Nissan Titan Review: Can Japan’s Diesel Juggernaut Find American Success?

wheel-to-wheel new car reviews

2016 Nissan Titan

2016 Nissan Titan | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

For those of you who like to remain in the rock & roll know, the band Clutch released a badass track last year called “Noble Savage,” and if you are into heavy-handed rock and haven’t listened to it yet, you probably should. It’s a rough and tumble, high energy kind of track, with plenty of foot tapping attitude to inspire anyone to go off-roading in a 4×4 for the first time or hit the open highway with gusto.

I’m not entirely sure why, but driving the Nissan Titan around for a week kept inspiring me to replay this track over and over again, and weeks later, I think I’m finally beginning to realize the logic behind it. It’s not that I was just “feeling” this particular track more than other songs on my playlist that week; the song was a representation of the Titan itself.

2016 Nissan Titan Box

2016 Nissan Titan Box | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

It’s a rough and tumble, torque-rich take on what the new league of Japanese pickup has transformed into, and in Crew Cab trim is more befitting of its namesake than ever before. The Titan is a beast of a truck. It’s designed to tow, haul, crush, and conquer any work load thrown at its weight class, and from a practicality viewpoint is a radiant example of pickup truck ingenuity. But as savage as the Titan may be, it also has a very noble air to it, and once strapped with a few trim packages, it becomes a very pleasant machine to pilot.

Nissan Titan grille

Nissan Titan grille | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior

Outside of a Winnebago, this truck is without a doubt the largest vehicle I have ever driven so far. It’s taller, wider, and longer than the Toyota Tundra TRD-PRO, and is more broad-shouldered overall in its engineering approach. With its hammer-like LED daytime running lights, off-road-ready ride height, bold grille, brick panel TITAN stamping, and contrasting skid plate, the Titan’s presence is impressive to behold in person. But perhaps the best part of the show here is the bed, with its standard integrated goose neck adapter, optional storage boxes and sliding tie-down rails, and integrated cupholders reminding you that this is part workhorse and part tailgate party machine.

2016 Nissan Titan

2016 Nissan Titan crew cab | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior pros and cons

+ Big and brutish, the 2016 Titan is an attractive truck that makes for a very imposing presence in Crew Cab form.

+ Standard features include auto headlamps and an LED DRL setup, standard fog lights, massive extendable, foldable heated tow mirrors with puddle lamps, a removable locking tailgate, multiple hitches, front tow hooks, four skid plates, and a spray-on bedliner.

+ Notable options worth adding include Nissan’s Utili-Track tie-down system, tailgate illumination, a 110V outlet in the bed, an electronic tailgate lock, LED under-rail bed lighting, and a duo of locking storage boxes.

– The only major downside to the Titan is how unwieldy it is in urban environments. Even in an average parking lot you find yourself pulling almost too far forward in order to allow room for a car to park behind you, and being so wide means getting in and out can require some serious concentration when a vehicle is next to you.

– When driving solo, not having the ability to electronically fold those massive mirrors in means putting the truck in park and walking around to push the passenger side mirror in. An inconvenience in off-road conditions or mud-filled work sites, where clearance can sometimes be an issue.

– No bumper corner steps like GM options, the massive antenna is large enough to page the Space Station, and without factory side steps, the vertically challenged have a hard time getting in and out.

2016 Nissan Titan Cummins diesel

2016 Nissan Titan Cummins diesel | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain

The turbo-diesel 5.0-liter Cummins V8 in the Titan is quite different in temperament than its gasoline counterpart, and is capable of a furious 555 foot-pounds of torque. But while it rumbles in the way a diesel engine should, it’s also surprisingly refined, and when paired with an Aisin six-speed gearbox, shift on the fly 4WD, and a locking rear differential, the Titan transforms into a rugged mud lover with leather gloves.

Nissan 5.0-liter turbo diesel V8

Titan’s 5.0-liter turbo-diesel V8 | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain pros and cons

+ 555 foot-pounds of consistent torque meets 310 horsepower, then returns an average that hovers around 18 miles per gallon around town when in rear-wheel drive — with a tow capacity of up to 12,310 pounds.

+ Drive modes can be selected on the fly, the rear differential can be electronically disengaged, hill start assist and descent control come standard, and tow modes help lighten the load.

+ Throttle responses at higher speed are better than expected for something so heavy, and both shifts and highway cruising are surprisingly refined.

– Being so heavy, uphill climbs forced the engine and the transmission into a deadlock where the engine would fight hard and the trans would jump revs.

– After driving both gasoline and diesel variants of the PRO-4X, the $5,000 saved by opting for the V8 gasoline version is a strong argument, especially since it can still tow around 10,000 pounds.

2016 Nissan Titan

2016 Nissan Titan | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior

This is where the savage Titan turns noble on you. With luxury, convenience, and audio packages installed, there is a level of refinement here that makes the drive home from the work site an absolute joy. Heated and ventilated seats, storage spaces that can fit entire briefcases, cubbies aplenty front and back, a heated rear bench and steering wheel, and Nissan’s amazing ability to over-stuff every soft touchsurface make a strong case for adding some extras to the stock cabin.

2016 Nissan Titan

2016 Nissan Titan | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior pros and cons

+ The level of comfort and convenience you can expect in a loaded version of the Titan is impressive, with soft touch materials and loads of heated/cooled leather serving as a cornerstone.

+ Crew Cab versions are very roomy, and sport several storage cubbies, with the rear bench serving as added stow space when folded up in 60/40 fashion.

+ Favorite touches include the 12-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio upgrade, a functional and simple center stack layout, the heated steering wheel, and all of those charging ports/power plugs.

– Even on full blast, the rear vents don’t churn out the level of cooling backseat passengers deserve on a hot day.

– At almost $60,000, the new GMC Sierra Denali has the Titan beat in the interior department, both in quality of materials and amenities.

Nissan Titan MID

Nissan Titan MID | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech and safety

Trucks these days are no longer the large, lumber-lugging assemblies of stamped steel, but sophisticated, highly intelligent work machines. The Titan serves as a solid example of what’s possible, with informative multi-information displays and center stack stats offering drivers updates on everything from terrain grade and weather conditions to traction settings and corner camera views.

Nissan "Around View"

Nissan “Around View” | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech pros and cons

+ Front and rear sonar, Nissan’s helpful Around View monitor with motion detection, and the standard backup camera all make tight parking places and sharp turns much more manageable.

+ NissanConnect is very helpful if you need to go hands-free and have to punch in directions or find out info regarding a particular destination, as are the on-board apps and navigation prompts.

+ Simple things like a push-button start, keyless entry, easy to navigate controls and menus, a power tilt/telescoping wheel, and reverse auto tilting mirrors make daily driving a lot easier.

– Graphically, both the MID and touchscreen are not as aesthetically engaging as the aforementioned Sierra Denali, nor are they as detailed.

– By today’s standards, a seven-inch touchscreen on an optioned-out $60,000 vehicle feels small, though it gets the job done.

Drive modes

Titan Pro-4X Drive modes | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The drive

In 2WD mode, the Titan is a dependable mode of transportation — if slightly unwieldy in certain circumstances. You do find yourself planning your parking choices well in advance due to the sheer size of the Crew Cab’s dimensions, and circling the block is often easier than slapping it in reverse, which is to be expected in something so massive.

Open road driving is balanced, with an acoustically-sound cabin making for pleasant cruising experiences, and even though the Bilstein shocks and rear leaf springs are engineered to tackle off-road conditions, it’s not an uncomfortable ride. The ventilated disc brakes feel plenty capable, and offer reassurance when heavy loads are in tow, and visibility from the large tow mirrors eliminates blind spots extremely well.

When the pavement finally turns to gravel, and mud replaces potholes, shifting to all-wheel drive on the fly offers added traction and a grounded feeling that is quite supportive. After seeing firsthand what the gasoline version of the PRO-4X is capable of in muddy conditions a few months back, and then sending the diesel rendering through a mountain of sand and gravel, I can confirm that the Titan and its all-terrain tires fear no obstacle.

Nissan Titan PRO-4X

Nissan Titan PRO-4X | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Wrap up and review

Altogether, with about seven grand worth of options added to it, the diesel version of the Titan PRO-4X sits in a very good spot because there’s just so much that it does well, both on and off the open road. It has all the rugged capabilities and practical work payloads that one expects from a 5.0-liter diesel V8, and the amount of smart storage space and clever design inside the cabin make any situation a manageable one.

It’s a truck built to show Americans that the Big 3 aren’t the only ones who can make big diesel power and well-executed workhorse engineering. There really isn’t much to dislike about the Titan PRO-4X to begin with, and by making it even more capable and refined than one might expect, Nissan has broken into a segment normally dominated by American heavy-duties thanks to the help of the Cummins engine.

A fully loaded Titan truly is a noble savage because for as ferocious as its powertrain can be or how intimidating it’s size might be, its driving characteristics and the way in which the interior and tech are assembled make for a remarkable pickup experience. So if a four-door truck is on your must-buy list, and you will be towing stuff (like, lots of stuff), check out the gasoline V8 version of the Titan, then drive its Cummins-equipped brethren to find out if that extra torque is worth it.

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