Gate Crasher 

Nissan Titan shoulders its way into lucrative, exclusive full-size pickup market

Nissan Titan shoulders its way into lucrative, exclusive full-size pickup market

Nissan is on a roll, with rapidly selling vehicles in every major category, from econocars and sporty roadsters to plush touring sedans and gnarley SUVs. Clearly, Nissan wants it all; and a scant 10 months ago—in December2003—Nissan rolled out its interpretation of the automotive world's "killerapp."

The Nissan Titan is the company's first full-size pickup and, arguably, the first truck from foreign shores ever to kick sand in the faces of those hulking muscle men from Detroit: the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra and Dodge Ram pickups. Granted, Toyota may have kicked first with its V8-powered Tundra, but the Big Three were unimpressed. "Come back when you

get bigger and stronger," they chuckled amongst themselves.

Then Titan strode upon the scene. It's vastly big. It's heroically powerful. The Big Three aren't chuckling now. Instead, they're eyeing Nissan's interloper with a combination of wariness and awe.

That's because Nissan has managed to combine style with brawn and convenience with innovation. The result is a new rendition of "truckness" that's messing up the status quo of the Big Three's sandbox.

Appropriately enough for a vehicle meant to haul and pull things, the Titan phenomenon comes initially to life underhood. A 5.6-liter, twin-cam V8 lurks there, bristling with 32 valves and sporting a tattoo that says "Endurance." It makes monster horsepower—305 hp, in fact. Pulling torque is even more impressive: 379 ft.-lbs. Unladen, the Titan is capable of sportscar sprints from zero-to-60 in the neighborhood of 7.5 seconds.

But that's not what counts in a truck. It's much better to crow about a tow

rating of 9,400 lbs. for the "King Cab" rear-wheel-drive Titan evaluated here. Payload capacity is 1,500 lbs.—fairly typical for a so-called "half-ton" pickup. And yet Nissan seems to understand what must never have

dawned upon anyone else before: every payload is different. Accordingly, this curious intuition has led to a six-and-a-half-ft. truck bed that's the most versatile on the road.

For starters, there's a cushy, grabby, rubberized coating on the inner surfaces of the box that protects items from sliding and scuffing. Then, a pair of aircraft-style slotted longitudinally along the floor, to which heavy-duty cleat-hooks are attached in a variety of positions for securing all manner of ungainly cargo. Twin outdoor lamps amply illuminate the bed for night work; and a 12-volt socket provides outdoor power for tools or playthings. For accessories such as ropes, bungees and work gloves, Nissan has thoughtfully located a locking cubbie within the inner panel of one of the bed walls.

Whereas the Titan's cargo box is a well-equipped workspace, its cabin is a virtual command center. Nissan makes two different versions of its four-door pickup. The Crew Cab offers luxuriant rear seating at the expense of a cargo bed one-foot shorter than the King Cab. Both, however, are six- or

five-occupant vehicles depending upon the front seat configuration selected; and the 60/40-split rear bench seat in both models folds up and out of the way to maximize interior storage. Because the rear doors open almost completely flat against the flanks of the cargo box, moreover, loading bulky

items into the rear of the cabin is uncommonly easy.

From the front-seat perspective, Titan is curiously sedan-like, and this particular strategy of Nissan's can cut both ways. For hobby cowboys and gentlemen farmers, I suppose, being surrounded by consoles and cubbies is a sign of sophisticated comfort. There are gadget bins overhead and a CD

player in the dash. Air-conditioning and power locks and windows are standard.

Tool-totin' roughnecks with scabby concrete on their Wranglers and mud flaking off their steel-toed Chippewas, on the other hand, may wonder instead whether they're in Kansas anymore. This isn't so much a complaint about the Titan's sumptuous interior as it is a subtle reminder that Nissan's pick-'em-up truck is the newbie in town. As a result, there is not yet the full panoply of trim and equipment levels catering to every budget and demographic preference. Ford, GM and Dodge trucks, on the other hand, do offer what is sometimes a confusing array of mix-and-match interior trim levels.

That goes ditto-plus for truck-bed and cabin-size pairings. It's taken virtually as an article of faith that U.S. truck makers mean to bewilder customers with a complexity of possible combinations of bed length, powertrain and seating capacity. Short or long bed; supercab, crew cab, quad cab; two-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive, "dually" rear wheels; big motor, small motor, diesel—the permutations are seemingly endless. Yes, there's probably the perfect Big Three truck layout for any given owner. No, it isn't generally easy to attain that perfection.

So Nissan is saying, basically, take it or leave it. There is the aforementioned pair of cab designs for the Titan, each with its own fixed bed length. And there are rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive powertrains. That's it. One mighty motor powers them all; one basic platform undergirds them all. Nissan is attempting to lure buyers not with a proliferation of features but with an elegant simplicity.

It's a creditable tactic. A Titan's feature-per-dollar ratio is compelling.The rear-drive King Cab in SE trim that I evaluated included all the elements discussed above for a base price of just $24,400 plus $900 for therail-and-cleat cargo system. An off-road package ($950) and audio/power seating upgrade ($1,200) ratcheted the total up to $27,450. These are some scary numbers for the domestic Big Three, because they emphasize just how much truck for the money Nissan is dangling in front of the very buyers Ford, GM and Dodge thought they could keep strictly—and perpetually—for themselves.

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