U.S. Against the World: 2004 Ford F-150 and Nissan Titan

The all-new full-size trucks for 2004

Jack Keebler
Aug 18, 2003
Photographers: The Manufacturer, Ron Sessions
2004 Nissan Titan front Side View
  |   2004 Nissan Titan front Side View
A new full-size truck doesn't come along every year, so you can imagine our excitement when we have two, essentially from the ground up, coming for '04. Within about a month of each other, we had the chance to take an early look at some prototype vehicles and test out the powertrains. We even were allowed to test each of the new trucks with a few closely matched competitors. This helps us get an idea of what's coming to market, but it also gives the manufacturers an opportunity to get some early feedback from us. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don't. What follows are some early observations about two new trucks--one looking to bust into the segment with nothing to lose and the other looking to maintain its longstanding supremacy with everything to lose. Here's what they're thinking.
Photo 2/11   |   2004 Ford F 150 front Interior View
Thinking New
For now, the F-150 stands atop the last significant domestic-dominated product segment: full-size pickups. But can the iconic Ford stay there, against fiercely competitive players like Ram and Silverado/Sierra? Furthermore, can it handle the upcoming Nissan Titan and, eventually, a true full-size truck from Toyota?
Alongside a shrinking, profit-poor car market, Ford sold more than 800,000 F-Series pickups last year. Any time an automaker remakes its best-seller, it's a risky proposition. Dearborn hopes to fortify its market position by creating a new F-150 with a stiffened frame, increased power, more refined steering and ride, upgraded interior design and equipment choices, improved quality, and a bolder edge on its appearance.
We recently watched lizards scattering across burning yellow sand as our convoy of '04 F-150 prototypes hammered through the desert. We were inside the fenced and guarded confines of Ford's Kingman, Arizona, Proving Ground, and, as the heat waves wrinkled across the rocky moonscape, these hardworking test mules were intent on proving that America's number-one-selling pickup (for 26 years) hasn't lost any off-road toughness or work-hard capability--though it rides, handles, and runs more like a sedan.
Photo 3/11   |   2004 Nissan Titan center Stack View
Many F-150 critics (translation: Ram and Silverado owners) feel the drooping nose and soft overall shape make the current truck look wimpy. So Ford Design put the starch and creases back in with upright side glass, a higher nose and beltline, and crisper lines on all the bends. This tougher, planted look is reinforced by wider front and rear tracks.
The new F-150 comes in five trim flavors: XL (base), STX (sporty), XLT (family), FX4 (off-road), and Lariat (premium). Choose from Styleside and Flareside bed types. Ford will offer regular, SuperCab, and SuperCrew cabs and three bed lengths: 5.5, 6.5, and 8 feet. The new cabs are six inches longer for more storage or rear-seat legroom, and all the beds are two inches deeper. Even the regular cab has four doors; these narrow back doors allow easy access to storage.
One of the most exciting elements of the F-150's design brief is an upgraded interior look and specification. These range across the trim lines from base, hose-it-out XL to leather-lined Lariat. The Lariat and FX4 are the most impressive, with metal-trimmed gauges and bright door handles and levers that recall the look of premium Euro sedans. For the first time, interiors will vary by model; not just in color or seat material, but with differing instrument panel, console, and seating layouts. For example, some automatic-trans-equipped versions will have column shifters, while others will be floor-mounted.
The new frame is boxed and partially hydroformed, features seven crossmembers, and is reportedly nine times stronger than the previous F-150's. Attached to the front rails is a double wishbone, with a beefy, aluminum lower A-arm and an easily serviced coil-on-shock unit. In the rear is a corporate live axle, located by extra-wide leaf springs and damped by shocks mounted outside the frame, both modifications specifically designed to improve empty and loaded ride and handling. This unusual shock setup enhances body-motion damping and reduces roll.
Photo 4/11   |   Ford F-150
During skidpad maneuvers and high-speed lane changes, the truck carved pavement neatly and cleanly via a new heavy-duty power rack-and-pinion steering unit, which replaces the old recirculating-ball system. Besides being more responsive, it feels lighter. Also inspiring driving confidence is the all-new braking arrangement consisting of large, vented four-wheel discs with standard electronic ABS. Pedal feel is excellent and, despite high ambient (95 degrees F) temperatures and repeated high-speed stops, the brakes displayed zero fade.
Photo 5/11   |   2004 Ford F 150 rear Interior View
Naturally, a workhorse needs horses. Ford will offer two engines: a new SOHC 24-valve (three valves per cylinder; two intake, one exhaust) Triton 5.4-liter V-8 and a smaller SOHC 16-valve 4.6-liter V-8. The 5.4 serves up 300 horses at 5000 rpm (a 15-percent improvement over last year, and 500 rpm higher) and 365 lb-ft of torque at 3750 (a four-percent improvement, about 1200 rpm higher in the rev band). Its new head design uses two intake valves and one exhaust valve, as in a Mercedes. Other 5.4-motor advances include variable valve timing, with 50 degrees of adjustment range, and electronic throttle control. Ford claims five-percent-lower fuel consumption and a broader torque peak.
The new engines are powerful, yet quiet; even the idle quality is superb. Both are mated exclusively to four-speed automatics. Despite even higher torque outputs, these trannies exhibited smoother, more well-managed shifts, and less noise than we've come to expect from Ford trucks.
If you want a V-6 engine and manual gearbox, Ford will continue to offer the current pickup--called the Heritage F-150--alongside the new model, for several months, as the company's many F-Series plants change over to new production tooling during '04.
Photo 6/11   |   Nissan Titan
On the off-road course, we sampled the electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case; a manual system also will be offered. The former moves easily in and out of four-wheel high and low modes without drama or sticking, and it turns the polished new pickup into a veritable mountain goat on uneven and broken-trail grades.
Our proving-ground foray gave us a good overall read on Ford's important new truck. Based on this first experience, we believe the '04 F-150 has the potential, smarts, and good behavior required to stay at the head of this multimillion-unit sales class. It's great looking, has more power (though still not as much as the competition), offers many innovative details, and resets the meter at an altogether higher level in terms of light-duty-truck interior design and execution.
Photo 7/11   |   2004 Nissan Titan outside Rear Interior View
Thinking Big
Nissan isn't mincing words with its all-new full-size pickup. The name itself conveys bigness: big truck, big country, big market segment, and big opportunity for Nissan.
The company that first introduced America to the compact pickup some 45 years ago will finally be giving its truck buyers a move-up property when the Titan hits dealer showrooms this December. Nissan's been chasing Toyota ever since it lost import-brand sales leadership in 1975. Now, Nissan is finally playing in one of the biggest parts of the market with its first-ever full-size pickup truck.
Nissan afforded us an early look at two development "mules" with cobbled together interior and exterior pieces, but close-to-production drivetrain and chassis bits. We poked around underneath a 4WD Crew Cab on a lift, 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." Parts is parts, as they say, and the scale and gauge of the Titan's vitals leave nothing to the imagination.
Then our Nissan hosts lowered the Titan to the pavement so we could climb aboard. In every major dimension, the Titan stacks up within an inch or two of the 1/2-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. Nissan didn't tiptoe into the full-size market as Toyota did with the "bigger-than-midsize-but not quite full-size" Tundra. The Titan, in contrast, feels big.
Photo 8/11   |   2004 Ford F 150 engine View
The Titan is more than half a foot longer and at least three inches taller and wider than the Toyota Tundra. The new Nissan will hit the ground running with 1/2-ton models available in four levels of trim, including two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, extended four-door King Cab, and four-door Crew Cab variants. Nissan's new full-sizer continues the trend of trucks to larger interiors, but shorter beds.
Because all Titans share the same 139.8-inch wheelbase and 224.2-inch overall length, the longer Crew Cab with its four full-size, front-hinged doors comes with the shorter 5-foot 7-inch bed, and the comparably shorter King Cab features the longest available 6-foot 7-inch bed. No 8-foot bed will be available, at least at start of production. Aside from the ease with which the rear seat can be accessed on the Crew Cab, that configuration also offers roughly eight inches more rear legroom and about an inch and a half more rear headroom than the already spacious King Cab.
But the King Cab is no slouch either in the ingress/egress department, thanks to rear-hinged rear doors that pivot nearly 180 degrees to allow unfettered access from the rear--even in tight parking spaces. It's an industry first.
Photo 9/11   |   163 0310 Fvn 5bz
Speaking of firsts, the Titan will be available with a factory-applied sprayed-in bedliner. Other options to customize Titan's bed include a sliding divider, slide-out tray, and sliding toolbox that move fore and aft on rails recessed into the floor and bed sides. Also making work easier and play more enjoyable is an adjustable, flip-down bed extender. Adjustable overhead racks for carrying such things as ladders and scaffolding are also available as accessories.
Nissan has dispensed with the usual full-size pickup ploy of offering a six-cylinder, manual-transmission price-leader hardly anyone buys. In fact, no manual transmission will be available on Titan at all. The base configuration moves straight to an all-aluminum 5.6-liter double-overhead-cam V-8 and five-speed automatic transmission. On five-passenger models with bucket seats, that includes a console and gated floor shifter. Although Nissan hasn't yet released final engine-output numbers, we're estimating 350 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. That combination is good for towing up to 9400 pounds, 2200 more than Tundra.
Off-road abilities should be enhanced by the availability of an optional switch-on-demand electronically locking rear differential and Rancho performance shocks. Titan's BFGoodrich P285/70R17 all-terrain tires (standard on SE and LE models) are the largest skins in class. For binders, large-diameter four-wheel discs with ABS, electronic brake force distribution, and Brake Assist are all standard. The system is programmed with an off-road setting for driving in sand and gravel, which allows for more slippage before engaging ABS. The Titan is also available with Vehicle Dynamic Control, which can apply individual brakes or dial back engine power to control understeer, oversteer or simple straight-line traction loss. A tire-pressure warning system is standard on all models.
Photo 10/11   |   2004 Nissan Titan front Engine View
The new Titan may be big, but it isn't clumsy. There's a finer edge to the Titan, evident even in the early prototype mules, than is normally found in this segment. First of all, Nissan's 5.6 liters of DOHC V-8 grunt feels at least as potent as the Dodge Ram Hemi's 5.7-liter/345-horse OHV V-8. Throttle response is crisp, no doubt aided by the Titan's Variable Intake System.
Transmission upshifts and downshifts are handled quickly without hesitation or fumbling around for the right ratio. The Titan's engine-speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering is notably more communicative than the full-size truck norm. And the truck is agile in tight maneuvers, its 41-foot curb-to-curb turning diameter considerably tighter than that of the Tundra or Dodge Ram.
Photo 11/11   |   163 0310 Fvn 6bz
Well-thought-out touches and interesting details abound, as well. There's a mailbox-size storage compartment in the left rear fender (outer part of bed behind the rear wheelwell) that's lockable. Large side mirrors with wide-angle and normal reflectors are a visual-aid plus when hauling bulky loads or towing. Inside, Big Gulp-size cupholders are fitted in all doors.
An optional DVD-based navigation system with a pop-up center-console screen and, for rear-seat passengers, a DVD mobile entertainment system with tilt-down screen will be available. Audio fans will enjoy the optional Rockford Fosgate-powered 10-speaker sound system. Side-curtain airbags also are available.
The Alpha T-inspired look of the new Titan, with its blistered fenders, snaggletooth grille and domed hood, may not be for everyone. But that's all part of Nissan's new design strategy to get noticed. The idea is that its look some will like, some will dislike, but no one can ignore. At first preproduction glance, our take is that Nissan's first-ever full-size pickup will be a serious player in the full-size pickup market. It's sure to be a battle of the Titans. TT
{{{2004 Ford F-150}}} {{{2004 Nissan Titan}}}
Location of final assemblyNorfolk, VirginiaCanton, Ohio
Body stylesSuperCrewCrew Cab
EPA size classFull-size truckFull-size truck
Drivetrain layoutFront engine, 4WD, 4-door, 5-passFront engine, 4WD, 4-door, 5-pass
AirbagsFrontFront (opt), side curtain
Engine type{{{90}}}-deg V-8, iron block, alum heads90-deg V-8, all alum
Bore x stroke, in3.55 x 4.173.86 x 3.{{{62}}}
Displacement, ci/l330.1/5.4345.7/5.6
Compression ratio9.8:19.8:1
Valve gearSOHC, 3 valves/cylDOHC, 4 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm{{{300}}} @ {{{5000}}}350 @ 4900 (est)
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm365 @ 3750375 @ 3200 (est)
Transmission type4-speed auto5-speed auto
Axle ratio3.73:13.36:1
Low range ratio2.62:12.60:1
Wheelbase, in138.5139.8
Length, in224.0224.3
Width, in78.978.9
Height, in75.376.0
Track, f/r, in67.0/67.067.5/67.5
Total cargo area volume, cu ft61.164.0
Total interior volume124127
Curb weight, lb55004950
Max payload capacity, lb17001875
Max GVWR, lb72007000
GCWR, lb15,80016,{{{200}}}
Max towing capacity, lb88009400
Fuel capacity, gal25.029.0
Suspension, front/rearIFS, Double A-arm, coils/live axle, leaf springsIFS, Double A-arms/live axle, leaf springs
Steering typeRack and pinion, power assistRack and pinion, power assist
Turning circle, ft4341
Brakes, f/r, in13.0/13.6 vented discs12.6/12.6 vented discs
TiresGoodyear {{{Wrangler}}} AT/SBFGoodrich Rugged Trail AT
Base price (est)$25,000$22,500
On sale in U.S.October 2003December 2003
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Ford F 150

Fair Market Price
Editors' Overall Rating
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MSRP: $26,030
Mileage: 18 / 25
Engine: 3.5L V6
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