Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Bold, innovative, in some ways the best pickup.
The Nissan Titan features a 5.6-liter V8 and five-speed automatic transmission that deliver dazzling performance. 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 offers more emotion than some of the other trucks. Titan is the first truly full-size pickup in nearly 25 years from anyone other than the Big Three, and the first ever from a company whose world headquarters are located outside of North America. (Titan is significantly larger than the Toyota Tundra, which is not quite full-size.)
Nissan did its homework, benchmarking favored pickups and edging the bar higher. As a result, 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 at the top of the class alongside the latest Ford F-150.
Clever innovations improve on the traditional pickup. Among them: a factory-applied spray-in bedliner, a C-channel tie-down system for securing cargo and accessories, a stash box integrated into the driver's-side rear fender for storing a tow hitch or other small items. And the rear doors on the King Cab open nearly 180 degrees for quick access.
For 2005, Nissan has added a dampened tailgate assist, to reduce effort when opening and closing the tailgate. Active front head restraints are now standard on all models, and the Crew Cab now comes with a power retractable rear window, lending an open-air feeling to the interior. The window features privacy glass and an electric defroster. A new Trac Package for 2WD models includes a locking rear differential and front tow hooks.
You say you want an American truck? The Titan was designed in California. It's built in Mississippi and its high-tech V8 is built in Tennessee.
The 2005 Nissan Titan is available in two body styles: an extended King Cab with auxiliary rear doors and a 6-foot, 7-inch bed; and a Crew Cab with a larger cabin, four conventional doors and a 5-foot, 7-inch bed.
All Titans boast Nissan's new 5.6-liter V8 engine and five-speed automatic transmission.
Three trim levels are available: XE, SE, and LE. All models are available in 2WD and 4WD. All Titans come with a high level of standard equipment including a tire-pressure monitor, cruise control, tilt steering and a CD stereo.
The XE 2WD King Cab ($22,650) comes standard with a split front bench seat that has a fold-down armrest storage bin, and split pop-up rear seat. XE also comes with 17-inch steel wheels, but has manual door locks and wind-up windows.
SE ($24,800) adds captain's chairs with a better grade of cloth, 18-inch aluminum wheels, power everything, and host of other features. A Popular Package ($1,250) for the SE adds many of the LE's luxury features, but not its leather upholstery. The same package is available with the Rockford-Fosgate stereo ($1,750).
LE ($29,250) gets leather seats in front, Rockford-Fosgate audio, fog lights, power adjustable pedals, tubular running boards and all the trick bed features described above. A DVD-based navigation system ($2,000) is optional on LE only.
Choosing a Crew Cab model adds $2,500-$2,850 to the prices above. Four-wheel drive (4WD) adds $3,050-$3,200. All King Cab models are offered with flexible-fuel engines (FFV) for no additional cost. Front bench seats are available as a credit option on SE and LE.
Optional is a package that includes front-seat side-impact air bags and curtain air bags ($850), always good choices in tall vehicles like SUVs and trucks. Curtain airbags are designed to provide head protection in a side impact or rollover event; side-impact airbags are designed to protect the torso in a side impact. These are important body parts, necessary for happy human function, so we recommend these features. On some models, the airbag package can be bundled with VDC electronic stability control ($1,200), which helps the driver maintain control by reducing or elminating skidding in corners. Seatbelts are your first line of defense in a crash, so always wear them.
The Utility Bed Package ($950 on SE, standard on LE) 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.
An off-road package for 4WD models ($1,000-$1,450) consists of a unique lower-ratio Dana axle, switch-on-demand electronically activated locking rear differential, Rancho performance gas shock absorbers, large all-terrain tires, fog lights, and skid plates for the radiator, oil pan and transfer case. The less ambitious Trac Package ($300) adds the locking differential to a 2WD XE or SE.
All models can be equipped with XM Satellite Radio ($400). Only SE and LE Crew Cabs are available with DVD entertainment ($1450); only LE Crew Cabs can be ordered with a sunroof ($900).
Other options are available as well; still, Nissan has made no effort to match the staggering mix of options in engine, transmissions, body styles and accessories that greet a Big Three 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.
Safety features include optional front-seat side-impact air bags and curtain air bags. The Titan is the first full-size pickup to offer curtain air bags, which can improve protection against head injuries in a side-impact or rollover accident. Standard safety features on the 2005 Titan include dual-stage front air bags with seat belt sensors and a front-passenger occupant classification senso.
Titan presents an intimidating sight in rearview mirrors, an aspect that's true of all of the current full-size pickups. Titan's blocky head-on view, with its twin sloping chrome bars angling down across a bee-comb radiator says, 'Here comes a BIG truck.' At that, the look is simple and direct, short of braggadocio.
The rest of the Nissan Titan fulfills that impression: direct and shaped by function, a true truck. Big square-shaped fender flares give it a look of rugged sportiness. Lots of chrome up front adds to the boldness.
The King Cab's unique door design is a real light-bulb innovation. Like most extended-cab pickups, the Titan King Cab 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 that's expected; it swings farther yet, yawning 168 degrees, which is nearly flat against the truck's body. Wide-Open Nissan calls 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 its full 168 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 traffic. In daily use, we found this clever door design added more utility than we originally expected. King Cab models come with 6 1/2-foot beds.
Crew Cab models feature four full-sized doors, adding greatly to comfort and convenience. Crew Cabs have 5 1/2-foot beds, trading a foot of bed space for roomy rear seats and more interior cargo room.
With their tailgates lowered, both bed sizes can accommodate 4x8-foot sheets of building material between their 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 the load height is about 34 inches, a big difference when loading heavy cargo. Higher may be better for displaying machismo, but lower is better when there's work to be done.
Nissan's 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 underneath, reducing the chance of rust. 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 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. 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 available 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 proof. Opening it is a little awkward because you must pry open a little springloaded cover with one hand, then unlock.
Inside, the Titan feels spacious yet snug at the same time. It's roomy when measured in cubic feet, but it's also organized, with handy tucking spaces and storage bins.
Two interior configurations are available. Standard on XE is a front bench seat with column shifter, so you can in theory accommodate up to six passengers. SE and LE come with two front bucket seats (captain's chairs) and a gated floor shifter in a large center console; but you can get the bench seat as a credit option in the two up-market models. It even comes upholstered in premium cloth in SE and in leather in LE.
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. It's a good sleight of hand.
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 cross-country 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 Titan LE driver's seat and passenger's seat are power adjustable, with memory on the driver's side. 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 are 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 near-180-degree rear door and the King Cab offers real flexibility.
The Crew Cab is roomy and comfortable whether sitting in the front or the 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 seatback 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. Nissan interiors are improving. Titan's interior is smart in function and in looks. It looks as if it would work and it does.
Big knobs are used for the manual heating and air conditioning controls. The top-line 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 evident everywhere, 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 even larger than that in the Dodge Ram, and large enough to accommodate laptops. The center console in bucket seat models is designed to hold DVDs and CDs. Well-designed cup holders provide welcome homes for sleeved grande cappuccinos. Decent-sized coa.
Driving the Titan is a pleasure. For starters, it offers brilliant throttle response. Its powertrain is 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.
Nissan's 5.6-liter V8 produces 300 horsepower. Doubly welcome is the well-shaped torque curve with a segment-leading peak of 379 pound-feet. The Titan's engine delivers 90 percent of that 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.)
This new V8 features a modern design with double overhead-cams and 32 valves. Nissan calls this the Endurance 5.6-liter V8 and designed it 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 heavy-duty 3/4-ton trucks, not light-duty 1/2-ton trucks like the Titan.
Titan also offers quick and agile handling. It's easy to drive smoothly or quickly or both 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.)
Ride quality is good in most situations, though we found a rippled, well-traveled section of Interstate 405 in Los Angeles that generated an uncomfortable harmonic in a 4WD model. A 2WD Crew Cab we drove seemed to offer a better ride.
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 an electronically activated locking rear differential to help the Titan slog through the toughest conditions.
The Nissan Titan boasts brilliant throttle response, agile handling and good brakes. This is a serious, full-size pickup. It can tow up to 9,500 pounds. Its cab is big and roomy. And it's loaded with innovations such the spray-in bedliner and a track system for cargo and accessories. The King Cab boasts a clever door that opens nearly 180 degrees. The Crew Cab has super roomy back seats. All of that puts Titan in the front row of a class of superb trucks.
Denise McCluggage filed the original report; with New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.
Nissan Titan King Cab XE 2WD ($22,650), SE 2WD ($24,800), LE 2WD ($29,250); Crew Cab XE 2WD ($25,500), SE 2WD ($27,300), LE 2WD ($32,050); King Cab XE 4WD ($25,850), SE 4WD ($28,000), LE 4WD ($32,300); Crew Cab XE 4WD ($28,700), SE 4WD ($30,500), LE 4WD ($35,100).
Options As Tested
Side-Airbag Package ($850) includes side-impact and curtain airbags; Navigation Package ($2000); 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 ($32,300).
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