The company that first introduced America to the wiles of the compact pickup some 45 years ago is finally giving its truck buyers a move-up property--its first-ever full-size pickup truck. Currently, two out of every 10 new vehicles sold in the U.S. are pickups, and domestic-brand full-size versions outsell smaller versions by at least three to one. It's a big country. And Nissan wants a piece of it.
Though the Titan won't arrive until the end of 2003, Nissan still afforded us an early look at two development mules. While their interiors and exteriors were cobbled together in typical prototype fashion, they still contained close-to-production drivetrain and chassis bits, which are what most interested us at this early stage. We poked around underneath a 4WD Crew Cab, examining the stout-looking fully boxed frame, hefty Dana axles, outboard rear leaf springs, and other purpose-built hardware. As Titan Chief Product Specialist Larry Dominique puts it, "Nissan needs to earn full-size truck credibility." From the bottom up, the Titan certainly looks substantial.
In every major dimension, the Titan measures within an inch or two of the half-ton rigs offered by Ford, Dodge, Chevrolet, and GMC. There's plenty of spread-out room inside for five or six well-fed Americans and their gear. True in scale to the Alpha T concept shown at the 2001 Detroit auto show, the Titan feels big, but not clumsy. There's a finer edge to the Titan, evident even in the early prototype mules, than is normally found in this segment.
We took a RWD Titan King Cab out for a shakedown run on a handling course and a high-bank oval. This rig has beans. Though a final horsepower figure hadn't been released at press time, Nissan's standard 5.6-liter DOHC V-8 feels at least as potent as the 5.7-liter/345-horse OHV in the Dodge Ram Hemi. Throttle response is crisp, no doubt aided by the Titan's Variable Intake System. Transmission upshifts and downshifts in the standard five-speed automatic are handled quickly, with no fumbling around for the right ratio. Midlevel and top-line models with bucket front seats get a gated floor shifter.
The Titan's engine-speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering is notably more communicative than the full-size truck norm. You can pick a line and hold it, without sawing back and forth in search of an elusive on-center feel. When negotiating a series of curves, this Nissan takes inputs to the helm without fuss. And the truck is more agile in tight maneuvers than you might think; its 41-foot curb-to-curb turning diameter is considerably tighter than those of the Tundra or Dodge Ram.