Nissan Titan — upgrades freshen a good truck

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

With the much publicized launch of the full-sized Toyota Tundra pickup last year, the complete makeover of the Chevrolet Silverado two years ago and the upcoming fall introduction of an all-new Ford F-150 and a completely revitalized Dodge Ram, we thought perhaps it was time to revisit the full-sized Nissan Titan.

We last looked at the Titan in 2004, its initial model year. It lives on relatively unchanged, but with a few notable upgrades for the 2008 model year.

The Titan was the first full-sized Japanese pickup to take the Big Three head on nearly four years before Toyota decided to elevate the Tundra into direct competition with Detroit. So we wanted to know how the Nissan stacks up in 2008 against not only the Tundra, but also the well-done Silverado and its GMC Sierra twin and the 2008 editions of the F-150 and Ram.

Unlike Toyota, Nissan never had grand plans for the Titan. It announced at the outset that its goal was a modest 100,000 sales a year.

Unfortunately for Nissan, it has never met that goal coming close in 2005 with 87,000 sales. Last year, in a down market for full-sized pickups, Titan sales dipped to 65,746.

And we predict, with some regret, that the Titan will probably sink further into obscurity in 2008 because of the new Tundra and Silverado and the consistent formidability of Ford and Dodge, even in the last year of their current iteration. We say regret because we like the Titan and we think it's still relevant in a time when the Tundra is stealing all the Japanese thunder.

We hope the upgrades in its fifth year of existence may be enough to put more Titans on the road in 2008.

Upgrades include:

• The addition of a long-wheelbase model in the big news and actually long overdue. The 20-inch longer wheelbase means that both the extended cab and crew cab models will be outfitted with new eight-foot and seven-foot bed lengths respectively.

In prior years, the Titan came only with short-beds, five-feet-five inches in the crew cab and six-feet-five inches in the extended cab. This made for a nice, tidy-looking truck very suitable for the suburban homeowner who did most of his hauling from Home Depot or quick runs to the waste disposal center.

The lack of a longer bed may have cost Nissan sales among construction workers and farmers who have need for more bed space, and perhaps even among some of those aforementioned suburban dwellers who need space for motorcycles and other weekend toys.

The longer wheelbase also features a huge 37-gallon fuel tank that will considerably increase the range of the Titan. The shorter wheelbase versions will get the standard 28-gallon tank.

• A slight uptick in horsepower and torque. This marginal improvement actually came for the 2007 model year when the horsepower of 5.6-liter V-8 was increased from 305 to 317 and torque was upped from 379 to 385 pound-feet.

• Styling tweaks. They include a revised front end and interior improvements,  which include a new center stack and gauge cluster.

• The addition of a PRO-4X off-road trim level. Most of the PRO-4's features — performance shock absorbers, lower final drive ratio, additional skid plates, aluminum off-road wheels and large all-terrain tires — could be purchased separately in year's past.

While the Titan doesn't have best-in-class power we have always found that the Nissan V-8 offers a rewarding experience whether in off-the-line performance, while merging or passing or when the truck is loaded down with cargo. And while the maximum towing capacity of 9,500 pounds falls just short of the industry leaders in the half-ton segment, it should be more than satisfactory for 90 percent of pickup shoppers.

For comparison purposes, the Titan has been measured from 0 to 60 in a rather quick 7 seconds. We say quick considering the crew cab's 5,300-pound curb weight.
We actually have more of a problem with the lack of a V-6 engine option than the lack of a bigger V-8 as found in competitor trucks including the Tundra. Nissan's very sturdy V-6 as found in its smaller Frontier pickup, we think would be very attractive to buyers who don't need massive towing or hauling capacities but would like better gas mileage.

And there is a rumor that Nissan is considering such a move.

One of the Titan's strong points that we rediscovered during seven days behind the wheel of a 4X4 SE crew cab model was the appealing driving experience from the way the big truck handles and performs to its stylish and appealing interior living space.

This pickup feels good even if it doesn't stand out in any one category.

It's well thought out with a lot useable storage space for just about anything. And the new gauge package is not only attractive but user friendly as well.

Also user friendly was the rear-seat legroom in the crew cab. The seatbacks don't recline, but they are at such an angle that long-distance comfort is not compromised. Although our SE did not come with some of the goodies found on higher trim levels, rear seaters had access to seat-pocket storage, cupholders and individual reading lights.

When hauling is the primary function, the rear seats fold up yielding a large load floor.

We do recommend that if you consistently haul more than two people, opt for the crew cab although the extended cap will accommodate a couple of adults in the rear seat for short jaunts. It's too confining for long trips.

The Titan comes in four trim levels, the base XE, SE, PRO4X and LE and in the extended and crew cab sizes. And now both configurations can be purchased with a long wheelbase.

The XE is a rather basic truck with 18-inch wheels, a front bench seat, air conditioning, stereo with CD player and cruise control starting at $24,448. We figure most people will opt for the SE version starting at $28,075 for the rear-wheel version of the extended cab and $29,145 for the crew cab.

Standard equipment on the SE is generous including 18-inch alloy wheels, full power equipment, center console and a stereo system with eight speakers, MP3 capability and six-CD changer.

Safety including four-wheel antilock brakes, front side airbags and side-curtain airbags.

The SE and LE trim levels can be purchased with DVD navigation and rear entertainment.

Our SE crew cab test truck with four-wheel drive, came with a few extras including a bed package, tow package and a "popular package" that substitutes the center console for a front bench seat. Bottom line was $35,500.

Even in its fifth year and against some strong competition, we still recommend the Titan as a truck you can like and work with and be proud of for years to come.

Base price (crew cab) $27,295; as driven, $35,500
Engine: 5-6-liter V-8
Horsepower: 317 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque: 385 foot-pounds @ 3,400 rpm
Drive: four-wheel
Seating: 3/3
Wheelbase: 139.8 inches
Length: 224.6 inches
Curb weight: 5,311 pounds
Turning circle: 45.6 feet
Towing capacity: 9.400 pounds
Fuel capacity: 28 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 17 highway, 12 city
0-60: 7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Toyota Tundra, Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Dodge Ram

The Good
• Stylish, functional cabin
• Longer wheelbase version yields more bed storage
• Powerful V-8 engine

The Bad
• Lack of more affordable V-6 engine option

The Ugly
• Gas mileage is anemic