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2016 Nissan Titan XD First Drive

Challenge accepted By ,

Scottsdale, AZ -- And what a challenge it is. I believe that a lesser company would have backed down by now, thinking that it was just too costly to compete in the big leagues with a gifted little leaguer. Nissan’s newest talent (a future superstar) has been at spring training for 18 months now, and is finally ready to play ball.

Or is it? Well, on paper it’s actually too good for its designated league, and by the same token isn’t quite well enough prepared for the heavy-duty league… The new Titan XD is slotted in the “white space” according to Nissan, between the two major pickup segments and this could either turn out to be a stellar move or a tremendous mistake.

At the moment, Nissan is on a high with sales that have been very strong for the last 2 years. The coming of a real player in the insanely popular pickup segment could generate further sales. In 2013, the Titan's market share was 1.24% (its largest ever despite the “old” truck) with just under 3,700 units sold. The new XD could take a significantly larger share of that pie if the product is viable and the marketing job is done well. And that’s one of the tricks. The first is the truck itself.

Where the truck is concerned, Nissan left no stone unturned. In fact, one could say that they’ve moved heaven and earth to make sure that this Titan will strike fear in the hearts of its competitors and win over the same organ from truck lovers. I’m not 100% sold that they will, but part of the plan involves some seriously heavy artillery.

Cummins and Aisin
These two elements are key in putting the Titan XD on the map. Both brands are recognized -- no, revered -- for respectively building some of the best diesel engines and transmissions in the business. Nissan was very smart here, as they will heavily leverage these brands in their favour.

The ‘box is an Aisin 6-speed automatic that could probably handle twice as much power and three times the loads. The way it shifts is so determined that I got the impression it knew it was over-qualified for the job. It pounds away at the gears, holds them -- tortures them -- but it always works. The tow/haul mode is a truck driver’s “sport” mode and will downshift and maintain speeds, limiting the use of the brakes -- this is essentially an electronic “Jake brake.” Under normal use or with a 9,600lbs trailer to boss around, it shifts like a boss.  

Now, about that Cummins 5.0L turbo diesel V8: It develops 310 horsepower at 3,200 rpm and 555 torques at 1,600 rpm. It’s biggest trick is the use of a Holset M2 two-stage turbocharger that works like sequential chargers (small then big) or something like a twin-scroll setup where a small channel for the exhaust gasses is used at low engine speeds while a larger one kicks in at higher revs.

Smooth operator
This combination is a few things. For one, it’s unbelievably seamless and efficient. Their combined refinement (along with the cabin’s quietness) make for easy long distance driving and absolutely zero boost lag. I was, however, disappointed in the truck’s overall performance. Accelerations felt laboured. By comparison, the RAM 1500 with an EcoDiesel 3.0L V6 definitely boogies. Sure, the XD is larger and heavier but then we’re comparing a V6 to a V8. A new 390-hp 5.6L gas V8 (with a 7-speed auto) will join the Cummins next spring. That same 9,600lbs trailer, however, only put a mild dent in the XD’s forward momentum. It did not struggle and easily maintained motion while cruising uphill. The Titan XD’s max towing is set at 12,000lbs.

I’m thinking that the powertrain is so because Nissan wants (needs) this truck to be flawless, reliable, and capable enough to both last and please. Actually, everything about the Titan XD is overdone. Because of its over 8,500lbs GVWR, the regular rulebook does not apply on a number of levels including fuel consumption -- the EPA has no rules or demands for such large/heavy trucks. A "regular" Titan will be introduced at a later date and will be marketed somewhere between a midsize and a full-size truck. Both gas V6 and a V8 engines will be on offer, and they will have to meet emissions and other regulations.

Capability built in
This explains why the XD is one beefy mother. It sports an all-new fully boxed frame (has nothing to do with the previous truck) and the brakes are massive at 14" with ventilated discs with two-piston calipers all around. The leaf springs are tough, the rear axle is large -- everything about the truck screams capability. As it’s not a heavy-duty truck, it doesn’t punish the way an HD would.

The XD’s ride is comfortable, loaded (max payload is 2,000lbs) or not. It is soothingly quiet onboard. The ultra-stiff frame and the use of sound-deadening materials make the Titan XD one of the quietest trucks in the business. At 80 mph (128km/h), going uphill while towing a heavy load, we three occupants could still hold a normal conversation even while the engine was revving near the 3,000 rpm mark (max engine speed is 4,200 rpm). Drive-wise, the Nissan’s sorest point is steering. Its assistance is lacking at low speeds when you need it the most, while at speeds there’s little feedback and much vagueness from the wheel.

All aboard the lounge
If I get back to comfort, the 2016 Nissan Titan XD is a rolling living room in all trims, save for the base “S.” The XD’s new interior is far classier than it previously was, but is far from a breakthrough in design. The new materials, along with fit and finish, are good for a truck. The dashboard is simple and ergonomically laid-out, but some aspects are already dated such as the smaller HMI screen. Top-notch amenities abound in the Titan such as heated front (vented on some trims) and rear seats and steering wheel. NissanConnect with nav is optional as is a Rockford Fosgate audio system (boomin’!). Some of the best aspects are the very large centre console and the kick-ass column shifter. The very most bestest are the zero gravity seats: they truly live up to their name. The rear bench now has under-seat storage or can be folded up to open up to a flat-load floor.  

Too much face?
A truck has to be striking for more reasons than solely its size. When one spots an HD coming along, we know immediately because of its manly muscular fascia that is typically handsome. While I can’t fault the grille itself, the headlights are not as easy on the eyes. Many compared them to the current Ford F-150’s, but uglier… The rear of the truck is far more attractive.

Be that as it may, the Titan XD will be offered with a 6.5' box and with three cabin styles (regular [first time], extended, and crew). The Pro-4X is the better physical specimen of the lot with its specific 18” wheels, skid-plates, decals, and unique paint schemes. The Platinum Reserve features a number of add-ons that help it stand out, as well.

For the real trucker
In Nissan’s quest (ha!) to please as many truck buyers as possible, they’ve endowed the XD with lots of cool stuff such as a trailer light check (no need to be two anymore) that can be done with the keyfob and a backup camera system that will guide your ball to the hitch. The truck’s bed features an integrated gooseneck hitch that required a butt-load of engineering to work, a two-way dampened tailgate cargo and tailgate lamps, under-rail LED lamps, removable lockable bed storage boxes can be added to the mix as well. Seriously, it’s all there.

With the new Titan XD, Nissan figures it will cover 85% of the truck segment. This means they're not hoping for HD sales competition, but want to be a full-size +1. This positioning is smart on paper, as truck buyers might occasionally need the extra power and capabilities, but don't want to deal with a huge gas-guzzling freight train. Those needing more than a Silverado 1500, RAM 1500 or Ford F-150 will find their wants met.

Rich Miller, the Godfather of the Titan, started working on the original version way back in 1999. It was launched in 2003 as a 2004. He’s also the man behind the XD and the next Titan. Let’s just say he’s been hard at work on these trucks, and had no intention on cutting corners this time around.

Trims range from S to Platinum Reserve. Volume sales will vary between SV and Pro-4X. Pricing has yet to be announced. Production of the Titan XD has begun, and they should show up in dealerships by mid to late January.

 

 

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2016 Nissan Titan XD
nissan titan-xd 2016
2016 Nissan Titan XD
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Photos:M. St-Pierre
2016 Nissan Titan XD