Car review: 2011 Nissan Titan

By Ian Merritt,

With all-new half-ton pickups from Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, GMC and Toyota hitting the market since 2007, the light-duty truck segment is experiencing a wave of new products not seen since the early 2000s. Meanwhile, over in Nissan's stable, the Titan -- introduced in late 2003 with the ardor of a presidential bid -- soldiers on. Its reliability has been spotty over the years, and it still doesn't offer a V-6 engine or regular-cab configuration. That means the least expensive trim level is still $5,000 more than a stripped-down Ford F-150, Ram truck or Chevy Silverado. The Titan is an adequate truck, as full-sizers go, but the years are ticking away and Nissan hasn't kept up with the competition.

The basics

In ascending order, Titan trims are the XE, SE, PRO-4X and LE (see a side-by-side comparison with the 2009 model to see what's different this year). All Titans have a standard 5.6-liter V-8 engine and five-speed automatic transmission, and the only cab styles available are an extended King Cab and a four-door crew cab. The interior comes in five- or six-seat layouts, and beds range from 5.6 to 7.3 feet; last year's 8.2-foot bed, available on the King Cab, has been dropped. Most trims can have rear- or four-wheel drive, but the off-road PRO-4X comes only with four-wheel drive.

I drove a four-wheel-drive, five-seat King Cab PRO-4X.

Going and stopping

Nissan's stout 5.6-liter V-8 makes 317 horsepower and 385 pounds-feet of torque, and E85 flex-fuel compatibility is a no-charge option. Peak torque comes at just 3,400 rpm, giving the Titan lusty acceleration off the line. I didn't have a chance to drive with a loaded cargo box, but with four adult passengers the drivetrain still made easy work of uphill on-ramps.

That's impressive for a standard engine, but other trucks' optional V-8s are pulling ahead. Our cohorts at held a light-duty V-8 Shootout in late 2008, comparing the Titan with a 5.7-liter Toyota Tundra, a 5.4-liter F-150, a 6.2-liter Silverado and GMC Sierra, and a 5.7-liter Ram. All six had crew-cab layouts and four-wheel drive. The Titan ran the quarter-mile in 15.96 seconds unloaded and 21.04 seconds with a 6,500-pound trailer -- placing fifth and fourth, respectively.

We drove a 2008 four-wheel-drive Titan LE a few years back and found the five-speed automatic to lag a bit in kickdown response and the shifts to be generally on the slow side. That doesn't seem to be the case now: The 2010 Titan's five-speed responds quickly to light accelerator prods, so maneuvers in the passing lane come easily. Videographer Matt Avery took the Titan on a round-trip interstate drive between Chicago and Detroit and reported good passing power and little transmission lag.

That said, hilly terrain and heavy loads can stymie this drivetrain. At's 2008 Shootout, driving a 7.2-percent hill climb with a 6,500-pound trailer, the Titan required 32.38 seconds to go a third of a mile -- placing it dead last in the competition. The first-place Silverado, by comparison, took less than 29 seconds.

With proper equipment, the Titan can tow up to 9,500 pounds. That's also the lowest maximum tow rating in the segment. Dodge upped the trailer rating for its 1500 series Ram from 9,100 pounds to 10,000 pounds for the 2010 model year.

Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are standard. The brakes are among the Titan's high points: They're powerful but easy to modulate for smooth stops. The Tundra's discs feel even stronger, but as full-size pickups go -- or stop, I should say -- the Titan feels remarkably sure-footed. (That impression holds up in a comparison, too. In's Shootout, the Titan averaged about 158 feet to stop from 60 mph, placing it second only to the Tundra.)

That said, the Titan still doesn't offer factory-installed trailer-brake control, which the Silverado, Sierra, Ram and F-150 do. Simple trailer-brake prewiring is optional on the Titan, but you'd still have to go to the aftermarket to get the system. If Nissan wanted to gain some sales back, a factory trailer-brake option could be low-hanging fruit.

The four-wheel-drive system employs a part-time transfer case with separate high and low gears. I didn't have a chance to blaze any trails, but the system switched seamlessly from one setting to the next. The PRO-4X model adds an electronically locking rear differential -- a very useful piece of four-wheel kit -- which ensures equal speeds for each rear wheel in low-traction situations. It also includes Rancho shock absorbers, a lower 3.36:1 final drive ratio, larger tires and skid plates over the oil pan and transfer case. Ground clearance increases to 10.7 inches, versus 10.2 to 10.6 inches in lesser Titans; that figure beats all but the F-150's available 11.2 inches. Though not as hard-core as Ford's F-150 Raptor, the PRO-4X is fairly robust, as off-road packages go. It's comparable to Ford's F-150 FX4 offering.

Ride and handling

Like most large pickups, the Titan's ladder frame rides an independent front and leaf-spring rear suspension. That bodes well for off-roading and heavy-duty wear, but not so well for bumpy roads, where the rear wheels dance around a bit. As pickups go, the Titan does an admirable job keeping its footing. Potholes and speed bumps elicit some reverberations, but the suspension regains its composure after a moment or two. Throw some weight in the pickup bed, and the ride quality becomes SUV-like.

On the highway, things aren't quite as impressive. On smooth pavement in the '08 Titan LE, I cruised in near silence, with little road noise and none of the unsettling creaks that characterized body-on-frame trucks just a few years ago. Rougher patches bring out the Titan's roots, however. On one stretch of Chicago expressway, the dashboard and headliner rattled incessantly, and the suspension settled into a turbulent rhythm. On his drive to Detroit and back in our 2010 tester, Avery noted significant tire noise -- likely the result of the PRO-4X's massive BFGoodrich Rugged Trail all-terrain rubber.

Like many trucks, the Titan exhibits noticeable body roll, and the suspension dives forward a bit under heavy braking. The steering wheel has less power assistance than I would expect in a pickup, so tight parking-lot maneuvers require a bit of effort. The payoff comes on curvy roads, where the wheel delivers a feeling of connection with the road that's rare in this class. During's six-truck comparison, testers agreed: In extreme cornering situations, the Titan's spirited handling impressed.

Styling and utility

The Titan's massive grille has long been a familiar sight; in Nissan's lineup, it adorns one other truck and three SUVs. Most Titans have 18-inch steel or alloy wheels, while the LE upgrades to 20-inch alloys. Crew-cab beds measure 5 feet, 7 inches or 7 feet, 3 inches; King Cab beds measure 6 feet, 7 inches. Last year's 8-foot, 3-inch bed, optional on the King Cab, is gone, but Nissan still claims the longest-in-class bed for crew cabs. (Automakers are like politicians sometimes: They never stop squabbling over who has the most of what.)