On paper, the Nissan Titan looks like it should compete well with full-size pickups from Ford, Dodge, and GM. But only after we test a new truck for an extended length of time can we decide whether it's a viable alternative to its head-to-head competitors. That's why we've invited a 2004 Nissan Titan Crew Cab into our long-term fleet.

Standard features on our Titan SE 4x2 include an AM/FM/CD audio system with eight speakers, remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, fold-flat front-passenger seat, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. MSRP stands at $26,700, to which we added the $1800 Rockford Fosgate Package (six-disc changer, subwoofer, eight-way power driver's seat, and adjustable pedals), the $950 Off-Road Package (17-inch wheels, BFGoodrich tires, Rancho shocks, 3.36:1 gears, tow hooks, and skidplates), and the $850 Big Tow Package (Class-IV hitch, extendable tow mirrors, heavy-duty battery, tranny-temp gauge, and vehicle dynamic control). Finally, we ordered the Utility Bed Package ($900), which comes with the first-ever factory-applied spray-on bedliner. This option group also includes a 12-volt outlet in the bed, rear-fender lockbox, and adjustable tiedown cleats. The packages, plus floormats ($110), bed extender ($280), and $650 destination charge, brought our total cost to a value-packed $32,240.

Though we've barely broken in the truck, we've already added plenty of positive comments to the logbook. A common first impression when any staffer takes a maiden drive in the Titan is how well the engine and transmission work together. One editor wrote, "The Titan has the sweetest standard powertrain in the pickup universe." Overstated, perhaps, but the Titan's SAE horsepower rating of 305 seems like a healthy understatement. Each of our editors thought that the 5.6-liter DOHC V-8 feels like it's producing more than the factory number. One driver speculated that the V-8's punch is most likely aided by the refined ratios of the standard five-speed automatic. In addition, this grunt comes at the expense of required premium fuel, resulting in increased costs at the pump. With that said, we were happy with our best tank of gas, measuring out to just under 18 mpg (empty, one passenger).

It's no secret that Nissan and Ford currently have some of the best truck interiors on the market, and although our staff can't quite agree on which one is better, we appreciate the Titan's well-placed grab handles, foldaway rear seat, and fold-down front-passenger seat. Plus, just as in the F-150, the floor-mounted shifter adds an upscale touch to the truck's cabin. We'll keep an eye on how the interior wears over time and if we have any complaints about underbody components.

Though we haven't gotten down and dirty with our Titan yet, we have plans to put the spray-on bedliner and adjustable tiedowns to good use, with numerous landscaping/dump-hauling tasks a truck like this should be more than eager to complete. We'll fill the bed with lots of messy payload and let you know how the truck handles it in our next update.