It was January 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. Nissan’s booth was the site of tremendous tension as the media awaited the automaker’s brand new reveal. Here it was, the long-anticipated refresh of a tired, old half-ton; a symbol of the company’s resurgence into the truck market, and a show of force to the competition, saying look out, because here comes … a unicorn.
We’re never ones to leap quickly to conclusions, but when we first saw the 2016 Titan XD, we had our doubts: where is this truck attempting to fit into the market? Or is Nissan creating a new market segment entirely? And, what’s with the Cummins motor … isn’t this and the Ram bosom buddies?
As the months progressed, we got more and more receptive of the Titan XD. It just so happened that when we had reached peak acceptance of the truck, Nissan offered allowed us to give its halo model the old college try.
Over the course of eight days, we went through every aspect we could think of: towing, off-road, inside, outside — you name it, we had it covered. Let’s begin by going over what the Titan XD brought to the table.
The 2016 Titan XD is available exclusively in a crew cab configuration, and comes in five trim levels ranging from the base model S to the ultra-luxe Platinum Reserve. The model we received was the middle-of-the-pack Pro-4X in a lovely burnt scarlet shade called Cayenne Red with a black leather interior.
A lot of features were packed into the truck on account of it having the utility and audio package, convenience package, and luxury package, all of which aimed to make the driving experience refined and comfortable. Some of the highlighted features of these packages included the Rockford Fosgate stereo system, ventilated seats with cooling and heating, Utilitrack system with tie-down cleats, and the Around View camera system, most of which we will touch on in later sections.
Tallying up all the costs, this Pro-4X arrived at $58,285 including the destination and handling charges. As a four-wheel-drive crew cab measuring more than 20 feet long, it lodges itself firmly amidst the upmarket options from the Big Three’s 3/4-ton offerings. Comparable models include Ford’s F-250 Lariat at $58,860, Ram’s 2500 Laramie at $57,820, and Chevrolet’s 2500HD at $60,215.
The Titan XD takes a big departure from the aesthetic of the first-generation model. The decision alone is worth applauding, as it showed a removal of restraint not often seen in the truck market. Comparing Pro-4X to Pro-4X, we saw that some of the design elements were kept: the radiator skidplate sticks out from the bottom front end; two-post rearview mirrors; rhomboid grille cover with a big Nissan badge right in the center; and so on.
Nonetheless, we feel we have to say it like it is: the Nissan Titan XD had a face only an engineer could love. It’s tall, wide, and nearly perpendicular, so owners can look forward to collecting a big gallery of dead bugs. The fog lamp bezels jut out slightly from the bumper, and we found they were not hard to jostle with human effort. This was just after close to 6,000 miles, too, so it wasn’t as if the truck had lived a long life.
The headlights are big, and feature daytime running lights that we thought looked pretty cool. The stick-out tow hooks, while practical, combined with the skidplate to add too much material that could get caught on obstacles and reduce the entry angle of the truck. Speaking of things that extended too far, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the hood, which had bulges in places where open line of sight should be.
The profile of the Titan XD was where the scale of it really hit home: this is a massive truck, and one well deserving of its name. At over 20 feet long, 7 feet wide and 7 feet tall with a 13-foot wheelbase, we were definitely talking about a vehicle with the dimensions of a 3/4-ton like the F-250, 2500HD, or Ram 2500; yet Nissan has definitively and deliberately labeled the Titan XD as a “half-ton,” like the F-150, Silverado, and Ram 1500. This boils down to Nissan playing around with labels and preconceptions, but that’s a whole other article.
Body lines have been added to the aesthetics of the Titan. It traces from the top of the headlight and then curves down under the sideview mirror, picking up and gliding back to a horizontal plane that shoots all the way to the taillight. The affect calls to mind the Ford Super Duty design language, and Nissan more or less copied this as the sills feature the same declining, ergonomic appearance.
Wherever the designers could do it, they made “big” the word of the day. From the chrome badges to the embossed “TITAN” sitting on top of the tailgate, the visual cues are right there. Thinking big worked great in the case of the truck’s 6.5-foot bed, which was quite spacious and featured a spray-in bedliner, lighting elements, 110-volt outlet, moveable tie-down cleats on the bed floor and sides, and last but not least, an integrated gooseneck hitches that looked great for towing (which we’ll get to in a little bit). This was in addition to a Class IV tag-style hitch, so there was some great versatility in this department.
The truck bed didn’t see a whole lot of use during the week, but we did manage to load up a couple of 7-foot-tall doors diagonally. The cleats pinched on the doors and kept them in place as we went from Point A to Point B, and the view through the rear window was made nice and clear with the backseat headrests removed.
For as much crap as we give luxo-trucks of the 21st century, we can’t deny that it makes for a very comfortable experience. Nissan has applied such thinking to the Titan XD. It showed in a lot of ways, and all of it was fantastic.
The feel from the driver’s seat was great. As a Pro-4X, the front seats were electronic and had six-way adjustability. A bonus was the heating and cooling ventilation, which was controlled with a seven-position switch in the console. The venting was built into the seat’s back cushion, and pumped air directly onto our backs for soothing relief from the outside world. Headroom felt comfortable, too, and came in handy during the off-road sessions, that’s for sure.
Thanks to the truck’s column shifter, this left a ton of room to work with between the seats, and Nissan made the most of it. Aside from the vast space underneath the console lid, all of the gizmos and doodads to activate the truck’s electronics are right there at the ready: dual-zone climate control, steering wheel heater, parking sensors, etc. Long arms would be required to reach A/C and air inlet buttons, however, unless you had a passenger present.
The infotainment center has Bluetooth capability and also allows the viewing of the cameras positioned at four points around the truck. Dubbed Around View, the cameras show wide-angle video under both side mirrors, the front, and the back. This was perfect for parking situations and trailer loading, as the Titan is larger than your average pickup and being able to see so much of the outside world made this process a breeze.
Moving to the gauge cluster, Nissan made everything easy to read and comb through. Analog gauges told the speed, RPM, coolant temperature, and fuel level. Nestled in the middle, an LCD screen had multiple readouts that could be flipped through using the directional pad on the steering wheel. Digital clinometer, MPG reading, DEF level, music playlists, and more could be seen here.
In the back, passengers could use vents for the A/C and heater built into the console. Headroom and legroom were fine, but not ample. The real appeal was under the seat, however, where there sat storage compartments and even a cool little fold-out “bench” that could be used to keep cargo level on the same plane, however its plastic construction was a bit disappointing.
As powerful as it was controversial, the turbocharged 5.0-liter V8 Cummins motor was an eye-opener that was intriguing in more ways than one. For one, it was the first time Cummins and Nissan had partnered to offer a unique motor to the Japanese automaker’s truck line. Two, it was a V8, which marked a stark contrast to the inline fours and sixes seen in Ram and Dodge Ram models.
In spite of this, we were happy to see that the quality and pedigree carried over to the Titan XD. Generating 310 horsepower and 555 lb-ft of torque, it had the heft and grunt to pull the pickup, and blew the pants off the old 5.6-liter gasoline V8 from the previous generation.
We strapped the Titan XD down to our Dynojet dynamometer to see what the real-world numbers looked like. Our best run showed the truck made 244.1 horsepower and 404.2 lb-ft of torque. Looking deeper at the graph, we noticed the power band started nice and low near 1,600 rpm, and horsepower showed a nearly perfect power curve before reaching its pinnacle at around 3,500 rpm. Torque, meanwhile, ramped up quickly from 1,600 to 2,000 rpm, increasing all the way to 2,500 rpm. After that, it dropped off (excepting a couple of bumps near 2,800 and 3,100 rpm).
Backing up the Cummins is a six-speed automatic transmission built by Aisin. In two-wheel-drive, this channels into an AAM rearend with a 3.92:1 gear ratio. An electronic locking differential beefs up capability, and drivers can switch quickly between high-/low-range 4WD and 2WD using a dial on the dashboard. In its entirety, the powertrain is rated for 12,300 pounds towing, and 2,500 pounds payload.
On-Road Driving Impressions
The Pro-4X may proudly proclaim itself as the off-road star of the Titan XD line, but getting there requires covering asphalt. We set up our drive to take us from Lake Elsinore, California to Ocotillo Wells SVRA. This was a 100-mile trip, and would give us plenty of opportunity to check out how the pickup performed over the asphalt.
After going the relatively mundane Interstate 15 South, the 78 East was where the real fun began. The highway took many twists and turns as it navigated around mountains, and never really reached a level plane for too long. What this equated to was lots of steering input to keep the truck reined in, and drivers new to these big trucks will find the task somewhat daunting as the Titan’s width and weight make it fearsome to drive down a two-lane road. We especially felt this sensation as we entered the canyon section leading up to Ocotillo Wells, with narrower passages and constant traffic on a given Saturday.
Fortunately, the truck was great at braking response, with ABS and 14-inch vented disc brakes to keep us from losing control. We could also got into tow mode to shift between gears at our leisure, but we decided to let the Titan do the thinking.
Diesel owners will know this, but stabbing the throttle on an untuned, unmodified diesel truck won’t result in instant pick-up-and-go. The same applies to the Titan XD which, from a dead stop, had to take time to build up momentum and then it was – ZOOM! – hauling, as they say. Even when at full-tilt, the truck still had great interior sound deadening, so we’re giving big props to Nissan for making the driving experience quiet for a diesel.
That leaves only the fuel economy. It’s with a heavy heart that we confirm what you probably suspected: the Titan XD is not a fuel-efficient vehicle. Shocker, we know. The constant up-and-down nature of the Highway 78 chipped away at our MPG meter as we drove along, even as we let off of the throttle completely on downgrades. Still, we were surprised to achieve a best of 19.2 mpg from this excursion. City driving showed us an average of around 13 mpg, so this was a pretty big improvement.
Off-Road Driving Impressions
For those not in the know, Ocotillo Wells SVRA is located on desert lands northeast of San Diego, next to the Salton Sea. It’s a prime off-road location here in Southern California for its abundance of terrain to cover, with dune climbs, whoops, and washboards galore.
Armed with skidplates and Bilstein shocks, the Pro-4X should have been able to handle this terrain, but the sad truth is that it could not. It’s the supposed off-road trim package offered by Nissan, but the truck was out of its element when faced with surfaces harsher than a dirt road leading to some state prison.
The openness of Mesa Road leading into the SVRA had some little bumps and dips, nothing out of the ordinary. Further out where wavy terrain or hard-formed sand is found, the pickup became a bucking bull that hated every second; we made special mention of the large amount of headroom earlier, and it was from this excursion that we really appreciated that high ceiling.
What we did like was the experience once we had turned off traction control. The Titan XD had no problem letting us get a little crazy in the dirt, kicking out the rear end with the throttle stabbed and kicking up dust from a dead stop. Four-wheel-drive and the locking differential were fun to play with, too, so long as we kept the speed below 20 mph.
Going up and down dunes was tricky, as we felt uncomfortable about the entry angle. The aforementioned skidplate and pair of tow hooks made going over certain sections a bad idea, but we still enjoyed getting to explore the further reaches of the SVRA landscape. With a modified bumper and some higher-travel shocks, we could even see the Titan XD as a badass diesel prerunner someday. For now, however, the truck is best left to carrying bikes and trailers with actual off-road vehicles.
In almost all areas compared with its predecessor, the 2016 Titan XD is a resounding success. Gone are the old, boring aesthetics, with a boring gasoline V8 and a boring personality. Here is a new motor, a new size, new gadgets and electronic amenities, and a new direction for potential truck buyers to embark upon.
Where the Titan XD trips up is in its market placement. For the money, it has a hard time standing up to the competition, whether it be tow ratings, fuel economy, or output. It does have an edge with the foldout backseat table, trailer light cycling, and integrated gooseneck hitches, but those are footnotes compared to the big concerns of tow ratings, fuel economy, and power output.
Half-ton owners who want a diesel can get more torque out of an EcoDiesel Ram, and 3/4-ton customers will probably choose capability over comfort. We really want to see Nissan bring the fight to the diesel market in the coming years, and hopefully the Titan XD can find the right footing where it belongs.
To answer the burning question, though – should you buy a Nissan Titan XD – we can only say, take one out and decide for yourself. We think Nissan did an amazing job of refreshing the Titan, but perhaps it went a little too far.