The second, and most important, half of Nissan's North American pickup truck strategy is finally here: the half-ton 2017 Nissan Titan. It's worth noting there's a lot that's familiar here, especially if you followed the debut of the 2016 Nissan Titan XD, a difficult-to-categorize heavier-duty full-size pickup that is attempting to slot between the traditional half-ton and three-quarter-ton classes. That won't be true for the half-ton Titan; it will compete directly with the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Ram 1500 and Toyota Tundra. And although the 2017 offers many strong improvements over the previous-generation Titan, we are not excited about a new player that just wants to be included instead of taking the lead.
The 2017 Titan uses a frame and chassis similar to the bigger, heavier Titan XD, although those components are much lighter. The half-ton also shares many of the XD's styling cues and its overall look. For that reason, even though the 2017 is a huge improvement over the previous-gen half-ton Titan, Nissan's two-Titan strategy could be confusing for buyers. Nissan will have to emphasize how different this new entry really is. A good first step is offering the first five-year/100,000-mile warranty in the pickup segment, which should show new buyers that Nissan has a lot of faith in this new half-ton.
Where It Fits
To put it in context, this new light-duty Titan is the first real shot Nissan has fired at the heart of the full-size pickup segment, taking direct aim at the three major players — Chevy, Ford and Ram. To put it on the same footing as the others, the new Titan crew cab, the first configuration offered, will have a dedicated 139.8-inch wheelbase light-duty frame capable of towing more than 9,000 pounds and carrying more than 1,500 pounds of payload; this puts the Titan right in the middle of the four-door pickup slug fest.
To be more competitive, Nissan re-engineered the 5.6-liter Endurance V-8 gas engine, which now offers 390 horsepower and 394 pounds-feet of torque. The 32-valve all-aluminum engine now has direct injection and a throttle response that makes the truck jump off the line as well as deliver strong passing acceleration; some of the credit should go to the buttery-smooth and smart seven-speed transmission as well. All Titans will only have a column shifter, but we found the well-sized thumb-shifting setup easy to use and quite nimble for manual shifting.
Although we didn't get the chance to do any towing or hauling during our drive, based on torque feel we predict the Titan should do both quite well, due in large part to the beefy rear axle and flexible multileaf spring pack. Nissan also has done a great deal of aerodynamic work to squeeze every mpg out of the vehicle when cruising. There's a massive spoiler under the grille, a small one on the roof, the tailgate has a lip and there are even wind diffusers in front of the rear wheels. All Titans also have active grille shutters to better push air around and over the hood.
Behind the Wheel
During our time with the new truck, we had the chance to drive the top-of-the-line Platinum Reserve, a well-dressed SL and the sporty PRO-4X. Of the three, we have to say the most fun we had with the Titan was in the PRO-4X setup; it offers the sportiest look of the group, not to mention upgraded shocks, an electric locking rear differential, extra skid plating, and bigger wheels and tires. It's no wonder Nissan is bragging that this off-road model has been the top trim level ordered by new Titan XD buyers. We're guessing that same thing will be true of the light-duty version when it goes on sale later in August.
We found the Titan PRO-4X nimble and ready to claw and grab its way up just about loose-rock hill we pointed the nose at, and even when the ruts and off-camber obstacles got rough (hanging a tire or two in the air), we kept moving up the trail. Our test truck had hill descent control, hill start assist and a fairly smart traction control system. The taller stance of the PRO-4X clearly helped us navigate loose hills, jagged dry-wash rocks and tire-swallowing holes without losing momentum.
On the road, and offering a more refined feel, we found the Platinum Reserve to be exceptionally quiet and smooth; kudos go to the engineers who worked on the steering tune. Although the Titan is a pretty big pickup, the steering feel is light at lower speeds yet firm and responsive during "enthusiastic" cornering. Where the Titan XD can feel heavy, plowing a bit at times, the lighter Titan crew-cab models are much nimbler, likely due to the half-ton's significantly lighter curb weights. We should also note the XD uses a recirculating ball steering box, while the lighter-duty Titan uses rack-and-pinion steering. Although we didn't get a chance to weigh any of the new Titans at a CAT scale, we're guessing the half-ton Titan will be almost 1,500 pounds lighter than the XD.
Inside the business end of the new Titan — the bed — Nissan has infused some of the same bed features we've already seen in the Titan XD and midsize Frontier. All half-ton crew-cab Titans will come with a 5.5-foot bed (Titan XD crew-cab models come with the 6.5-foot bed, making them about 12 inches longer in wheelbase and overall length) that will have tie-down cleats embedded in the rails on three sides of the bed as well as two more in the floor. The bed also has new LED lighting as well as a new center high-mounted spotlight. The tailgate is strutted to make lifting and dropping less taxing. And although Nissan doesn't have the corner step like GM or a patented tailgate step like Ford, it does offer a sturdy, retractable underbody step that can be ordered at any dealership. Look for the 8-foot beds to be available on regular-cab models near the end of this year.
Nissan didn't give us the chance to do any towing during this media event, but you can bet we're making plans to get that done so we can try out some of the new pickup's cool features. Features we like include the 360-degree around-view camera system, backup trailer hitch guides, a trailer light check system and a new trailer brake controller that we're told has a more aggressive Tow/Haul downhill speed control. Many of these same features exist on the bigger, stronger Titan XD, but it's good to see that Nissan understands that lighter-duty pickup owners need the abilities as well.
Trims and Pricing
Trim levels for the half-ton Titan follow the Titan XD, with the light-duty Titan being offered in 4x2 or 4x4 driveline configurations in S, SV, PRO-4X, SL and Platinum Reserve models. Pricing for V-8 gas Titan will start around $36,000 (including destination fees) and move up to $56,500, depending on options. To see just-announced pricing of forth 2017 Titan and Titan XD, click here.
It's a little difficult to identify where this truck's biggest weaknesses lie; we need to see this wolf running with the pack to get a better idea of how it stacks up. We know the half-ton Titan has some good, practical features and it looks like it could deliver a solid amount of capability, but it has to be careful not to encroach on Titan XD territory. That's not as much of a problem for its competitors. But make no mistake, selling the Titans is likely to be an uphill battle for Nissan since loyal pickup truck customers tend to be slow to try to something new. Yes, competitive prices and longer warranty coverage will help, but the real strength of the product will be defined by how well it stands up against the competition. This could make for an interesting 2017 half-ton contest, both in monthly sales and on the field. More to come.
Cars.com photos by Mark Williams; manufacturer images