The Nissan Titan has always been something of an also-ran in the full-size pickup truck arena. While it’s always had the goods on paper to compete with the likes of the Ram, Silverado and F-Series — indeed, in measures like standard-issue horsepower, it’s often outdone them — it’s never come close to finding the sales success of the Big Three’s rigs. (Or even, for that matter, its fellow Japanese full-sizer, the Toyota Tundra.) The all-new second-generation model that replaced the painfully aged first-gen in 2015 was its own impressively large swing, adding a heavy-duty Titan XD (yes, like the old version of the eyes-shut-and-laughing emoji), a beefy turbodiesel V8 and a bold new front end.
For 2020, though, the second-generation rig received a surprisingly substantial midlife update. Nissan stripped away many of the choices for buyers, discarding the turbodiesel V8 and most body style configurations; it replaced the old seven-speed automatic with a new nine-speed one; and it gave both interior and exterior a refreshening that serves up better looks. To see how well this revised truck works in the real world, we took a Nissan Titan Pro-4X up to Vermont for a few days in the deep chill of winter, giving it a chance to test its mettle the way most trucks actually do: long road trips, dalliances down back roads and shuttling about in towns.
The revised Titan is just fine for the way most people will use it
Sure, it may not be able to match some of the marquee attractions of the Big Three’s trucks; it’s not as well-designed as the Ram, nor does it offer that ride’s optional air suspension, and its naturally-aspirated V8 can’t match the power of performance of the brawniest engines from Ford and Chevy. But realistically speaking, today’s full-size trucks are far more capable than most people need.
While the Titan’s max tow rating of 9,370 pounds is a little less than where the Ford, Ram and GM twins top out, most buyers using it to tow snowmobile trailers and Airstreams will only need two-thirds that at most; and if the Pro-4X off-road model I tested isn’t as badass as a Raptor or doesn’t have quite as much ground clearance as a Trail Boss or Rebel, its 9.8 inches of ground clearance and aggressive off-road tires mean it’ll keep up with them on all but the worst trails — which, again, most buyers will never dare tread upon.
That V8 gives off a delightful growl when you put the pedal down, and its 400 horsepower is more than enough to hustle the truck along at extra-legal speeds or outpace many cars from a stoplight. The nine-speed automatic is responsive and smooth-shifting, which becomes less surprising when you discover it’s actually a Mercedes design that Nissan is licensed to make. And while the ride may not be luxury car smooth, it’s far from bone-shaking — indeed, the firmness of the shocks and the deliberate steering give it a feeling of reassuring mass.
Little changes go a long way
The tweaks to the Titan’s interior aren’t massive, but they are consequential. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard, and as appreciated as ever; plus, the new infotainment system that displays them finally looks worthy of a modern-day vehicle, unlike the pre-facelift version of the truck. The Pro-4X trim offers splashes of style that go a long way to improving the inside, such as the camo-like pattern on the leather seats and the surprisingly tasteful orange stitching that livens up the otherwise-all-black interior.
And while the back seat may not be as limo-like as the absurdly capacious second rows of other full-size crew cabs, there’s still 38.5 inches of legroom for the aft occupants — four more than the back seaters in a Maxima get. One slight note, though: there’s not nearly enough USB ports up front, so bring a 12-volt-to-USB adaptor if you’re worried about it.
Another update sure to please many buyers: the Titan comes packing a ton of standard high-tech safety features. Automatic vehicle- and pedestrian-detecting braking, blind spot and lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, rear automatic emergency braking — they’re all standard on this Nissan. (That said, as with many such systems, the automatic rear braking makes reversing into tight parallel parking spots a battle against the safety system, as it often jams on the brakes full lock as you try to inc closer to the car behind you.)
The Titan looks damn good
Style is subjective, but in an era when it seems like automakers are pushing pickup truck styling to make them look like the Pacific Rim kaiju they’re starting to resemble in size, the Titan’s appearance is a breath of fresh air. Its mighty grille and massive, wide-eyed headlights seem almost too big for its body, giving it an endearingly cartoonish visage. The profile is simple and elegant, while the angular tail lamps add just a touch of futuristic ‘tude to the stern.
It starts out cheap, but you’ll likely wind up paying plenty
Unfortunately, as with all pickup trucks, it’s not cheap. While the Titan presents a solid value proposition on paper — a V8-powered extended cap pickup for just $37K? Sign me up! — you’ll likely wind up paying far more for the Titan you want. Most of the trim levels are restricted to the pricier Crew Cab, and climbing the options tree becomes hard to avoid, considering many add-ons are bundled together into pricey packages. My Pro-4X wound up ringing up the register at $56,860 before destination charge. Once you realize you could have a V8-powered Ram 1500 Limited or crew cab Raptor for that price, that value proposition becomes a lot less appealing.
Price as Tested: $56,860
Drivetrain: 5.6-liter V8, nine-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive
Power: 400 hp, 413 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway
Nissan provided this product for review.