Lifestyle

Nissan's Bulked Up Family Truck


Titan_2006
Editor's Rating: star rating

With its powerful, full-size Titan, Nissan is looking to grab a chunk of the pickup market. So why isn't it selling better?

The Nissan Titan is kind of like a Sumo wrestler trying to make it big on the pro wrestling circuit. It's the first powerful, in-your-face, full-size pickup truck to be offered by a Japanese manufacturer, and it clearly has the bulk to succeed. You just have to wonder if it's flashy enough to continue winning hearts and minds in the land of The Rock and Hulk Hogan.

Nissan (NSANY) really studied American tastes when it created the Titan. The truck has a distinctive, chromed-up front-end and a powerful 305 horsepower V8 engine that makes it one of the fastest full-size pickup trucks on the market. Car and Driver magazine has clocked the Titan at just over seven seconds going from 0 to 60 mph, which is very fast for a vehicle that weighs over 5,000 lbs.

In its four-door, crew-cab iteration, the Titan also has one of the roomiest cabs in its class: In theory, it will seat six if you get the bench-style front seat, and five if you opt for the captain's chair front seats (though cramming in more than four adults on longer drives won't be comfortable). There are so many drink-holders in the thing it's almost embarrassing: two up front, four in the back, and space for a one-liter bottle in the center console -- and bins in each of the doors that could easily hold another bottle or two apiece.

BETTER SELLERS.

Demand for the Titan, however, shows signs of topping out. Sales soared to 83,848 units in 2004, the truck's first year on the market, but were only up 4% last year, to 86,945, and have fallen 1.7%, to 21,277, in the first three months of this year -- odd because some rival full-size pickups continue to sell well.

General Motors (GM) is getting clobbered (Chevy Silverado sales were off 8% in the first quarter), but Ford's (F) best-selling F-Series pickups jumped 5.5%, to 199,801, in the quarter, while DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) Dodge RAMs were up 1%, to 90.386. And despite high gas-pump prices, what's selling best for Ford and Dodge are big, powerful crew-cab trucks like the Titan.

The Titan's big downside is that it isn't offered in the incredible variety that rival trucks from Ford, GM, and Dodge are. The big V8 is the only available engine and the Titan only comes with crew or extended cab. There's no economy version with a smaller engine and regular cab for $20,000 or less.

TRY IT OUT.

The big crew cab only comes with a five-and-a-half foot bed, though you can get a six-and-a-half foot bed with the smaller cab. There's no manual transmission, and there are no big, heavy-duty workhorse versions of the Titan like Ford's F-250 and F-350. And for the high end, there's no super-fancy, wood-trimmed luxury version, either.

Still, the Titan probably should be on your shopping list if you're a weekend or recreational user, especially if you have a family and want to tow a boat, camper, or horse trailer. The cab isn't as big as Dodge's hot-selling new Mega Cab, but it's plenty roomy with two adults up front and two or three kids in back (see BW Online, 3/22/06, "Dodge's Living Room on Wheels"). I'm 5' 10", and with the front seats all the way back, I still had a couple of inches between the backs of the front seats and my knees.

The Titan also has excellent towing capabilities. Equipped with the optional towing package ($250 to $400 extra) it can pull up to 9,500 lbs., about equal to an F-150 and well ahead of a comparable Silverado (7,700 lbs) and Toyota Tundra (6,800 lbs). The big engine has lots of torque for easy startups when you're pulling a load, and the automatic transmission has a towing mode that keeps shifting smooth. The bifocal rear-view mirrors (with both a regular and wide-angle view) can be pulled out from the frame for seeing around a wide trailer.

FIDO-READY.

Nissan has built tons of family-friendly versatility and comfort into this truck. The gas and brake pedals are power adjustable -- a must for shorter drivers. And to keep the kids occupied, there's a rear-seat entertainment center ($1,450) with wireless headphones so they can watch movies or listen to music in back while their parents have their own music on in the front. The storage bins in the doors are big enough to store lots of books and games, and optional storage bins can be added under the rear seats for $150.

For fresh air without wind-buffeting, the crew cab comes with a standard 13 in. by 28.5 in. power rear window, about twice as wide as in most pickups. Adding a sun roof will set you back $900. The rear seats are especially well-designed for hauling stuff. They fold down to form a platform or can be pulled up against the back wall of the cab, creating a big space on the floor -- especially handy for traveling with dogs because cleanup is easy and the seats are spared the wear-and-tear of claws.

For tying down gear like lawnmowers and bikes, there are reinforced rails on the sides and in the floor of the bed that you can slide heavy-duty cleats onto. There's also an optional sprayed-on bed liner for $340 (something you usually have to buy as an after-market add-on) to avoid scratching up the truck bed. Another unusual feature is a lockable compartment in the truck's left rear flank for storing gloves, flares, and other such items.

SAFETY FIRST.

If you really want to go All-American, there's a $2,500 package that adds 18 in. spoked wheels, lots of chrome, fog lights, and special "Texas Edition" badges. For off-roaders, the Titan is more rugged than the other Japanese truck to hit the market lately, Honda's Ridgeline, and has an optional off-road package that includes heavy duty tires and shocks which goes for $1,000.

Like other big trucks, the Titan is quite safe. It earned an "excellent" driver safety and "good" passenger safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It hasn't been tested for side collisions, but you can add a package for $1,200 that includes side and side curtain airbags (not offered on the F-150), stability control, a rollover sensor, and braking assist.

If you like what the Titan has to offer, it's priced comparably to its main rivals -- though GM dealers will probably deal a lot more on price, given the company's sales slump. The cheapest Titan, the two-wheel drive XE with extended cab, starts at $24,105, rising to $27,305 when you add four-wheel drive. The mid-range SE with the big crew cab, captain's seats, and basic comforts like power windows, mirrors, and doors, starts at $28,755, rising to $31,955 with four-wheel drive. With the big cab, the top-of-the-line LE version of the Titan with leather seats starts at $33,555, rising to $36,605 with four-wheel drive.

BIT OF A WHINER.

The Titan uses regular gasoline and its mileage rating is similar to those of its main rivals: 14 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway. In a stretch of 175 miles of mixed highway and local driving, I got 14.3 mpg.

One big doubt-raiser about the Titan for me is that it only earns a two star (out of five) overall quality rating from J.D. Power, though it gets four stars for overall appeal and performance. Nissan's team also really should re-engineer the growl of the Titan's V8. It's annoyingly high-pitched during hard acceleration and becomes a continuous whine at highway speed. It also bothered me that the Titan sometimes bounces like a much bigger truck when you're cruising on the Interstate.

Should you buy one? If you're mainly interested in Japanese quality, you might consider waiting until Toyota's (TM) redesigned Tundra comes out this fall. I would also definitely test-drive a Detroit model or two first. This is one market where they offer very tough competition.


Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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