First drive: 2017 Nissan Titan [Review]

Nissan commits to the pickup. Will buyers do the same?

In a vacuum, a truck built on a ten-year-old chassis isn't really that strange of a concept. In fact, some of the most beloved trucks ever to grace the marketplace have lived far longer lives than most would consider reasonable.

The Nissan Titan is not one of them.

The Japanese half-ton outsold only three other pickups in 2015, and technically those three weren't even really for sale anymore. Nissan moved 12,140 Titans in 2015. Ford clears that many F-Series trucks in a slow week.

Rebuilding a legacyThe Titan originally debuted in 2003 for the 2004 model year. When it did so, it lacked the endless configuration sheets of its domestic competitors and the cult-like following of Toyota. The only available engine was a V8. You could only buy it in either King or Crew Cab configurations. It's easy to make the argument that the deck was stacked against it.

But the original Titan's story is a bit more nuanced than that. A different approach to the pickup segment may not be a way to earn mass appeal, but it does attract those who want something different. In that sense, Nissan did experience some success. After all, in a way, the Titan was a Japanese muscle car. It didn't carry Toyota's higher premiums, and those who had previously purchased the Frontier now had an upgrade path.

Nissan took this a step further by offering a few segment-exclusive (and frankly quite clever) options and accessories. Items such as the the Titan's dampened and lift-assisted tailgate were new and exciting; bed floor channel tie-downs were practical and original. The Titan's new twist on in-bed storage paved the way for options such as FCA's RamBox. The Titan may not have had everything going for it, but it wasn't a wasted effort either.

The new approachFor 2016 and 2017, Nissan is doing things differently. While the first-gen Titan focused on doing things the segment hadn't seen, the second-gen is about expanding its appeal as a conventional pickup. With that in mind, let's look at what they're doing differently.

For starters, the Titan now comes in two flavors--half-ton and half-ton-plus. We call it that because the 2016 Nissan Titan XD (which we first drove last year and have since fully reviewed) is not quite a 3/4-ton pickup, but it's based on the frame that underpins Nissan's heavy-duty commercial vans. Remember how the first-gen Titan was only available in essentially two flavors? The 2016+ Titan XD alone is available in six.

The half-ton variant we flew to Monterey, California, to experience is further broken down into three different cab configurations and is available with three different engines. You can have a Single Cab with an eight-foot bed powered by either the V8 or a new-for-2017 V6, a King Cab with a 6.5-foot bed (also with either engine) or a Crew Cab with a 5.5-foot bed (V8 only).

Between the regular Titan and the Titan XD, Nissan claims this will give them coverage of more than 85 percent of the truck market (by model configuration, mind you, not by volume--they're ambitious, not crazy).

What's important to note here is not only the fact that Nissan is expanding into the near-heavy duty market, but that inroads are being made into the commercial truck segment. The single-cab configurations will be available at retail dealers, but they're really meant for those who need work trucks.

Conventional powertrainsWe touched on this above, but it's important to emphasize that Nissan is now offering the Titan with either a 3.5-liter V6 or a 5.6-liter V8. Previously, it was eight cylinders or bust. At the time of publication, V6 specifications have not yet been released. However, we can tell you all about the V8.

If you read out review of the also-new 2017 Nissan Armada, you're familiar with the new VK56VD "Endurance" V8. Beneath all that alphanumerical nonsense is a thoroughly modern engine sporting direct injection. The previous Titan's V8 made 317 horsepower and 385lb-ft of torque. This new engine is good for 390 horsepower and a whopping 394lb-ft of torque.

Both engines will be paired to Nissan's new seven-speed automatic transmission (also featured in the Armada) and this combination is good for a 28% improvement in fuel economy for just the V8. Under the new 2017 EPA rating system, the V8 Titan will achieve an estimated 15 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway (up from 12 and 17, respectively).

This combo should allow Nissan to claim best-in-class towing capacity of any base V8 truck in the half-ton segment 9,390 pounds) and Nissan also expects the Titan to deliver segment-leading acceleration.

Capability mixed with comfortTrucks have become more powerful, more capable and more economical since the Titan debuted in 2003, but above all they've also become significantly more luxurious. Nissan has jumped on this bandwagon with gusto. Not only are there highfalutin trim levels and premium options galore, but the 2017 Titan also comes standard with a few touches that improve the experience of simply being in the truck.

Hydraulic body mounts separate the cab from the frame, isolating occupants from harsher road impacts as well as reducing the shimmying feel you can get in a body-on-frame vehicle when you encounter imperfect road surfaces. Acoustic glass is used in the cab as well to prevent additional noise intrusion.

To Nissan's credit, however, the 2017 Titan's engine is still audible when you want it to be. What good is a V8 if you can't listen to it, right? There's no droning or other obnoxious intrusion--just that sweet, sweet eight-cylinder soundtrack.

The total packageNissan's evaluation course for the half-ton Titan was far less comprehensive than it was for the XD variant. We didn't do any towing or hauling clinics, but we did still get to take the 2017 Titan off-road.

Nissan's engineers set up a course that allowed the Titan to show off its chassis articulation, its approach and departure angles, and its hill descent control. As is often the case in any scenario where the course has been hand-crafted by the engineers, the 2017 Titan performed flawlessly.

We still love the front-wheel camera feature when wheeling. It's one of the Around View system's coolest "hey, neat" touches. If you've never done low-speed off-roading, this may not seem like a huge deal to you, but having eyes in that corner of the truck eliminates a monumental chunk of guesswork, especially in a beast as big as this one.

What impressed us the most, however, were the 2017 Nissan Titan's road manners. The steering is good (not just good for a truck--good period) and the ride is excellent, but the real key to the Titan's confidence-inspiring nature is that it doesn't feel like it's as big as it is. The brakes, in fact, were so good that they actually spoiled us. The Armada, while competent in its own right, felt a little less trustworthy by comparison.

Leftlane's bottom lineNissan's new Titan lineup continues to deliver. We don't expect it will make a significant splash in the truck segment (if it hasn't by now, why would it?) but even incremental improvement would be good news for Nissan. We look forward to seeing the V6/single-cab models later this year.

2017 Nissan Titan Platinum Reserve base price, TBD

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd. Interior photos courtesy of Nissan.

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