Diesel Truck Battle: F-150 Diesel Vs. Nissan Titan XD

Ezra Dyer
Photo credit: Ezra Dyer

From Popular Mechanics

Years ago, I took a road trip in a Winnebago Via, which is an RV built on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis. To add a degree of difficulty, I towed a boat, bringing the total length of my mini road train to about 40 feet. Propelling all this amphibious vacation overkill was a mere 3.0-liter diesel V-6, the Sprinter's small but torquey powerplant of choice. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that it would be awfully nice to be able to buy such an engine in a pickup truck. And a few years later, you could: in the Ram EcoDiesel, which for a while was the sole light-duty diesel in a full-size pickup truck. Now the Ram has some competition-or it would, if it were still around-in the form of the F-150 diesel and Nissan Titan XD. (The Ram's 2019 redesign seems to have shed the diesel option, which maybe isn't surprising now the Fiat Chrysler is embroiled in its own diesel emissions quagmire-nowhere near as bad as Volkswagen's, but they're still going to be shelling out some money.)

Photo credit: Ford, Nissan

So that leaves us with two. The F-150 is new and uses a UK-built 3.0-liter V-6 that's basically the same one you'd find in a Range Rover. Given that lineage, it's as silent and refined as you'd expect. The compact diesel's also powerful: 250 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque. Not as powerful, though, as the standard-issue 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, which now makes 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft. Both of those engines are hooked to Ford's excellent ten-speed automatic, which was codeveloped with GM and is showing up in its vehicles, too.

Photo credit: Ford

The Titan XD has a few new features for 2019 (elaborate Fender audio system, for one) but it's largely the same truck introduced for 2016: heavier-duty than a non-heavy-duty, less heavy-duty than a heavy-duty. Follow? The XD's 5.0-liter Cummins V-8 makes 310 horsepower and 555 lb-ft of torque, which you'd think would be enough to smash every half-ton's tow rating, but not really-the XD maxes out at 12,710 pounds towing, which these days is a half-ton number. Max payload is likewise more in line with half-tons than HDs, at 2,490 pounds. Part of the issue is that the truck itself weighs as much as 6,740 pounds, so the Cummins does a lot of work hauling around its Nissan wrapper before the first stick of firewood goes in the bed.

Photo credit: Nissan

Now, theoretically, you can option a gas F150 to have more towing or payload capacity than a Titan XD. But read the fine print, and the F150 with the gaudy payload numbers is a very particular setup: an F150 XL regular cab with 8' box, 5.0-liter V8, rear-wheel-drive, heavy-duty payload package, and 18" heavy-duty wheels. The F150 with the gaudy tow rating is a different truck: a rear-wheel-drive F150 XL SuperCrew with 6.5-foot box, 3.5-liter EcoBoost and Max Trailer Package. On balance, I'd suggest that any ol' Titan XD is going to be happier towing and hauling heavy loads than any given F150 challenged with a similar amount of weight, regardless of what the spec sheets say. And in any case, the F150 diesel checks in slightly under the Titan XD's numbers-11,400 pounds of towing, 1,940 pounds of payload.

Photo credit: Ford

Do some lurking on truck discussions on boat forums (which I do) and you see that the Titan XD appeals to people who regularly tow 9,000 to 12,000 pounds, numbers that a half-ton might technically handle but will likely cause some white-knuckle moments. One owner with a 9,000-pound boat-who replaced a Tundra with a Titan XD-wrote, "The diesel keeps the revs way down and makes that part that much more enjoyable. The XD is also quite a bit more stable and feels like it's in control of the boat, rather than the other way around."

So why would you buy one of these trucks versus the other? Let me break it down.

You Want a Luxury Car That Can Haul Stuff

That's the F150. It's got a cushy ride and it's damn near silent. Although the 3.0-liter Powerstroke makes less power than the Nissan's Cummins, it's also propelling a much lighter truck-at least 1,000 pounds lighter, and sometimes more than that, depending on the setup. The F150 also has the advantage of that 10-speed transmission (to the Nissan's seven-speed), which means it can take better advantage of a diesel's relatively narrow rpm sweet spot. So the Ford is quicker, with most tests putting 0-60 in the 7-second range to the Titan's 9-second times.

Finally, the Ford gets outstanding fuel economy for a full-size truck. Over a four-hour back-roads trip, I got 26.3 mpg. Over four hours in the XD (albeit at higher speeds, and in a Pro-4X off-road model) I didn't quite nudge 19 mpg.

You Could Use An F250 But Can't Stand The Price Tag

Climb on into the Titan XD. And it is a climb-in the Pro-4X, I measured two feet between the ground and the floorboards. Once you're settled in your skybox seat, you push the start button and... wait. See, diesels have glow plugs to get the cylinders warmed up before a cold start, and the Cummins' glow plugs take their sweet time to start glowing. It's like the truck is reminding you of its big-rig lineage. Then, when it does start, it shakes to life with a mighty diesel thrum that never really subsides. The Ford's noise-vibration-harshness standards were clearly benchmarked against European luxury cars to ensure Land Rover acceptability. Cummins makes giant bus engines. To them, this 5.0-liter is probably pretty quiet. The Ford reminds you of a Mercedes, while the Nissan reminds you of World War II tank documentaries. This is a truck and it's not pretending to be anything else.

Photo credit: Nissan

Now, for the Titan XD to really nail its mission of slotting between a half-ton and three-quarter-ton truck, it needs more power. When a Cummins Ram has almost twice the torque of the Cummins Nissan, your tweener math isn't quite working out. Something in the range of 350 horsepower and 700 lb-ft of torque would still land far shy of the American HD trucks but would move the XD's tow rating further in the HD direction (and make it quicker unladen). So what's the rationale, here?

Price, that's what. A 2019 Cummins Titan XD starts at $39,915. A 2018 Ram Heavy Duty with the 6.7-liter Cummins starts at $44,040. A Ford Super Duty with the 6.7-liter Powerstroke costs at least $43,865. And those numbers don't reflect the real-world discounts that are applied to the respective trucks. At my local dealers, a four-door 4x4 diesel Titan XD with leather is advertised for about $44,000. A similarly equipped F150 diesel-not F250, mind you-is going for about $53,000. And when one local dealer had a flirtation with no-haggle online sales, they had a new Cummins 4x4 Titan XD for sale for $33,000. Now, yeah, I wish it had more power. But $33K for a new four-wheel-drive diesel truck is a hell of a deal. If you're a tradesman and your truck is a tool more than a toy, every dollar you can save up front is a dollar you keep for something else. The Titan's five-year, 100,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty is also pretty nice, especially for people who rack a lot of miles on their trucks.

Conclusion

The F150 diesel is a finely polished piece and priced as such. Its real competition comes from gas-powered F150s, which are less expensive and quicker. The Titan XD is a trucky truck that could use more power but is a bargain hauler of big boats. Its real competition is domestic heavy-duty trucks-used ones. In both cases, you can see why it took so long for truck manufacturers to offer light-duty diesels. Gas engines have gotten so good that small diesels (if you can call the Cummins that) are threading an ever-shrinking needle to find their audiences. Maybe you prize low-rpm torque and better-than-gas fuel economy. Maybe you really hate replacing spark plugs. Or maybe you just like the growl.

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