New Car Previews

Preview: 2016 Nissan Titan

“There’s a difference between a man who has everything to gain and a man who has nothing to lose. If you have nothing to lose, you’re dangerous in a bad way. If you have everything to gain, you’re dangerous in a good way."

Those words are as fitting to the Nissan Titan, the perennial backmarker in North American pickup sales, as they are to the person who recently uttered those words, rocker Brian Warner.

In order to gain any traction in the automotive industry, or entertainment industry in the case of Warner, you must be bold. You must take risks others are not willing to take. But, you also must fit a certain mould so the buying public knows how to size you up.

Sitting at the back of the sales charts, outsold by even the Honda Ridgeline in the United States (in Canada, Titan sits ahead of Ridgeline), Nissan needs to decide: are we dangerous in a good way or bad way?

During the media preview days at the North American International Auto Show, Nissan took the wraps off their all-new "American" Titan. The new truck will be assembled in Canton, Mississippi with engines supplied by facilities in Indiana and Tennessee.

Made to perform like the best to take on the rest

Ford, the leader in pickup sales worldwide, has a winning formula year after year. With each generation F-Series truck, the Blue Oval brings new innovations and features to pickup buyers.

Nissan isn't Ford.

The first-generation Titan was nary a fully thought-out competitor to the best the Detroit Three could offer. Instead, it was a test run to see if buyers would warm up to a Japanese branded pickup. In the early days of the first-generation truck, people marvelled at its handsome, chiseled, and aggressive looks. Yet, with a limited offering of body styles and engines, the Titan soon lost its charm as buyers sought the choice offered elsewhere.

This time around, Nissan is not pulling any punches. Using a combination of Ford and Ram DNA (thanks to poaching Ram's former truck guru, Fred Dias), the new second-generation Titan looks to use the same formula as the domestics along with some added features not found anywhere else.

But, the domestics aren't the target. Nissan's true competitor sits at its new American headquarters in Texas -- Toyota.

"It looks like a..."

As the sheets came off the three Titans sitting atop the Nissan stand in Detroit, the inevitable comparisons started before the first round of camera clicks.

"Nissan built a last-generation F-150," said the man sitting beside me, a knowledgable figure when it comes to pickups.

"There's a lot of Ram in that truck," said another, an obvious nod to Fred Dias' leadership in creating the new truck for Nissan.

The Japanese automaker has built a truck that looks like the rest. It fits in. Instead of clumsily affixing the Nissan corporate V-motion grille to the fascia of the Titan, they've played to what the market desires: a strong looking pickup with lots of chrome and gargantuan headlights.

While it's certainly derivative, right down to the sloped kinks in the front windows to improve mirror visibility a la F-150, the Titan isn't a straight up Xerox copy. They've taken the safe route by looking at what works in the segment and making it their own.

2016 Nissan Titan XD

XD is no longer just an emoticon

Exactly as the German automakers have been finding niches in the typical American stronghold that is the SUV/crossover segment, Nissan looks to carve its own space between light-duty and heavy-duty pickups.

Called Titan XD, the new segment-splitting truck will be powered by the much talked about Cummins 5.0L turbodiesel V8 with 310 hp (at 3,200 rpm) and 555 lb-ft of torque (at 1,600 rpm). With power being sent through a six-speed automatic transmission supplied by Aisin, Titan XD will also be equipped with an integrated trailer brake controller, integrated gooseneck hitch, RearView Monitor with trailer guides, trailer sway control, and an assortment of other goodies to make your towing trip as drama-free as possible.

With all this equipment, Titan XD touts a towing capability of over 5,400 kg (12,000 lb, followed by the words "when properly equipped," a favourite of automotive industry marketers). Five-figure (imperial) towing capability does sound wonderful, especially when it's north of 12,000 lb, but the additional expense of a diesel V8 along with the availability of competitors in the light-duty segment with the same towing capability puts the new Titan in a tough spot.

For example, the new 2015 Ford F-150 regular cab with a 3.5L EcoBoost and a 3.55 rear axle ratio can haul 5,500 kg (12,200 lb). As the cab size goes up (along with additional curb weight), the towing capability goes down in proportion. But, if you're looking for a straight-up towing machine and don't want to pay the diesel premium, there is at least one light-duty option to match Nissan's new full-size oil burner.

Remember, this is now an apples-to-apples comparison. With all the automakers now adopting the SAE J2807 towing standard, there's no "our test vs. their test" debate anymore. And, barring clever lightweighting (like removing bumpers or other equipment for towing tests), the numbers make the XD designation seem like a bit of a misnomer on paper.

Hopefully, when official numbers come out, Nissan can put some distance between their new diesel-powered hauler and the light-duty competition.

Payload capability is quoted at over 900 kg (2,000 lb, again with the "when properly equipped" suffix).

Choice is (now) part of the program

Nissan is bringing more choice to the game to take on the domestic competition and obliterate the Toyota Tundra, Titan's chief rival.

The second-generation Titan will now be available with three different engines: the aforementioned V8 turbodiesel, a gasoline-fed V8, and a smaller gasoline V6. Details on the latter two engine options will be released at a later date.

Also, to address the lack of body styles – arguably a primary failing of the first-generation truck – the new Titan will be available in three cabin configurations: Crew Cab (shown in Detroit), King Cab, and Single Cab. In addition to the new cabs will be two wheelbase lengths. The Titan XD will sit atop a longer 3,850 mm (151.6 inch) wheelbase frame, hinting at the likelihood turbodiesel models will only be available with the two larger cabs or the full-size Crew Cab. Shorter wheelbase versions of the Titan measure in some 20 inches less in length.

Adding to the new levels of choice will be a selection of five different trim levels to satisfy the needs of budget and luxury buyers alike, including the top Platinum Reserve grade. If that's not straight out of the Ford/Lincoln playbook, we don't know what is.

Equipped as a truck should

Beyond the basics, Titan will now get features and options expected of any pickup in today's market.

A factory spray-in bed liner is the start of Titan's aft-cab utility. Also, the integrated gooseneck trailer hitch gives the new Titan heavy-hauling capability while retaining a clean factory look in the box.

Much like Ram and its RamBox, Titan will feature in-bed lockable, drainable storage to keep your pops cool on the way to the cottage or fishing hole. You can even keep the fish alive on the trip home if you so please.

One feature not lost on the new pickup will be Nissan's Utili-track bed channel system for securing loads. The system gives owners virtually endless possibilities when needing to tie down cargo, whether it be to the bed rails, side walls, or the floor. There's even 120-volt service thanks to a bed-mounted outlet for those who use a pickup's tailgate as a table saw mount. The tailgate itself is damped for easier opening and closing like many competitors.

If your destination is off the beaten path, Titan will be equipped with hill descent control, hill start assist, and brake limited-slip differential to make sure you stay between the bushes and trees. Front and rear sonar adds to your ability to avoid large boulders and other objects scattered about your route.

It's what's inside that counts

While vehicles are typically judged primarily on their exterior design, inside is where buyers -- those willing to part of their hard earned dollars -- will spend most of their time.

With this in mind, Nissan has crafted an interior with premium materials and componentry (at least for upper grades) to make the Titan more competitive. Also, its design is not far removed from its domestic competitors.

Additional space is a given in a segment where bigger is better. That new space applies to occupants as well as storage. Features such as lockable storage under the rear seat (in Crew Cab models) as well as a centre console bin with the ability to hold a 15-inch laptop are just some of the ways Nissan is making Titan better for the work-minded road warrior.

Other interior features, like Nissan's zero-gravity seats and tilt/telescopic steering create a more comfortable environment for those spending lots of time in their trucks. Surprisingly, there are still pickups without telescopic steering columns on the market, so this is a big plus for Nissan.

Titan will be chock full of technology as well, receiving an assortment of configurable screens of 5.0- and 7.0-inches in size for the driver's gauges and centre stack. NissanConnect will feature navigation and mobile apps for the connected consumer.

Nissan Titan: mould maker or mould breaker?

Until we get our grubby work gloves on the new Titan, the verdict is out on whether it'll be a success (or not). One thing's for certain, however: Nissan is looking to shake up a very rigid segment with a new niche not served by others.

Is Nissan a company with everything to gain or nothing to lose when it comes to trucks?

Brian Warner took the entertainment industry by storm when he had everything to gain in the 1990s. You might know him better as Marilyn Manson. His mould breaking performances created a whole new genre of music. Nissan, with everything to gain, may very well do the same by creating a whole new genre of truck.