• By: Neil Moore

Nissan Titan Trucks Square Off With the Domestics

CHARLEVOIX, PQ: There are few rides as complex as today's pickup truck. And fewer still on which buyers have heaped so many expectations.

It was once the humble go-to vehicle for farmers, contractors and outdoor folk who needed something that could take a beating while hauling their hay bales, stacks of lumber, boats, and RVs.

Now pickup buyers come from all walks of life. From weekend renovators to genteel horsey-types, all demand civilized ride and handling, along with luxo features that rival most premium SUVs.

This hasn’t taken the focus off capability – far from it.

The escalating war for bragging rights has boosted max payload and towing to where these trucks might pull a small planet. This, along with driver tech that makes it easier for guys like me – who lack any long-haul trucking skills – to hook up and safely tow big trailers.

We can thank the Domestic Three for raising this bar. Despite stiff competition in every other segment, they’ve reigned supreme among full-size pickups.

But there’s been a second disturbance in the Force.

The first being in 2007, when Toyota finally produced a Tundra that could stand toe-to-toe with the likes of F-150, Ram and Silverado.

And now there’s the Titan.

The Titan XD Diesel may have a payload capacity of 12,037 lbs, but is seen here pulling the 167,000-lb Charlevoix tourist train.

Nissan’s full-size pickup debuted in 2003, but never really gained much traction. It could be argued the intense brand loyalty of truck buyers is to blame, but this first effort also lacked the brawniness of its North American counterparts.

So Nissan went back to the drawing board, tapping the psyches of target purchasers, and applying their findings to an all-new Titan XD diesel that debuted in late 2015.

Rich Miller, director of product planning, said at the time that although diesel versions are higher up the price walk, and typically arrive later, the company decided to launch with its best foot forward.

You know what they say about having one chance to make a first impression. Which for the Titan XD is a truck that looks very North American.

I don’t say this as a knock. Nissan has responded wisely in a market – currently Titan’s only market – where people buy pickups in massive numbers.

So if you note a resemblance to F-150, that’s no accident.

Big, slab sides, a high beltline and hood that rises to chest level – at least for me – harmonize with its burly, squared-off profile. There are, however, dips at each side mirror (like Ford), allowing for better visibility.

Even more in-your-face is the colossal chrome grille, flanked by “half-T” light signatures and projector headlamps. This pulls back into wheel wells more than capable of swallowing its 17-, 18- or available 20-inch aluminum alloys and beefy tires.

The look is more angular, yet with active grille shutters, extended overhangs and roof spoiler, it is 10 percent more aerodynamic. Which is a good thing because at more than 20 feet long and with a 151.6-inch wheelbase, the XD is a behemoth.

Its first release came with a 5.0-litre Cummins Turbo Diesel V8 that delivers 310 hp, and more importantly, 555 lb/ft of torque starting at a low 1,600 rpm. It is mated to a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission with manual column shifter.

The V8 gas-powered Titan XD boasts a payload of 2,523 pounds – ready for this very large box of apples.

All that and a 2,000-lb payload, not to mention 12,037-lb max towing, puts Titan XD in that sweet spot between light- and heavy-duty pickups. Starting price for 2017 is $53,400, topping out at $74,900 for the Platinum diesel.

A conventional V8 gas-powered XD joined the lineup last spring, with a new V8 half-ton entering showrooms now. All offer five trim levels: S, SV, Pro-4X, SL and Platinum.

I had an opportunity for seat time in the XD diesel, starting in Charlevoix on route to the nearby Le Massif ski area, which boasts some of the highest verticals east of the Rockies.

Here it made light work of the elevation changes. This XD may not be a sprinter, but launches with gusto and has no trouble accelerating on steep grades.

Earlier, it even pulled the 167,000-lb Charlevoix tourist train. I’m guessing this kind of stunt may void the 160,000-km warranty, but it proves the new truck is no wimp.

I also took part in an exercise. Not so dramatic, and I didn’t make full use of its towing muscle. Other than a little tugging, the 4,000-lb trailer made little impact in my tester’s ability to climb hills, stop or remain dead stable at highway speeds.

Thanks to trailer sway control, downhill speed control and an integrated trailer brake control, I didn’t end up sideways in a ditch. And the backup camera makes lining up easier, as does an automatic trailer light check that allows you, with the key fob, to perform this singlehandedly.

These features are also found on the petrol-burner, which is powered by 5.6-litre V8 with gasoline direct injection (390 hp/394 lb/ft of torque), also with part-time four-wheel-drive, but mated to a seven-speed automatic with column shifter.

With a payload of 2,000 pounds, this Titan XD Diesel has doubled it with the Micra Cup racecar, lift mechanism and gear in the cargo bed.

Despite being the same displacement as the first-gen Titan, this new engine has 73 more hp and nine more foot-pounds, with a broader and flatter torque curve. It’s also 28 percent more fuel efficient.

This XD shares the diesel’s content and trim levels, but at lower price points, starting at $45,900 for the base and climbing to $67,400 for Platinum.

The driving experience is a little different, with more lively acceleration – and a throaty exhaust note.

I took it on a highway run from Quebec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport to Charlevoix, and found it as comfortable and smooth-riding as any truck I’ve driven. With more insulation and body sealing, it’s SUV-quiet, and thanks to a tuned suspension and hydraulic cab mounts, less bouncy and jiggly over expansion joints and rough patches.

Ditto for the diesel.

There’s little doubt Nissan was listening to those who haul and tow. The usual overhead cargo light, for example, isn’t much help to those with a tonneau cover or those carrying tall objects like ATVs. Solution: install LED lights under the cargo rail.

Equally thoughtful are the lockable – and removable – dry storage boxes in the cargo bed, integrated gooseneck hitch (XD only) and inside, the lockable compartments below the rear seats.

But trucks aren’t just workhorses. Like its competitors, Titan offers an off-road version.

Pro-4X trim provides more ground clearance and proper gear: Bilstein shocks, skid plates, electronic locking rear differential and off-road tires.

Surrounded by ski hills and trails at Le Massif, I did a little rock crawling. It was scenic, with the gleaming St. Lawrence below, but hardly a white-knuckler, thanks in part to organizers recognizing our varied capabilities and to the vehicle’s surefootedness. This was aided by standard hill descent control that uses the brakes – noisily, but effectively – to keep a slow, constant speed down steep inclines.

I also spent time in the half-ton. With the same powertrain as the petrol XD, but significantly lighter and with a smaller footprint, this Titan was more lively.  Wheelbase is a foot shorter, and overall length drops 14.7 inches, but the cab size is the same as XD (currently crew cab only), although smaller king cab and standard cab versions are on the way.

Bed size for the half-ton crew cab is 5.5-feet (6.5 for XD), but with the new models coming, the entire lineup will include bed lengths up to eight feet.

We’ll get more into the interior next review, but I’ll make mention of the standard-equipped (and comfortable) “zero gravity” seats, which in Platinum trim are leather-upholstered, heated and cooled, with power adjust up front. Also available are two-zone climate control, heated rear seats, navigation, heated steering wheel, and 12-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio, along with wood inserts, chrome accents and more leather on the dash and doors.

These are premium amenities for the well-heeled, but with new models set to join the lineup, Nissan execs say there’s a Titan for just about every truck buyer. Which is a good thing when there are 28,000 ready to buy pickups this month alone.

The company doesn’t expect to catch or overtake the domestics, but with a more robust and handsome Titan competing in a segment that is now second largest in Canada – they are well positioned to ‘pickup’ a few more sales.

Nissan’s new gas-powered Titan XD hits the sweet spot between regular- and heavy-duty pickups with a payload of 2,523 lbs. This crew cab model is seen against the backdrop of fall colours near Charlevoix, Quebec.

SNAPSHOT: 2017 Nissan Titan XD and half-ton pickups

BODY STYLE: full-size pickup truck
ENGINE: XD: 5.0-litre Cummins Turbo Diesel V8 (310 hp/555 lb/ft of torque); 5.6-litre gas V8 with GDI (390 hp/394 lb/ft of torque); half ton: 5.6-litre gas V8 with GDI (390 hp/394 lb/ft of torque)
TRANSMISSION: Diesel – six-speed Aisin automatic; gas-powered – seven-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: Titan half ton 15.2/11.1/13.4 litres/100 km (city/hwy/comb); XD models – n/a
CARGO BED: XD Crew Cab – 6.5 feet; half-ton Crew Cab – 5.5 feet
TOWING: XD Diesel – 12,037 lbs; XD Gas – 10,999 lbs; half-ton – 9,390 lbs
PAYLOAD: XD Diesel – 2,000 lbs; XD Gas – 2,523 lbs; half-ton – 1,610 lbs
PRICING: half-ton S $44,650; SV $48,150; PRO-4X $57,100; SL $62,050; Platinum Reserve $65,800; XD S (gas) $46,250; S (diesel) $53,400; SV (gas) $50,850; SV (diesel) $57,300; PRO-4X (gas) $59,800; PRO-4X (diesel) $64,950; SL (gas) $64,750; SL (diesel) $71,250; Platinum (gas) $68,500; Platinum (diesel) $74,900. Note that gas models are 2017; diesel models are 2016.

WEBSITE: Nissan.ca