2020 Nissan Titan XD First Drive – Is de Tweener helemaal volwassen?

Translating…

On a cold January morning during the 2015 North American International Auto Show, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn debuted the brand’s all-new pickup truck. It wasn’t a typical full-size, half-ton offering. Rather, it was a “tweener” that sits between the half-ton and three-quarter ton trucks currently on sale. Ghosn made the business case for the truck, stating that nearly 150,000 people every year switch from a half-ton to a three-quarter ton truck or vice versa because there’s no real truck out there to meet their needs. Additionally, the truck would have a 5.0-liter Cummins diesel V8 engine.

Fast forward to 2020 and things have changed. Sales of the first-generation Titan XD were lackluster at best, and the company has completely discontinued the diesel engine and regular cab options. Ghosn himself was smuggled out of Japan in an instrument case back to Lebanon to avoid the Japanese legal system. But there is a new version of the Titan XD, and Nissan claims things will be different this time. 

(Full disclosure: Nissan flew me to Jackson, Mississippi to drive the 2020 Titan XD, tour the production facility in Canton, and enjoy food from Chef Cory Bahr’s amazing restaurant.)

While I understood and quite liked the half-ton Nissan Titan for what it is, the XD was always something of a head scratcher for me. If you needed more towing or hauling capability than what a half-ton truck would allow, you simply upgraded to a three-quarter ton truck. Even with the old XD’s Cummins diesel, the truck only made 555 lb-ft of torque compared to the over 900 lb-ft offered by the competition. The Big Three truck makers were also able to offer huge incentives that made their trucks’ price competitive with the Titan.

Did the Titan XD drive nicer than a three-quarter truck competitor? Sure. But not enough to really make a difference in what I’d buy.

Nissan’s positioning of the truck also didn’t make sense. The company complicated things by trying to make a truck segment that didn’t really exist. None of this factors in how fiercely loyal truck buyers are.

For 2020, things are different. The Titan XD is only available in a crew cab configuration with four-wheel drive. Its powered by the brand’s 5.6-liter Endurance V8, that with premium fuel makes 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque. That power is sent to all four wheels via a very good nine-speed automatic transmission. Both the engine and transmission are standard equipment on the half-ton Titan, as well.

The Titan XD is longer than the half-ton truck and bigger overall. It’s 3 inches taller and 11.8 inches longer in wheelbase compared to the half-ton. It’s also 14.8 inches longer. There’s a 6.5-foot bed in the Titan XD, plus a unique, heavy duty frame built specifically for that model. The rear differential is 9.84 inches in size with 3.5-inch axle tubes. Front differential measures 9.25-inches. Massive brakes help keep everything in check, with 14.2 x 1.5-inch rotors up front and 14.4 x 1.2-inch rotors in the rear.

Towing capacity is up to 11,000 pounds, which is 1,600 pounds more than the half-ton, while payload grows 750 pounds to 2,450.

Nissan has simplified its messaging on the Titan XD. Don’t think of it as a different truck, but rather as a towing package for the half-ton. Instead of just getting a tow hitch and trailer brake controller, buyers get a heavier duty truck for a modest price premium. That premium? $2,590 on base S trim with four-wheel drive, and as little as $1,300 on the SL trim.

All of this is purely academic if it doesn’t work out in the real world. Like in the regular Titan, the nine-speed automatic performs exceptionally well and doesn’t often hunt for gears. Shifts are quick and smooth, with the extra cogs making better use of the V8’s naturally aspirated power. The engine itself is stout — it’s one of my favorite V8 truck engines — but it doesn’t feel significantly more powerful than the last generation.

The truck is also smooth and composed when towing. Nissan includes the trailer brake controller (some OEMs don’t) on its towing packages, and the Titan XD can support conventional towing as well as a gooseneck trailer.

Even when attached to a trailer nearing the rated maximum capacity of the truck, the truck performs flawlessly. The most noticeable change over towing with the half-ton is how much better a bigger braking system is in improving confidence. The rest of the heavy duty components are nice, and surely add to the assuredness you feel when towing, but being able to confidently press the brake pedal and have the truck stop is a relief.

The 2020 Titan XD also benefits from all of the other changes made to its half-ton sibling. That means upgraded NissanConnect Services that even include a personal concierge. A new infotainment screen measuring up to 9 inches supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Fender premium audio system is one of the best found in pickup trucks right now. Upgraded safety technology includes autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams, in addition to things like blind spot monitoring.

If you are a Nissan Titan buyer, but plan on spending some time towing, you’d be remiss by not buying the Titan XD. As far as towing packages go, this is quite a doozy.

If this truck existed inside a Hermetically-sealed bubble with no competition, the truck would be brilliant. Sadly for Nissan, it lives in a world where the Ford Super Duty, Ram Heavy Duty, and the General Motors HD trucks exist. While the infotainment found in the Titan XD outclasses both the GM twins and the Ford, a new Super Duty with the 7.3-liter gasser and 10-speed automatic has better towing numbers at similar pricing.

Ultimately that’s going to restrict buyers. The Big Three’s competitiveness isn’t just the product, but the ability to market and price the product competitively. If one of those companies wants more market share, it simply needs to cut into its massive margins and run some ad campaigns. The battle is much tougher for Nissan, which can incentivize the trucks and build a state-of-the-art product, but doesn’t have the massive war chests enjoyed by the competition.

The 2020 Nissan Titan XD is a better product than the one it replaces. It offers some features that the competition doesn’t. But it lives in a world where everyone is building a better product, and which will likely limit the audience interested in ultimately purchasing one of these rigs.

[Images: Nissan]

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