• By: Neil Moore

Titan half-ton ready to take on best from Detroit Three

Photos by Neil Moore / Feature image: With a colossal chrome grille, big slab sides and wheelwells, and an overall “square-jawed” look, Nissan’s Titan pickup has taken on a similar look to its Detroit Three competition.

Pickup trucks are big business in North America. You’d think, with most Canadians living in cities and towns, the runaway best-selling vehicle wouldn’t be a truck. But it is – as are four of the top five.

So it made sense that Nissan, with its middle of the road, almost full-size pickup, would do something about a missed opportunity.

And they did, starting in 2016 with the launch of their full-size Titan XD.

It’s no mistake that the XD looks a bit like Ford’s perennial best seller, the F-150. For Nissan to compete in this brand-loyal market, dominated by the Detroit Three, Titan does need some resemblance to the trucks people are already snapping up.

The Titan’s square-jawed look is fronted by a colossal chrome grille, flanked by “half-T” light signatures and projector headlamps. Wheelwells are large (for plenty of travel) and the beltline is high, with dips at each side mirror like F-150 – great for side visibility.

Smartly, Nissan put its best foot forward, launching with its most robust Titan XD, powered by a 5.0L V8 Cummins Turbo-Diesel that delivers 310 hp, and more importantly, 555 lb/ft of torque. This was later joined by a V8-powered gas version, and together – with 4×2, 4×4, single-cab, crew cab, S, SV, Pro-4X, SL and Platinum trims – comprise 15 models with up to 2,000 lb payload, and 12,000 lb towing capacity.

Lockable storage, ideal for hiding valuables and loose items, can be found beneath the rear seats.

But I reviewed the XD lineup last fall, and was curious about their half-tons, which look nearly identical, yet are offered at a slightly lower price point.

Indeed, it’s hard to tell at a glance, but the Titan half-ton is shorter in overall length by nearly 15 inches, and in the wheelbase by a foot. It is also significantly lighter, but at 2,638 kg (5,816 lbs.), it is still no lightweight.

Like the petrol-burning XD, all half-ton Titans get a DOHC 32-valve 5.6-litre V8 that delivers 390 hp and 394 lb-ft of torque. You may recall it’s the same displacement as the first-gen Titan, but now has 73 more horses and nine more foot-pounds, with a broader and flatter torque curve.

Mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with tow/haul mode, this powertrain is also 28 percent more fuel efficient than its predecessor.

Having plenty of seat time in the XD diesel, my first impression of the half ton is that performance is more lively. It rockets off the line when you step hard on the accelerator, and delivers a nice, throaty exhaust note under load.

Naturally, the half-ton won’t quite measure up to its big brother, but it’s still built upon a fully boxed, full-length ladder frame, and in Pro-4X trim, this Titan will still carry 1,480 lbs. in its 5.5-foot bed (XD gets 6.5-foot with crew cab), and pull 9,080 lbs. (4,124 kg).

The Titan half-ton doesn’t come in as many flavours as the XD, but there are still seven: two with single cab and five with crew cab (S, SV, Pro-4X, SL and Platinum).

The Pro-4X, starting at $57,600, is well up the price walk, which starts at $35,498 for the base ‘S’ single-cab 4×2 and tops out at $66,300 (plus options) for Platinum Reserve.

Although I didn’t expect to find a no-frills work truck on the press fleet, any automaker in this segment needs one for contractors and others with basic needs and budgets.

S-trim models get air conditioning, power locks and windows, cruise control, tilt steering and four-speaker, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with five-inch colour display. As a “single cab,” seating is a 40/20/40 split bench, able to accommodate three.

One thing I like about pickups is having a back window that opens. On the base model, it’s a manual slider, and on higher-trim, it’s a power unit that can be operated while driving. And as mentioned above, S models are rear-drive only, and roll on 18-inch steel wheels, not alloys.

My Pro-4X had a longer content list, starting with 18-inch, six-spoke dark-finished aluminum-alloys, and a 4WD system with shift-on-the-fly 2-speed transfer case – and electronic locking rear differential.

As the name suggests, this vehicle is well equipped for off-road use. Suspension up front is a double-wishbone with stabilizer bar; in back is a multi-leaf with solid axle and Bilstein high-performance shocks. And there are skid plates over the fuel tank, oil pan, transfer case and lower radiator.

High-contrast double stitching and metallic accents complement the functional centre stack. A large infotainment screen is accompanied by knobs and buttons for often-used functions.

On that note, while the suspension may be ideal for rock crawling, it was a little bouncy on uneven city streets. Then again, I don’t expect a pickup to ride like a luxury SUV – regardless of how the interior is fitted.

Which in the case of the PRO-4X was somewhere between practical and posh. More towards the latter with the Pro-4X Luxury Package ($6,400) that includes leather seating with high-contrast stitching (heated and cooled up front), heated steering wheel and rear seats, remote engine start and around-view monitor.

Add to this standard stuff like eight-way power for the driver’s seat, smart key, metallic instrument panel finishers, high-contrast stitching on the console lid, arm rest and instrument panel, dual zone climate control, 110-volt and 12-volt power, seven-inch infotainment and driver aids like blind spot warning with rear cross traffic alert, and rearview monitor.

Rear seats can be flipped up to access the lockable underseat storage – ideal for hiding valuables. And with seats secured to the back wall, the interior cargo hold is large enough for a flat-screen TV, modestly-sized furniture items and anything you wouldn’t want exposed to the elements (and prying eyes) in the pickup bed.

But it’s in back where Nissan has sought the advice of those who rely on their trucks, and who demand more than a box with a tailgate. Which, by the way, is hydraulically damped on all models, making it easier to raise and lower. Not all pickup drivers are as burly as their rides.

I like the rear bumper step. It can be a challenge to climb in back – especially in winter – and this tucks neatly under the bumper when not in use.

Another practical feature is the bed channel system, with four heavy-duty cleats that can be locked anywhere along the bed walls or floor. It’s ideal for tying down heavy items.

Also worth mentioning is the LED bedrail lighting. Cargo lights have been around a while, and the overhead lamp above the back window is a lifesaver when loading or unloading in the dark. But it’s useless with a tonneau cover, where the bedrail LEDs take over.

Pro-4X models come standard with a spray-on bedliner. This is a no-brainer, and if your truck doesn’t come with one, get it done right away – unless you like the look of a rusty, dented pickup bed.

And speaking of, will Titan ever put a dent in F-150, Silverado and Ram sales? That’s a tall order for a relative newcomer, but in Nissan’s favour, they’ve finally built a truck that can go head-to-head with any of these, giving buyers another worthy contender.

Half-ton pickups are the volume sellers, and Nissan now offers one that can compete with the best in its segment.

SNAPSHOT: 2017 Nissan Titan XD and half-ton pickups
BODY STYLE: full-size pickup truck
ENGINE: 5.6-litre gas V8 with GDI (390 hp/394 lb/ft of torque)
DRIVETRAIN: seven-speed automatic with tow/haul mode; 4WD with two-speed transfer case
FUEL ECONOMY: (as tested) 16.0/12.0 litres/100 km (city/hwy)
CARGO BED: half-ton Crew Cab – 5.5 feet, single cab – 8 feet
TOWING: (as tested) 9,080 lbs. (4,124 kg)
PAYLOAD: (as tested) 1,480 lbs (675 kg)
PRICING: half-ton Single Cab S – $35,498, Single Cab SV – $42,150, Crew Cab S – $45,150, Crew Cab SV – $48,650, Pro-4X – $57,600, Crew Cab SL – $62,550, Platinum Reserve $66,300
WEBSITE: Nissan.ca