2016 Nissan Titan XD First Drive – What a HD Tundra Could Be?
Last week, I had a great opportunity to spend time with the all-new 2016 Nissan Titan XD, Nissan engineers and designers around Phoenix, Arizona. After spending hours driving, towing, hauling and off-roading, I learned a lot about this truck. Here is what I discovered.
Before I get to comparing the trucks and explaining my thoughts on the Titan XD, I should first step back and give some background. First, the new Titan XD is one of two new Titan trucks for Nissan. There will be both an XD and non-XD version (different frames, engines, suspension setups, etc…) . It is also important to understand what you are reading here only applies to the XD (heavy-duty half-ton model) with the 5.0L Cummins diesel engine. Nissan plans to release an updated 5.6L gasoline engine with the XD as well as in previously mentioned non-XD Titan.
Second, this truck was developed with three goals in mind – ride comfort like a half-ton, towing capability similar to a 2003-2005 ¾-ton truck and a significantly lower price point versus a ¾-ton. That’s it. Fuel economy? Not really important (8,500 gross lb rating means they don’t have an EPA test for it either). Towing and payload capacity that is miles better than half-ton trucks? Not important. What is important then? Simple, this truck hits the in-between area of the ½ ton and ¾ ton market with a goal of obtaining the three goals mentioned above.
When developing the truck, Nissan held focus groups around the country to determine how they wanted to proceed. One of the key messages from these focus groups was to deliver better ride comfort than normally found in heavy-duty trucks. If you have ever driven a HD truck, you know ride comfort is sacrificed for the towing and hauling capacity. This is simply due to truck makers adding heavier leaf springs, tuning the shock rates and beefing up the frame to deliver more and more towing capacity.
Bucking this trend and rolling back the clock, Nissan decided it didn’t want to have loads of towing capacity. Instead, their team felt they could deliver the capacity the customer really needs without going overboard – when’s the last time you towed 17,000 lbs with a ¾ ton?
With this mindset, Nissan reduced number of leaf springs, changed the shock return rate and even added hydraulic cab lifters in order to deliver ride comfort akin to a ½ ton. During my day of driving, they accomplished that goal quite well. Unloaded, loaded and towing, the Titan XD had a surprisingly good ride comfort considering the robust frame.
Reducing the leaf springs, changing the spring rates and making other tweaks brings up the next question – how does it tow then? This is an interesting question and one in which I want to tackle from a different perspective. Why? The Nissan Titan XD challenges conventional thinking.
Stay with me here for a minute. I’m going to assume that many of my colleagues, sales people and consumers will point to towing capacity as a measurement of how well it tows. When you look at the Titan XD numbers (12,314 lbs of towing capacity and 2,091 lbs of payload), they aren’t that impressive when you say compare it to the Toyota Tundra with 10,500 lbs and 2,060 lbs respectively (depending on configuration). Yet, Nissan isn’t so worried about the numbers. Rather it is HOW the XD tows, not how much it tows, that is the big difference.
The fact is if you don’t get a chance to tow with the Titan XD, you won’t understand it and I certainaly didn’t understand it either until I got the chance to tow a load. Driving it around at the Texas Auto Writers Association Truck Rodeo in October, I couldn’t figure the truck out. I mean it didn’t really stand out to me just driving it on the roads. Now, towing with Titan XD, it becomes much clearer.
The best way I can explain it is to think about towing with the 5.7L V8 Tundra versus say any turbo-charged engine. While the turbo-charged engine may say it can tow a similar amount on paper, getting behind the wheel, the Tundra’s 5.7L engine makes the load feel like it isn’t even there while the turbo-charged engine really has to work to keep it moving. Towing with both trucks over long distances really puts this into perspective with the turbo-charged engine causing a considerable amount of driving fatigue versus the Tundra engine.
This same feeling of towing comfort and reduced driver fatigue is the BIG key of the Titan XD. While in Arizona, I experienced the truck with a 9,600 lb bumper-pull trailer attached and a two-lane highway with a 6 percent grade climb in the middle. The Nissan Titan XD pulled this load like it wasn’t even there thanks to the big 5.0L Cummins engine and its “triple nickel” (555 lb-ft of torque) and 310 HP. Certainly, I could feel the load behind me (9,600 lbs is nothing to joke about), but the truck handled the load with confidence.
Driving around with this load and also a 750 lb weight in the bed during another part of the day, it becomes immediately clear to me. On paper, half-ton and gasoline-powered trucks will tow similar numbers to the Titan XD, yet in the real-world it isn’t even close to a fair comparison. The Titan XD with the 5.0L Cummins diesel engine will blow them away head to head.
Finally, the last goal is price for the Nissan Titan XD. I’m going to skip this discussion for now since final pricing hasn’t been officially announced. I know Nissan is hoping to hit the $40k for the base, $50k for the Pro-4X and the $60k mark for the top-grade Platinum Reserve. Yet, without exact numbers plus the fact it is in its own category, it is going to be really hard to judge if they hit this mark. I’m going to reserve judgement until we get more data.
Like I said earlier, I drove the 2016 Nissan Titan XD in Texas and now in Arizona. I didn’t write about my impressions from Texas on purpose and I’m glad I did not write anything. Driving it a second time, with towing, hauling and going off-road, I have a much better idea on what Nissan is trying to do. Frankly, I like it. I like it a lot. Why? It is really what consumers have been telling me they want.
I can’t tell you the number of customers I’ve talked with who are upset over the current lineup of heavy-duty and half-ton trucks. They really just want a truck that tows like their 2003-2005 truck, is offered at a fair price and is heavier-duty than a half-ton. Fuel economy? They don’t care. Enough towing capacity to tow a small Semi truck? Nope. They just want a truck that tows comfortably what it says it will – comfortably being the key word there. They also want a truck that won’t break the bank and this could be that truck. Finally, they spend a considerable amount of time driving around empty and are tired of feeling beat up when they are done for the day. This again is that truck.
For all of these reasons, this truck reminds me of a Toyota Tundra. The Titan XD, like the Tundra, will likely be panned by reviewers and dismissed by sales people (our truck tows X lbs less/more!!), but when you really need a truck to do the job these trucks shine. Toyota should take a lot of notes on what Nissan is trying to do and should follow suit.
Finally, I would bet money this truck will be a slow seller out of the gate. Why? Nissan’s marketing is going to have its work cut out for them. Not only do they need to sell the truck, but they need to educate the consumer why they need it. This is going to take a lot of time and effort. I think thousands of consumers need this truck since they overbought capacity in their current trucks, but getting them to understand this could take a really, really long time. Look at me, it took me driving it twice and then really thinking about it to understand it and I think others will need to do the same.
Filed Under: TundraHeadquarters.com