The 2016 Nissan Titan XD is supposed to be ballsier than your standard pickup truck, but softer than a true heavy duty three-quarter ton’er. So is it the Goldilocks or the bastard stepchild? I put a little mud on its tires to find out.

(Full Disclosure: Nissan flew me out to Scottsdale for this test and paid for my food and booze.)

If the Toyota Tundra is the default “also-ran” of the American full-sized pickup truck market, then the Nissan Titan is rotting somewhere at the bottom of a musty cave with Old Gregg. Put into a metric that actually makes sense, Nissan sold 719 Titans in November 2015 in the same time it took segment-leader Ford to sell 65,192 F-Series pickups. Of course there are far more variants of F-Series than Titan, but come on. The Titan has been, for all intents and purposes, a non-starter in the big truck game.

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Nissan reckons it’s finally time to pull themselves off the ropes and get back into the big pickup truck scene. And wisely, they’re doing the only thing that will give them a decent chance in a market defined by intense and irrational brand loyalists: by earnestly differentiating themselves from the competition.

What makes the 2016 Titan XD unique?

Nissan’s new Titan is really two new Titans; Titan and Titan XD. The XD is the one you keep hearing about because it’s a little more heavy-duty than an F-150, Silverado/Sierra 1500, Ram 1500 or Tundra-sized “half-ton” truck but not quite as robust as an F-250, Silverado 2500, any other truck with a number “2” or higher stamped on the side.

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Nissan’s pitch to consumers, beyond “wow, new, different!”, is the ability to one-up your neighbor’s half-ton truck without bearing the harsh ride and tremendous cost of the next class up, the three-quarter ton truck.

It’s a solid concept. Instead of struggling to stretch the limits of how much pulling and payload a half-ton chassis can bear, Nissan gets to put big numbers on the capability scoreboard against half-ton trucks and beat the heavy-duties on price.

So Titan XD is technically a Class 2B truck, while a Ford F-150 is a Class 2A. I’d be happy to explain all that in greater detail right here.

As far as consumers are concerned “Class 2B” means the EPA won’t be validating the Titan XD’s fuel economy, and you’ll also be registering it as a commercial vehicle in any state that requires 2500-sized trucks to do so.

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Speaking of engines, did somebody say Cummins?

The standard Titan XD engine will be Nissan’s gasoline-burning 5.6-liter V8. It’s similar to the heart of the Infiniti QX80 SUV, tuned to a little under 400 horsepower.

A Cummins 5.0-liter turbocharged V8 diesel engine is going to be optional. You know, the same way bacon is optional on your cheeseburger. It is the obvious and superior choice.

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Cummins is one of the largest manufacturers of diesel engines on Earth with possibly the best reputation a company could hope for; reliability of an anchor, almost universally lauded by enthusiasts as The One To Get.

That’s because– did I mention the reliability? Cummins engines are also used in big rigs, which is cool. And they make your pickup truck sound and feel like a big rig, which is the ultimate goal for a lot of us anyway.

In a market where people back their favorite brands like home sports teams, you can see why Nissan would be so eager to strike up a partnership with these guys. It worked for Dodge two decades ago. Prevailing lore tells us people bought the predecessor of today’s Ram because it happened to be the truck built around a Cummins diesel. Now, why not Nissan?

There’s also the significant factor of resale value. Have you ever seen a rusted-out Clinton-era Dodge diesel on Craigslist and hit Reply, just so you could ask the seller where they got the drugs that made them think $15,000 was a fair asking price?

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It ain’t crack. It’s Cummins, man. And it puts old Dodge trucks lucky enough to have one in the same stupid-expensive slot as Toyota Tacomas and Jeep Wranglers.

That matters to new car buyers who look at the big picture. If you can buy a Cummins truck for $50,000 and sell it for $40,000, some people will see that as better economics than a truck you buy for $30,000 and sell for $7,000 after the same amount of time. Also relevant; high residual values makes for favorable lease rates.

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In the 2016 Titan XD, the Cummins 5.0 will be tuned for 310 horsepower and 555 lb-ft of torque. If you’re willing to destroy the truck’s emissions equipment (and complacent disposition) tuners will be able to ratchet that way, way up.

What about the regular, “non-XD” Titan?

The chassis “doesn’t share one bolt” with the XD, Chief Product Specialist Rich Miller told me.

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We haven’t heard much at all about the revised “standard” Titan, except that it will be new, aesthetically identical to the XD from the windshield back, and have V6 and V8 (gasoline only) engine options. More on that truck later in 2016, apparently.

So how many new Nissan Titans are there?

Several! There will be 2WD and 4WD versions of the Titan V6 and V8, in regular cab, extended cab, and crew cab (full four-door) configurations with various bed lengths.

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Titan XD will have 2WD and 4WD versions of the 5.6 V8 gas and 5.0 V8 diesel with the same optional body configurations. And that’s before we even start talking trim levels!

There will be an S base work truck, an SV with plasticy doors and better seats, a Pro-4X with skid plates and stiff shocks and of course a Platinum Reserve that’s pretty much an Infiniti with a cargo bed.

Let’s meet the truck already!

As I made my way to the driveway where the trucks were parked, I was suddenly gripped with panic.

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I’d made a huge mistake. Gone to the wrong place. Made an ass of myself. These were just a bunch of old F-150s, not new Nissans.

Joking! Dear readers, you know I’m never lost or embarrassed. But there’s no point denying the front quarter, front, profile and two large columns defining the interior of the 2016 Nissan Titan are extremely F-150-esque.

Two creases on the side profile and the slope of where the windshield hits the roof, what I call the truck’s forehead, are distinctly “Nissan.” Unfortunately so are giant fake fender vents and why does the fuel filler eat into the left-rear fender flare?

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All that said, the truck’s well proportioned and with the exception of the fender grille-patches [shudders], I think the design’s clean enough to age well.

What’s it like inside?

Enormous center console, pockets everywhere, and praise the gear gods; a nice girthy column shifter.

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The infotainment screen is on the small side, but controls are all pretty well placed and easy to hit. Gauges are simple and tidy. Materials are acceptable in the lower trims, decent on the Platinum Reserve. But the part that matters most; butt parking, is stupendous.

Seats are adjustable in every direction imaginable and a really nice happy-medium between squishy and taut. One of the best thrones to fart and steer from I’ve experienced in a long time, and you will feel like King Of The Road with that Cummins at your feet.

Time to drive!

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For those expecting to explode off the line, diesel soot and tire smoke stinging the nostrils of your enemies; sit down. Deep breath. And re-calibrate your driving style.

I knew the Titan XD and I were going to get along famously as soon as we lumbered out of the Four Seasons valet line together. At maneuvering speed the truck feels like a sloth wearing an Iron Man suit: unstoppable, yet unmotivated. Perfect for picking up heavy cargo or picking your way through bumpy stuff.

If you want to make the truck scoot, you’ve got to breath some boost into the engine. Once you’re underway and the turbo gets to spinning, the Cummins Titan is a linebacker on a fast break.

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To reel all that energy in, you’ve got 14 inch vented brake rotors, which are effective. But only the hand of god can panic-stop four tons of pickup truck. Driving something this size involves a higher degree of responsibly than a passenger car, and if you don’t take that seriously, even with the sweet suite of safety tech on a 2016 vehicle, you’re going to get yourself into trouble.

Noise and ride quality

Heavy duty trucks, especially diesels, are notorious for offensive noise and a rough ride. Since they use such heavy suspension components for carrying large payloads, these trucks don’t sit that well when they’re empty.

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Not really the case with the Titan XD, which felt pretty plush compared to a three-quarter ton truck. Of course that comfort comes at the cost of capability, but that trade-off is really the entire thesis of this Nissan. It’s a new sweet spot for people who want a little bit of big-truck feel and close to heavy-duty capability.

Now don’t misread that to say “it’s as comfy as a car!”, because it isn’t. The Titan XD is still a heavy truck that must be treated with respect. And as smooth as they can make those rear leaf springs, you’re never going to get close to decent-sedan ride quality in a truck like this.

Noise would have been a particularly interesting challenge for this truck, because of all the consumer-grade diesel engines in trucks a Cummins is generally the loudest. Heck, the “Cummins clatter” is a signature.

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Sitting at idle it’s faint but unmistakable. Cruising down the highway, you’re going to forget it’s there completely.

Toys, tools and tricks

Nissan did not go as deep as some other automakers do, with their massaging seats and radar cruise control. You can’t even get a sunroof for 2016. But Titan XD will offer 360º cameras and a very cool bed storage solution.

Instead of the bed gunwale storage boxes you could get on a Chevy Avalanche or Ram, Titan XD has two compact coffins you can lock into the inside bed walls. They’re a little harder to access from the ground, but are still useful with a bed cap in place. Even better; they can be pulled out easily to maximize bed space for big items.

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Also cool in the cargo bay; a power outlet and lots of LED lighting. Those little cubbies behind the rear wheels have been dispensed with though, replaced by the bigger boxes I just described.

Carrying cargo and towing

Titan XD is SAE J2807 certified to tow over 12,000 pounds behind it or carry over 2,000 pounds in the bed. That’s right around the absolute max of the most capable half-ton trucks on the market. That’s also a ton of weight. Say you’ve got a race car that weighs 3,000 pounds, throw that on a meaty 2,000 pound trailer and you’re not even halfway to what the truck can handle.

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The truck comes with provisions for a gooseneck trailer; that means instead of connecting to a little ball off the back bumper it drops onto a hitch in the middle of the bed and directly to a major frame crossmember. That gives you more stability, better control, maximization of your chassis’ towing potential.

In a brief towing demonstration, I can tell you the Titan XD didn’t feel burdened with a 9,000 pound trailer. But we’re going to have to spend some more time working this truck to get an earnest assessment of its abilities at the limit.

Off-Road

If you think a heavy(ish) duty truck has no business going off-road, you’re... right. Mostly. Try to take something with a 151.6” wheelbase on craggy Jeep trails or the steep slickrock of Moab and you’re going to have a bad time.

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But it’s got the power to pull itself up and through more than you might expect. The Pro-4X is no Raptor rival, but it got us through a heavily cratered cow path and soft sand without incident. We might have beaten it walking, but we got there.

Pro-4X has skid plates, stiffer Bilstein shocks, a locking rear differential and that yellow paint option you keep seeing in photos. Low range, which all 4x4 Titan XDs get, is about a 2.71 to 1 crawl ratio. Imagine hitting the throttle in high range is like turning on your faucet, low range would be breaking it off the sink with a sledgehammer.

Fuel economy

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The reality is, I wasn’t able to drive the truck enough to make an MPG estimate that’s really worth talking about. But since everybody’s going to ask, I ended up at around 21 MPG after a 35-mile lightfooted ride, which dropped down to 14 MPG after a few hours of trolling around the desert at 10 MPH.

Value

Nissan has not announced official pricing yet, but I’ll make some educated guesses. The cheapest Titan XD small-cab 2WD trucks will likely start at about $40,000. A nicely equipped Pro-4X will be closer to $50,000 and the luxobarge Platinum Reserve will be over $60,000.

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The Cummins engine option will add a few grand to any of those and I’ll bet the most expensive Titan XD will go over $70,000 easily.

What this truck is really worth will have a lot to do with resale, which as we discussed earlier is expected to be high.

Yes, new trucks really do cost that much. Especially when you’re in heavy duty territory. If you’re a diesel fan on a budget, you’ve might have looked at the Ram EcoDiesel. Maybe you were turned off because it’s an Italian-made engine. The Chevy Colorado Duramax is a solid option too, but they’re just not big enough for everybody.

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Titan XD is angling to be cheaper than comparable American diesel trucks, and new-for-new, you’re getting a lot for your money at Nissan. But don’t forget you can also get an older diesel, even a Cummins, for less than a year’s worth of new-car payments on a $60,000 vehicle. And it’s probably still going to outlive you.

The tentative verdict

The Titan XD Cummins feels strong and well-built. It’s extremely comfortable, seems capable, and is a pleasure to drive.

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If it ends up being priced aggressively compared to three-quarter ton trucks it’s going to be a very solid alternative for all but the most extreme heavy duty consumers.

Images by the author, Jeff Jablansky, Nissan.


Contact the author at andrew@jalopnik.com.