Payne: Nissan Titan’s ‘ligheavy’-duty pickup

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

What’s a pickup truck? F-150, RAM, or Silverado.

The three brands define that most American of segments. Together they make up over 90 percent of US pickup sales. Trying to break their grip is like trying to think of a tennis player who might win Wimbledon outside the Big Four of Djokavic, Federer, Nadal, and Murray.

Berdych? Yeah, right.

Only Toyota and Nissan have tried and the results have been as lopsided as, well, Nadal’s record on clay the last decade. Toyota’s Texas-produced Tundra sold 118,493 units in 2014. Nissan’s Mississippi-sourced Titan? Just 12,527. Or about the number the Ford F-150 produces in a week. At least Nadal will get old. But the Big 3 trucks just get better with each cycle with more engine/trim/bed combinations than a Swiss Army knife has tools.

How to compete against this juggernaut? Um, did you think about midsize pickups?

But the Japanese manufacturers have persisted in their quixotic adventure through specialization. Toyota has carved its niche as the segment’s quality leader. And now Nissan has defined a corner of the market that it thinks will give it a foothold on the Big 3’s Matterhorn: A combination light duty-heavy duty. Call it a “ligheavy.”

Nissan says it’s identified some 150,000 buyers in the massive, two-million-unit-sales segment who want either a light-duty pickup that can shoulder the chores of a heavy duty - or who own a heavy duty diesel but want a light-duty’s smaller size and maneuverability in metro areas. The Titan XD is marketed to these tweeners and its cleverness has earned it a place as finalist in the 2016 North American Truck of the Year competition (I am a juror).

The Titan backs up its beefy, light duty claims with an engine that will make truck lovers salivate: A 310-horsepower, 555 pound-feet-of-torque Cummins diesel V-8. Not a (ahem) Italian-built V-6 as in the segment’s only other diesel offering from RAM, but a V-8 like the big HD boys get. Dude.

Sitting in my driveway, the Titan XD – like any self-respecting pickup these days – looks taller than my house. And its 151-inch Crew Cab wheelbase – six inches longer than a similar F-150 – could land a small plane. It comes with nifty features like a standard sprayed bed, bed light, gooseneck trailer hitch, adjustable tie-down cleats, and the most bed storage in segment.

Will it work?

How would I know? Your speed-addled scribe needs to drag around a 20,000-pound trailer for my race cars, so a “ligheavy” tweener won’t work for me. So I brought in my pal and light-duty pickup expert – let’s call him Pickup Bob – to put the XD through its paces.

Pickup Bob was intrigued by the concept. The Titan’s diesel is not only a fuel-sipping stump-puller, but on the road, Pickup Bob was impressed by its quiet cabin. A construction boss, he spends a lot of time in his Ford F-150 and the Nissan’s ergonomics impressed him. But not as much as his Detroit metal.

The Nissan is much improved, but looks a generation behind the Detroit 3 in its looks and interior. The new F-150, for example, is a marvel of interior and exterior design from its integrated C-clamp headlights to its exquisite gauge cluster. The Titan even adopts the Ford’s clever mirror cutout for visibility but it feels like catch-up.

Given its heavy duty towing pretensions, the bed is a different story. The bed light and gooseneck are segment exclusive for those who need 12,000 towing capability. But not Pickup Bob. If he wants that kind of towing ability, the F-150’s 11,000-pound capability will do just fine, thank you very much.

He walked back to his Ford without a look back. I told you this is a merciless segment.

My female pickup pal — let’s call her Gooseneck Sally — is more promising. A weekend racer, she seems to be right out of a Nissan focus group. She wants a light duty for daily utility, but wants a heavy duty for her weekend escapes to the track. And she’s a diesel fanatic. With VW, Audi, and Porsche diesel products sidelined by Dieselgate, the Nissan is her kinda fix. You had her at “Cummins.”

With the Titan XD sticker snuggled nicely between, say, an F-150 and an F-250, the price is right. Nissan spokesman Dan Bedore says the base Titan XD Crew Cab 4x2 should start at above $40k when it hits stores late this month. A loaded 4x4 with all the toys should top out around $62k. .

Nissan has done its homework. Now it’s time to put the formula to work. I’m betting they’ll do OK. After all, Tomas Berdych may not beat any of the Big Four at Wimbledon next year. But he’ll take a set.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at hpayne@detroitnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne. See all his work at HenryPayne.com.

’16 Nissan Titan XD

Vehicle type: Front-engine, two and four-wheel drive, five-passenger pickup truck

Price: NA (est. $40,000-$62,000)

Power plant: 5.0-liter, turbocharged diesel V-8; 5.6-liter V-8 (gas)

Power: 310 horsepower, 555 pound-feet of torque (diesel); 390 horsepower, 401 pound-feet of torque (gas)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 9.3 seconds (diesel, Car & Driver); 12,000-plus pound towing capacity

Weight: 7,360 pounds

Fuel economy: NA

Report card<EL,3>

Highs: Heavy duty strength; Stump-pulling diesel

Lows: Ho-hum styling; 7,000-pound “light truck”


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