Review: 2016 Nissan Titan XD takes no prisoners

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The announcement that Nissan was planning a heavy-duty half-ton truck and doing so in partnership with Cummins for a huge diesel powerplant was a shock to truck fans(Credit: Aaron Turpen / Gizmag)

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The Nissan Titan XD is truly a Titan among trucks, with a bigger size, heavier footprint, and more powerful diesel engine than any other half-ton pickup on the market. Is more really better, though? Gizmag spent a week in the 2016 Titan XD shortly after it entered production to learn what this truck is really made for (and of).

When Nissan announced its plans to revamp the Titan pickup last year, many were skeptical as to whether the lowest-selling half-ton pickup on the market would even continue production. The announcement that Nissan was planning a heavy-duty half-ton truck and doing so in partnership with Cummins for a huge diesel powerplant was a shock to truck fans. Other companies had toyed with the idea of a HD half-ton, but few saw the market potential in it. Nissan seems to think there is a big niche of waiting consumers, though, and has gone ahead with the Titan XD project.

In our assessment, there is indeed a market for a truck like this. The gap between the capabilities of a typical half-ton truck and a three-quarter ton heavy-duty truck has been widening for years as one remained relatively stagnant and the other became ever larger and more powerful. The Nissan Titan XD is meant to fill that gap, offering the efficiencies of a half-ton and some of the more desirable capabilities of a heavy-duty truck. The Titan XD has a hauling capacity of up to 2,091 pounds and towing of up to 12,314 pounds (948 and 5,585 kg). That's cargo carrying about on par with a typical half-ton gasoline-powered pickup and just beneath the towing of a heavy-duty diesel-powered trucks.

The 2016 Titan XD is available only as a crew cab with a 6.5-foot (1.98 meter) bed with an available integrated gooseneck trailer hitch and tie-downs. Rear-wheel or four-wheel drive are available and the only engine option is the V8 Cummins. There are five trim levels available of which Gizmag drove the top-of-the-line Platinum Reserve package. The lower-end Titan XD S model begins the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) at US$40,290 and the top-level Platinum Reserve finishes at US$57,470.

The biggest story behind the 2016 Titan XD is the partnership made with Cummins to apply the big V8 diesel to the truck. A new design from Cummins, the engine is a 5.0-liter V8 turbodiesel that produces 310 horsepower (231 kW) and a phenomenal 555 lb-ft (752 Nm) of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission built by Aisin is standard equipment in both the rear-wheel and four-wheel drive variants. The engine utilizes several well-considered technologies to keep itself lightweight and powerful. Weighing less than 1,000 pounds in all, the Cummins V8 uses a multi-stage turbocharger, strong cooling including intercooling for the turbo, and high-pressure fuel injection which helps prevent diesel fuel gelling in cold weather.

Underneath and around that big engine and drivetrain is a heavily reinforced, heavy-duty frame and suspension made to handle the rough towing that the Titan XD is made for. What is a pleasant surprise, though, is how smooth and well-mannered that heavy frame and suspension are when driving the Titan XD on the highway without cargo weight. Typically, a heavy-duty truck is less than comfortable at highway speeds when unladen. Not so with the Titan XD. Nissan has perfected heavy chassis design with its commercial vans and that definitely shows here.

Because the Titan XD is exempt from Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy measurement requirements, there are no officially published numbers for the truck. In our use over the week, we averaged just under 18 mpg all told. We expect that most users who drive empty most of the time and tow heavy loads for about ten percent of their usage will see about the same.

The interior of the 2016 Titan XD is a new design for the company, but has many similarities with market leaders like the Ford F-Series and General Motors trucks. Big, beefy, and flat are the key design elements. Notable to Titan fans will be the move from a dash-mounted shift lever to a column shifter. It retains its substantial, big-grip presence and adds manual shifting buttons for moving up and down the gears. On its end is a Tow-Haul button for toggling this mode, which changes transmission vectoring, sway control in the braking system, and a few other things for towing.

An integrated trailer braking control is standard, located at the bottom of the central dash cluster just below the climate controls. This is another improvement over past Titan designs in which the trailer brake controls were often located right about where the driver's knee wanted to be. In five-person seating arrangements (front buckets), the space between the seats is dominated by a huge, deep storage compartment that is larger than most studio apartments in Hong Kong.

One complaint about the Titan XD's interior is button size on the dash. The layout is very well done and everything is easy to find and read, but if you're wearing work gloves or your hands are cold and numb from working in the field, some of those dials and buttons suddenly seem very tiny and delicate.

Overall space inside the 2016 Nissan Titan XD is very good, though, with plenty of head, leg, and knee room at all locations in the cabin. A driver or front passenger who's over six feet in height can wear a cowboy hat without scraping the roof (yes, we tested this). In the rear, passengers over six feet will find themselves able to sit and ride comfortably, no matter the size of the person in front of them. All good signs in a full-sized truck.

Out on the road, unladen, the Titan XD drives well, with a smooth and well-mannered feel on the highway. Its bulky size is readily apparent when driving around town or maneuvering in a parking lot, of course, and narrow streets will not be the Titan's friend. That is par for the course in full-sized trucks in the main. When loaded, the Titan XD drives well and has even better suspension characteristics. We hauled furniture in the truck (roughly 1,000 pounds) and it felt good with that weight.

When towing, the Titan XD really comes into its sweet spot. Towing a gooseneck trailer laden will bulls at roughly 9,300 pounds (4,200 kg) in total, the Titan XD did very well. It climbed hills and made highway speeds without much fuss and the braking system (triggered by tapping the brakes twice), including engine retarders and other smart gadgets, kept it at speed on the downhill side. When towing from the ball hitch with a trailer and cargo weighing about 3,000 pounds with roughly a third of that on the tongue, the Titan XD barely noticed anything was back there. Sway control and traction were good in both towing tests.

For the heavy hauler who doesn't necessarily need a lot of cargo capacity or the costs associated with the typical three-quarter ton truck, the 2016 Nissan Titan XD hits the mark. Of course, some buyers will want the Titan XD purely for bragging rights, but the Cummins engine's quiet nature and the solid, unshaking demeanor of the truck at idle may put off some of those swagger buyers. As a true working truck, the 2016 Nissan Titan XD is a solid choice that hits a niche which could prove profitable for the company as a means towards finally making inroads into the full-sized truck market.

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