2020 Nissan Titan Brings a Dull Knife to the Truck Wars

Mike Sutton
Photo credit: Nissan

From Car and Driver

The half-ton pickup market is made up of giants that sell deep into six-figure volumes every year and command intensely devout loyalty. Bit players trying to enter the market have to fight it out for a small, albeit lucrative slice. To stand out, you need to be bold and offer value with unique touches. To that end, the new 2020 Nissan Titan offers more presence and a number of technological improvements on its spec sheet. Compared to the segment leaders, however, these changes amount to little more than a reminder that Nissan's full-sizer still exists.

Nissan has positioned the mid-cycle updates for the 2020 Titan to better align it with where the truck resonates best, namely current Titan and other Nissan owners, as well as first-time full-size pickup buyers. Unlike most of its rivals that offer a plethora of configurations, the Titan now comes in just two flavors: an extended cab (king cab in Nissan-speak) with rear-opening half doors and a 6.5-foot cargo bed or a full crew cab with a shorter 5.5-foot box. The model lineup starts with the base S trim and moves to the SV, the off-road-oriented Pro-4X, and on to the crew-cab-only SL and Platinum Reserve. Both rear- and four-wheel-drive setups are available across the range except for the Pro-4X, which is only four-wheel drive.

Photo credit: Nissan

Simpler Recipe, Better Ingredients

There's also now only one powertrain available: the Titan's familiar 5.6-liter V-8, which has been massaged to produce 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque, increases of 10 and 19, respectively. Backing up that engine is a new Jatco nine-speed automatic transmission in place of that supplier's previous seven-speed unit. Maximum payload and towing capacities of 1680 and 9370 pounds are up slightly yet remain less than those of some half-ton competitors from Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Ram, and Toyota. If you want a beefier Nissan pickup, look to the similarly revised 2020 Titan XD, which soldiers on in not-quite-heavy-duty purgatory and without its previously optional Cummins V-8 diesel engine. From our experience, that omission is a good thing.

Photo credit: Nissan

The roughly 7000-foot altitude of our brief drive around Park City, Utah, in the latest non-XD Titan sapped some of the ponies from its naturally aspirated V-8, yet the updated engine still moved the truck smartly when unladen and with decent authority and control when hitched to a conventional 6000-pound, 27-foot Airstream camper. We don't expect the improvements under this Nissan's hood to transform it into a hot rod in the vein of certain light-duty pickups from Ford and General Motors, which can bolt to 60 mph in less than six seconds, but the Nissan V-8 emits a pleasing snarl under load and teams well with the nine-speed gearbox. Aside from a few clunks at stop-and-go speeds, gear changes are buttery smooth, even in the transmission's tow/haul setting, and the calibration is nicely tuned for both good throttle response and for managing the truck's speed when descending grades. EPA fuel-economy estimates are not yet available, but the combined city/highway ratings of previous comparable versions ranged from 17 to 18 mpg.

Other than some minor tuning changes, the rest of the Titan's mechanicals carry over, which means the truck rides and handles pretty much the same as before. It feels every bit as large on the road as it is, the steering is rather heavy and uncommunicative, and its ride on the 20-inch wheels of the examples we drove, while reasonably compliant, was less refined and controlled over rough pavement than most of its domestic peers, particularly the cushy Ram 1500's.

Photo credit: Nissan

Technological Garnish

Nissan chased greater gains in the new Titan's passenger compartment, reducing noise intrusion and significantly upping its technology. Anyone who has been behind the wheel of a late-model Nissan Altima sedan will immediately connect with the Titan's straightforward switchgear and infotainment interface. The standard 7.0-inch display in the gauge cluster, complete with a welcome digital speedometer, is a big improvement over the previous version's tiny, low-res readout. The same goes for the standard 8.0-inch and optional 9.0-inch central touchscreens, which now are much easier to read and navigate. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as loads of other connectivity options, are standard.

Other noteworthy niceties include additional standard driver aids such as lane-departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert with emergency braking, along with optional helpers such as a driver attention monitor and adaptive cruise control. A Fender audio system option replaces the previous Rockford Fosgate upgrade, the optional panoramic dual-pane sunroof is enormous, and the standard integrated trailer-brake controller and rearview camera with trailer guidelines should delight those who plan to use the Titan for towing.

Photo credit: Nissan

Still Undercooked

Unfortunately, the latest Titan also comes with a crew-cab rear-seat area that is significantly smaller than the concert-hall standard established by newer full-size pickups. The Pro-4X model, while capable with its 18-inch all-terrain tires, Bilstein dampers, and electronically locking rear differential, lacks the welcome suspension lift of the burlier analogs that every other half-ton truck manufacturer offers. And while there are adequate soft-touch points in key spots around its cabin, hard and unimpressive plastics creep up the Titan's door panels and center console like moss, lending it an air of cheapness that is increasingly difficult to ignore the further you move up the price range.

The exact price has yet to be announced, but we expect slight increases over comparable 2019 model-year Titans, which ranged from $35,555 for a rear-drive King Cab S model to more than $60K for a well-equipped, all-wheel-drive Platinum Reserve crew cab. While the new tech features and a segment-best, five-year/100,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty may be enough to seal the deal for those who find themselves in a Nissan store in search of a half-ton pickup, the sheer depth of greater talent in the Titan's competitive space is ample reason to keep shopping.

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