmarking the low figure. Nissan did just that. Then Ford announced its 'true' towing capacity of 9,900. Nyah-nyah-nyah. Ford might just need such trickery to sell the 700,000 F-150s it must sell. Nissan is looking to sell 100,000 Titans. Titan's V8 (standard) has more horses than Ford's V8 (optional) and Titan has a five-speed automatic to Ford's four-speed, but towing capacity is one of the bragging points that rank high with truck buyers.
Anything rated to tow 9500 pounds can really move its bod when unencumbered. Our first impression of the Titan was its responsive powertrain, perhaps the most responsive among the full-size pickups with comparable engines. The Titan always feels alert and wide awake, like it started the morning with a double espresso. The V8 delivers quick acceleration performance whether launching off the line or pulling a quick pass at speed. It isn't a whisper quiet engine, but has a deep exhaust note that sounds pleasing when accelerating.
The five-speed automatic is equally responsive, quickly downshifting whenever needed. With five gears to choose from, it can always find an appropriate ratio for smooth, rather than abrupt, downshifts. The transmission features a Tow/Haul mode.
Titan handles twists and turns just fine. It's easy to drive quickly and smoothly at the same time. It does well in the braking department with big four-wheel disc brakes standard. It's easy to modulate the brakes for smooth stops in everyday driving. Anti-lock brakes come standard with electronic brake-force distribution and Brake Assist. (ABS helps the driver maintain steering control in a skid. EBD improves balance and stopping power by apportioning the braking force to whichever tires are getting the best grip. Brake Assist helps ensure full braking potential in a panic stop.)
4x4 models offer a shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system with an electronically controlled part-time transfer case. Simply turn a knob to shift from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive; this can be done on the fly, while driving. At very low speeds, almost a full stop, push in the knob and turn it to shift into low range. The low creeper gear keeps steep descents in the comfort zone. An off-road package includes a feature exclusive to the Titan in this market segment: an electronically activated locking rear differential to aid the slog through the toughest conditions.
The 4WD King Cab we drove rode very well in most situations and its suspension offered quick and agile handling. One rippled section of I-405 in Los Angeles, however, set up a harmonic that had the Titan 4x4 pogoing unc.
Nissan's marketing research has broken pickup buyers into two groups it calls Traditional Truckers and Modern Truck Guys (and presumably Gals though they used a lot of 'he' and 'his' words at the introduction).
Traditional Truckers, Nissan says, use their trucks primarily for business and work, mostly in rural areas. They are brand-loyal to the extreme and are not quick to embrace changes in styling or technology.
The Modern Truck Guys are more apt to switch brands if drawn by innovations and styling. Their primary use for a truck is personal, pressing it into service on weekends for home-improvement and gardening projects.
Clearly, Nissan sees most of its buyers in the second group rather than as conquests from the ultra loyal-to-brand Traditional Trucker. However, as the new truck on the scene the Titan has one advantage: A trucker deciding to switch after years with the same brand is unlikely to move his loyalties to what has been 'the enemy' all these years. The switcher is more likely to settle on neutral ground. Like a politician switching parties, it is easier to go to Independent than to cross the aisle. The Titan is an attractive truck with which to express that independence.
Time will tell.
Nissan Titan King Cab XE 2WD ($22,400), SE 2WD ($24,400), LE 2WD ($28,800); Crew Cab XE 2WD ($25,100), SE 2WD ($26,700), LE 2WD ($31,100); King Cab XE 4WD ($25,500), SE 4WD ($27,500), LE 4WD ($31,900); Crew Cab XE 4WD ($28,200), SE 4WD ($29,800), LE 4WD ($34,200).
Options As Tested
Side-Airbag Package ($850) includes side-impact and curtain airbags; Navigation Package ($2200); Tow Package ($600) includes receiver hitch, lower final gear ratio (3.357), 7-pin wiring harness plug, trailer brake pre-wiring on I/P, transmission oil temperature gauge, extended mirrors, heavy duty battery and cooling and Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC).
Nissan Titan King Cab 4WD LE ($31,900).
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