The all-new 2016 Nissan Titan XD is the first replacement for Nissan's half-ton pickup truck in more than 10 years. Interestingly, Nissan decided to go with a two-tier full-size pickup-truck strategy. The heavier-duty XD model, which seems more like a three-quarter ton than a traditional half-ton, was available first with only one powertrain option: a 5.0-liter V-8 Cummins diesel engine with an Aisin six-speed transmission.
This new "heavy-duty half-ton" is part of Nissan's strategy to carve out some new full-size truck territory for itself where it won't directly compete with regular half-ton or three-quarter-ton pickups. Instead, Nissan is straddling the two segments to offer potential customers something new. Nissan says its research indicated that as many as 150,000 pickup truck buyers each year might be interested in a truck that offers three-quarter-ton towing and payload capability with half-ton driving dynamics.
During our recent Texas Truck Showdown 2016: Max Towing, we thought it would be interesting to see how the Titan XD compared when tested alongside half-ton pickups equipped with max-tow packages. However, we did not to include the XD in our package of stories for several reasons. First, the Titan XD is not a half-ton — although the 2016 Titan, which comes out later this year, is. Second, the only truck Nissan could provide was a 4x4 model, and we requested 4x2s for our half-ton test. Third, it did not come close to our price target of $51,000; it was more expensive by almost $6,000. Fourth, the truck we got was not a sellable production model, although it certainly provided comparable test numbers.
So here's what we learned about the 2016 Titan XD.
2016 Titan XD SL
Our Deep Blue Metallic 2016 Nissan Titan XD SL crew cab rang up at $56,425, including destination, with the standard 5.0-liter V-8 two-stage turbo-diesel Cummins and Aisin six-speed automatic transmission. Price differences between 4x4 and 4x2 base-level trim packages (S, SV, SL and Platinum) is around $3,000, while the PRO-4X model (4x4 only) starts at $52,165 with destination. Our SL model came pretty well equipped with a Rockford Fosgate sound system, heated leather seats, telescoping steering wheel, 20-inch aluminum wheels, power sliding rear window, chrome bumpers and door handles, parking sensors, tie-down cleats in the Utili-track rail system, LED bed lighting, integrated in-bed gooseneck hitch, trailer brake controller, towing mirrors and more. The only option was a set of heavy-duty floormats for $200. Since the Titan XD is designed to be a hauler and puller, there is nothing like a "towing package" typically available on half-ton pickups.
For a larger version of the 2016 Nissan Titan XD price sheet, click on the image above.
Acceleration tests were done at the Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas, on a clear, windless, cool day in December with the rest of our Texas Truck Showdown 2016: Max Towing competitors. All the pickups were tested empty (with one adult male behind the wheel) and with 1,750 pounds of rock salt in the beds. All the acceleration numbers for the Titan XD are directly comparable to the other half-tons, but it should be noted the Nissan did weigh 2,360 pounds more than our lightest truck (the 2016 Ford F-150 Lariat) and 1,300 pounds more than our heaviest (the 2016 Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition).
During our empty runs down the quarter-mile, the Nissan clocked 17.2 seconds @ 82.9 mph, the slowest of our test group by almost 2 seconds. When comparing the best zero-to-60-mph runs, at 9.4 seconds the Titan XD was slower than the competition by almost 2.5 seconds, and slower than our fastest pickup, the 6.2-liter V-8 2016 GMC Sierra 1500 LTZ, by more than 3.5 seconds.
During loaded runs, the Titan XD did the quarter-mile in 18.3 seconds @ 78.0 mph, again coming in around 2 seconds slower than the other half-tons. In the zero-to-60 test, the Nissan took 11 seconds, 1.6 seconds slower than its empty run. Most of the gas-engine competitors ran this test between a second and 1.5 seconds slower than their empty runs.
While the Titan XD was sluggish at wide-open throttle, braking was a different story. Each of XD test runs was done on the same stretch of racetrack at the Royal Purple Raceway on the same day with the same test procedures as the other pickups. Each truck was run up to 62 mph in top gear, then allowed to slow down to 60 mph before the brakes were smashed, forcing the pickup into an emergency brake simulation.
During our empty runs, the much heavier Titan XD put its larger and stronger brakes (both front and rear discs are more than 14 inches in diameter) to the test. It bested three of the five competitors (the Ford, the 2016 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn and the Toyota) and finished just behind the two GM pickups. Its shortest stopping distance was 143.9 feet.
After we added 1,750 pounds of rock salt, stopping distances for the Nissan lengthened by just 3 feet, stopping from the same speed in 147.0 feet, giving it the second-best stopping distance of the half-ton group.
Our fuel-economy loops were conducted in the Houston area, with a good mix of two-lane city driving and multilane highway cruising. Because of Houston's flat terrain, our empty runs achieved some of the most impressive real-world fuel-economy numbers we've seen.
Interestingly, both the GM players (the 5.3-liter V-8 2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ and 6.2-liter V-8 Sierra, both with new eight-speed transmissions) did equally well with a calculated empty mpg (miles driven divided by exact amount of fuel used) of 23.9. The heavier Titan XD did not do as well, with a 19.9 mpg calculation during our 170-mile empty loop.
During our running of the same loop with a 10,100-pound Load Trail flatbed trailer carrying two fully filled water tanks, however, our results were quite different. The bigger, heavier Titan XD with the Cummins V-8 rated at 555 pounds-feet of torque at 1,600 rpm won this contest by sipping the least amount of fuel with a 12.1 mpg calculation.
The Ford, Ram and Toyota came equipped with larger, optional fuel tanks, offering more tank range when towing or hauling a full load. The GMs and the Titan XD do not offer a larger fuel tank with crew-cab configurations; a 26-gallon tank is standard.
We should note that unlike the other half-ton pickups we tested, the Titan XD does not have an EPA fuel-economy rating because its gross vehicle weight rating is more than 8,500 pounds.
All pickup makers understand the importance of interior sound levels since many pickups will see family duty or be used to transport people. All of the premium trim packages have extra sound-deadening materials to create luxury-car quietness for their buyers, but most of the players in this test had a trim package just below top-of-the-line levels; the Ram and Tundra were the exceptions. Although the Titan XD SL was fairly well equipped, Nissan needs to be sensitive to the fact that many of its buyers will likely want to hear the powerful diesel engine.
We measured each pickup with our hand-held sound meter, all in the same place in the same way on the same day. We conducted measurements at idle in a quiet section of a parking lot and at 60 mph on the same stretch of the Interstate 10 just west of Beaumont on a Sunday morning when traffic was light. Tests were conducted with the windows up, and the radio and air conditioning turned off.
Unsurprisingly, at idle the Cummins diesel was louder than the half-ton gasoline engines at 46.2 decibels. The best trucks, the Silverado and F-150, measured 40.1 decibels. When driving at 60 mph in top gear on the interstate over a recently repaved stretch of road, the Titan XD was quieter than the Ram and the Tundra with a reading of 63.4 decibels. The Ford and GM trucks were at or below 62.5 decibels.
Our chassis dynamometer tests were conducted at EngineLogics' shop just outside Houston. EngineLogics uses a Mustang MD250 in-ground rear-wheel dyno that gave us full horsepower and torque curves for each competitor.
The Nissan's Cummins engine produced a peak rating of 270 horsepower at 3,100 rpm, but when it comes to diesel engines it's all about the torque. Our Titan XD engine produced 455 pounds-feet of torque at 2,250 rpm. What makes that so impressive is that most of that power is easily accessible from just below 1,700 rpm all the way up to 3,500 rpm, offering the flattest torque curve of anything in this comparison test.
Payload and Towing
Nissan has been clear from the beginning: Its research indicates there are many potential pickup buyers who regularly tow and haul but who don't want the many trade-offs in ride quality, trim packages and functionality associated with three-quarter-ton pickups.
When comparing payload numbers with the Texas Truck Showdown 2016 competitors, the Titan XD numbers aren't as impressive as you might expect, even though it has the highest GVWR at 8,990 pounds. No doubt much of that is due to the fact that it has a heavier diesel engine, stronger frame and suspension, and axles, but the trade-offs are oddly significant here. The Silverado, F-150 and Sierra have higher calculated payload ratings (actual weight subtracted from GVWR) than the Titan XD by more than 270, 170 and 230 pounds, respectively.
As to its towing capacity, the numbers are equally schizophrenic. Even though the Titan XD 4x4 we tested had the highest gross combined weight rating by thousands of pounds (in some cases), it does not have the highest factory-rated maximum towing capacity (11,638 pounds) of the group. Both the 4x2 F-150 and Sierra had higher factory-rated numbers at 11,800 and 12,000 pounds respectively. Granted, we're measuring 4x4 numbers against 4x2 numbers, but the fact that they're so close is a little discouraging.
Likewise, when calculating a real-world maximum tow rating (factory GCWR minus GVWR), the bigger, heavier Nissan — at 10,460 pounds — offers only 160 pounds more towing capacity than the GMC, 260 pounds more than the Ford and about 1,100 pounds more than the Silverado.
We need to be mindful that this is the first configuration of the new Titan that Nissan is providing; another is coming. The Titan XD comes with four doors, a heavy-duty chassis, a turbo-diesel and a 6.5-foot bed. So this is a longer, bigger, heavier and stronger pickup truck than a normal half-ton. But the half-ton segment is where Nissan expects buyers to come from because the Titan XD will satisfy their unmet needs.
We'll start out positive and say that when carrying a heavy load, the Nissan crushed its competition. While the F-150 and Ram had difficulty running our drive routes and other tests in a confident, controlled manner with 1,750 pounds in the bed, the Nissan felt composed and stable. Several of our drivers noted that if they hadn't seen the factory numbers, they'd guess the XD could carry another 1,000 pounds without a problem.
Where some of the other pickups squatted by as much as 6 inches and were close to the axle bump stops with their load (even when hundreds of pounds short of their max payload rating), the Nissan didn't look like it had anything in the bed, running mostly level. Even our track test driver said that the only way he could tell the Titan XD had the rock salt in its bed was that it seemed to hook up a touch better off the line.
With a conventional 10,000-pound-plus loaded trailer hooked up to the bumper (using a weight-distributing hitch, of course), the Titan XD did seem a bit taxed. But with all that low-end torque and the axle-calming rear sway bar, none of our test drivers said anything about being worried about hauling with the load. The coil-sprung Ram also had a rear anti-sway bar, but it didn't feel nearly as settled as the Nissan.
When it came to towing comfort, the Nissan Titan XD was head and shoulders above the rest, due in large part to its transmission software tuning. Our judges found the grade braking and transmission shifts in the Aisin transmission to be standout features; the exceptionally smart and efficient Aisin held gears properly under load when accelerating from a stop and when braking. The smart grade-shifting and quick downshifts were a huge advantage over the competition.
Additionally, visibility with the towing mirrors and 360-degree surround-view backup camera was excellent, and the key-activated trailer light feature was brilliant and simple. Those, along with the multidimensional trailer-brake controller (three levels of aggressiveness dependent on the type of trailer you're pulling) and the standard gooseneck/fifth-wheel in-bed hitch, make the Titan XD a clear choice for someone who owns or plans to purchase a heavy-duty double- or triple-axle trailer.
The obvious question here is if the Titan XD had competed in our Texas Truck Showdown 2016 Max Towing competition, where would it have placed? For the sake of full disclosure, we tested the Nissan Titan XD at exactly the same time as our other 2016 Texas Truck Showdown competitors and it was judged by experts in comparison to other pickups as well.
From our tests, after recalculating all the scores to include the Titan XD, it looks like the Nissan would have been the top scorer in four of the 20 scored objective categories/tests (GVWR, GCWR, calculated max towing, and dyno'd max torque), but quite a bit behind the others in almost every other category, leaving it to finish in fourth place after the 20 tests (in front of the Ram and Toyota, but 154 points behind the GMC) and in fifth place (just ahead of the Tundra) after our judges scores were added. The Nissan finished in last place with our judges, finishing 78 points behind the GMC.
When judged against half-ton pickups — combining judges' scores with our test scores — the Titan XD would have finished in second to last place overall. Still, for a brand-new truck that's carving out new territory in the hopes of finding a new type of truck buyer, there are plenty of things to like here, many of which are only dependent on what you need and like in a pickup.
If you're looking for luxury comfort and a car-like ride, the Titan XD won't be a good choice. When compared to maxed-out half-tons, the Nissan offers a harsher ride even though it has max payload and towing numbers similar to some lighter-duty competitors.
These details are likely be the biggest challenges for salespeople dealing with smart truck shoppers: The XD has capabilities similar to half-ton pickups, it rides rougher, it doesn't have the power or strength of current three-quarter-ton diesel options and it's more expensive. That's going to be a tricky sale pitch.
But if Nissan measures success by sales volume, it's likely to be happy this time next year. Even if Nissan sells a good majority of the Cummins production run (about 40,000 engines), that would more than double the number of Titans sold last year.
One quick reminder: The Titan XD will get a gasoline V-8 in the next few months — a new direct-injection version of the Endurance 5.6-liter V-8 that should have more power and better fuel economy than before. Also, the light-duty Nissan Titan chassis will be shown to journalists later this year; that will offer a V-6 and the new V-8 as engine options with additional trim and cab configurations. We'll have more on those models later.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears and Angela Connors