Rental Review: 2017 Nissan Titan XD – The 5/8 Ton Pickup

The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), is ruminant mammal belonging to the Cervidae family.   It is a medium-sized deer and a native species in Canada, USA, and Mexico.  These dainty but skittish animals are often looked upon with admiration when spotted by those who live in urban areas.   However, for those of us, like me that live in rural areas, deer are just another part of the background. I recently had fourteen deer in my backyard one morning this spring and that was a non-event.  While nice to look at, deer are often a nuisance, munching up plants and vegetables from carefully planted gardens.   So what do deer have to do with Curbside Classics?

Earlier this past winter, while starting out on my pre-dusk morning commute on my narrow windy road surrounded by dense forest, I met a deer who decided she no longer wanted to live.  Or at least that’s the only logical conclusion as to why a large doe seemingly in the prime of her life would leap mere feet in front a 5500 lb pickup truck.  Then again, anyone who has had close encounters with deer knows that perhaps they might have been slighted during evolution when it came to intelligence.

The road was covered with hard packed slippery snow, and despite my best efforts impact was inevitable.  The -25 Celsius ambient temperature caused the plastic parts on the front of my truck to literally explode.   Although the damage looked bad, upon closer inspection it was relatively minor.  No sheet metal was damaged, and the majority of destruction was to the front end cosmetic plastics.  All in all, the truck fared better than the deer, which jumped for her last time.

These are the events that brought me to my short term experience with the subject truck.   While my truck was in the body shop, I was given the choice of several rental vehicles.  The rental lot was mostly Chrysler products, as it is affiliated to a local Chrysler dealership.  There were Durangos, Caravans, 300s, and Grand Cherokees, but surprisingly nary a single Ram pickup.  For trucks, I was left to choose between several Tacomas and Frontiers along with one Nissan Titan XD. Since, I had lots of miles driving my brother’s Tacoma and I have no interest in the Frontier, I quickly chose the Titan XD.

Nissan introduced the second generation of its Titan pick-up in 2016, starting with its new heavy-duty XD model with the new 5.0L Cummins diesel.   This was later followed up by the gas-powered Titan XD and the light-duty Titan (half-ton) reviewed here by Jim Klein.   Nissan is quick to point out that the XD is not a ¾ ton model, and is somewhere between a traditional half-ton and a ¾ ton pick-up. I suppose you could call it a 5/8 ton.  While the XD shares the cab and some other body parts with the Titan, it rides on its own significantly more substantial HD chassis.  It also has a longer front nose, which results in a rather ungainly front overhang.

The truck I ended up with was a well-equipped Pro-4X crew cab with a 6.5’ bed. The Pro-4X is a mid-level trim level, falling between the S and SV on the low-end and the SL and Platinum Reserve on the high-end.  That said, the Pro-4X trim level is an off-road themed package and has a number of off-road related options that the other trim levels don’t get.  This includes a hill descent control, electronic locking differential, Bilstein shocks, additional skid plates for the radiator and transfer case, Pro-4X embroidered seats and exclusive 18 x 7.5” wheels.  The truck I had also included a luxury option package that included heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, power tilt and telescoping wheel among many other features.  This was a very well equipped truck, certainly far more so that I would specify for my own truck.

Note the rear sway bar and Bilstein shocks.

Immediately upon taking a seat in the Titan, two things struck me. First, the step in height is higher than a typical modern half ton truck.  I am tall, so the tall step in height for most half-ton trucks is quite comfortable.  I prefer no step bars on pickups as I never used them.  The Titan however was a bit of a stretch that made entry require some effort.  Second, once I took a seat in the driver’s seat the visibility was somewhat less than what I was used to.  The high cowl resulted in a shorter windshield and side window height, while the hood was quite long and flat for modern vehicle.  The A-pillars were quite large and located at a spot that created a significant blind spot for me. Nevertheless, the visibility wasn’t to the point of compromising the driving, and I quickly adapted to the new environment.

My rental Titan was equipped with Nissan’s 5.6L VK56VD V8 engine.  The engine is a revised version of the 5.6L VK56DE V8 used in the previous generation Titan.  Updates include Nissan’s Variable Valve Event and Lift System and direct injection to help increase the power and fuel economy.  The changes boost power from 317 hp and 385 lb-ft to 390 hp and 394 lb-ft.  In addition, a new 7-speed Jatco transmission replaced the outgoing 5-speed (diesel’s get a 6-speed Aisin).  The new powertrain helps increase the fuel economy rating from 12/17 MPG to 15/20 MPG.

Despite the higher power of the Nissan V8 engine, the Titan felt somewhat sluggish off the line.  While powerful, the engine didn’t have an abundance of low-end power.  Once up and moving the truck had more than enough power, with a strong mid and upper range.  On the highway, it revved at about 1700 rpm at 100 km/h (62mph) and I noted that it would downshift relatively easily on modest grades.  I did a few wide open throttle two lane passes and the truck performed very well despite its heavy weight.  The V8 sounded terrific at high rpm.   The shift algorithm of the transmission seemed to get confused at times at lower speeds sometimes upshifting too early to a higher gear and then having to quickly downshift.  Overall the transmission operation wasn’t bad, but could use some further refinement.

The Nissan Titan XD frame is substantial, much more so than the Titan

The extra mass of the heavy-duty XD became quite apparent with the ride and handling characteristics.  Over gentle humps in the road the truck rode quite smooth and comfortably, but had a hint too much body float for my taste.  The composure quickly diminished with broken pavement and chuck holes which caused the truck to crash and become harsh.   Under these conditions the ride was definitely closer to a ¾ ton truck than a half ton.  I did notice the chassis had excellent torsional rigidity, however over rough pavement the cab suffered from body oscillations.

Fr Headroom Fr Legroom R Headroom R Legroom
Nissan Titan XD 41.0 41.8 40.4 38.5
Ford F-150 40.8 43.9 40.4 43.6
Silverado 1500 42.4 45.3 40.5 40.9
Ram 1500 39.9 41 39.9 40.3
Tundra CrewMax 39.7 42.5 38.9 42.3
Ford Super Duty 40.8 43.9 40.4 43.6
Chevrolet HD 42.8 45.3 40.5 40.9
Ram HD 41.0 41.0 39.9 40.3

Here’s how the Titan XD’s cab dimension stack up against the competition

The Titan half-ton trucks use rack and pinion steering while the XD’s use recirculating ball steering box.  The difference is apparent.  While it had a decent level of effort, it lacked road feel and was fairly dead on center for a modern vehicle.  Handling was typical of a large heavy truck, although I noticed it had fairly neutral cornering and not suffering from excessive understeer that inflicts many pickups. The brakes were firm and responsive and had little trouble slowing the truck down from high speeds.


Rear seat accommodations are smaller than most other crew cabs, but still ample

The interior was trimmed with nice modern soft touch materials on the dash and the door panels.  Between the seats was a large centre console, but rather than a floor shift, it had a column shift.  This meant the console having an abundance of storage.  Many reviewers have raved about the seats on these trucks, which I found comfortable, but nothing exceptional.  I did note that the heated seats were a little on the slow side to warm up in the morning.  Front seat leg room was very good, while the rear seat was decent but considerably smaller compared to some of the competition.

This truck had a 6.5 foot cargo box which had an above average lift over height even by modern standards. Notably, the box included built in provisions for a goose neck hitch, and a factory bed liner.  This truck’s option package included plastic cargo boxes on the box sides. The awkward shape meant they weren’t particularly useful for storage and they also reduced the box width to less than 48”causing a problem for hauling 4 x8 sheets.

The heated steering wheel was a nice feature on cold mornings and warmed up much quicker than the seats

I had the Titan XD for just over a week and during that time I logged about 500 miles.  I used it for the same commute I subject my truck to on a daily basis and I also took in on a short highway trip out-of-town.  According to the truck’s calculations, I averaged 15.3 L/100 km (15.4 mpg US, 18.5 mpg IMP).   I thought the mileage was reasonable for such a large truck; however, it was a fair bit lower than the mileage I was averaging with my truck under the same driving conditions. It should be noted that this mileage was logged during sub-freezing temperatures with winter gas.  As someone who tracks  fuel mileage regularly, I can say these factors have a significant impact on fuel economy.

Overall, I thought the Titan XD was a decent truck.  However, I can’t say I’d buy one if I were in the market for a new truck.  This isn’t because there was anything glaringly wrong with the truck; rather, it’s just overkill for my needs.  This truck is clearly larger, heavier and more capable than a typical half-ton truck, and this capacity does come at the cost of poorer driving dynamics, heavier weight and larger size. An additional concern is the Titan’s rather spotty reliability record.   Consumer Reports had ranked the previous generation near the bottom of the pack when it came to full-size truck reliability.

Car and Driver performed a long term test of a 2016 Titan XD,  that was very similarly equipped to my rental, albeit equipped with the 5.0L Cummins diesel.  Car and Driver pulled no punches when they chastised the performance, and reliability of this truck.  That said, many of the problems encountered were specific to the diesel powertrain.  The gas Titan XD has considerably better performance, more payload, costs significantly less, and doesn’t really have a big fuel economy penalty.  C/D probably would have had better luck had they had a gas equipped truck.

Performance 0-60 mph 50-70 mph 1/4 Mile
Titan XD Diesel 9.4 7.0 17.3
Titan XD Gas 7.4 5.5 15.8

Performance of Titan XD diesel vs gasoline power

This Titan XD is a bit of an anomaly in the truck market, but I still think the truck fills a niche that has not been filled by the traditional trucks.  The Titan XD has been criticized to not have much more payload than a half-ton while it close in size and weight to a ¾ ton.  So what exactly is this truck good for?

I didn’t find these cargo boxes particularly useful

This is an ideal truck for someone who owns a truck to pull a large trailer semi-regularly, while still using it as regular transportation.   While on paper an F-150 has comparable or more payload and tow ratings to a Titan XD, there is a little more to the story here. The pick-up market is all about one-upmanship these days, and manufacturers will seemingly do almost anything to have the best in category.  Ford in particular, plays fast and loose with its payload and tow ratings, often quoting the F-150 HD Payload packages.  While this package does exist, it is very limited in terms of which F-150 can be so equipped.  Your typical loaded up F-150 crew with the 5.5’ bed can’t get this package.  The fact is most payload ratings from pickup manufactures do not reflect the actual ratings of a typical truck.  To calculate payload is very simply, take the GVWR rating of the truck and subtract the actual curb weight.  The result is the maximum load for all cargo and passengers.  Below is a chart with some real payload ratings, calculated from Car and Driver test results (C/D weights all tested vehicles).

Truck GVWR (lbs) Weight (lbs) Actual Payload (lbs)
Nissan Titan XD Gas 8800 6682 2118
Nissan Titan XD Diesel 8990 7280 1710
2016 F-150 3.5 Eco Boost 7000 5433 1567
2017 Ford F-250 Diesel 10000 8300 1700
2017 Ford F-250 Gas Super Cab 10000 6532 3468
2016 Silverado 1500 7200 5588 1612
2016 Silverado 2500 Diesel 10000 7740 2260
2015 Ram Larmie 6900 5964 936
2016 Tundra CrewMax 7200 5808 1392

All weights are real world as measured by Car and Driver. All trucks in the chart are well optioned crew cabs, other than the 2017 Ford F-250 Super Cab.  The F-250 Super cab was a very basic XL model with few options, and shows the great difference in weight when compared to a loaded F-250 Crew Cab Diesel.

Furthermore, tow rating and horsepower don’t always equal a better tow vehicle. The Fast Lane Truck tested an Eco-boost F-150 against a gas-powered Titan XD in this towing test video.  Although the F-150 was faster up the hill, in the end the Titan was picked as the winner as it was simply a better towing rig.  The extra weight, the heavier duty frame makes a better more stable towing platform, even though it’s somewhat slower.

One might argue, why not step up to a real ¾ ton?  The other advantage to an XD is that it has a lower GVWR than a ¾ ton, which means it can skirt extra licence and regulatory fees related to heavier trucks.  For instance here in Ontario, anything with a GVWR of 4500 kgs (9920 lbs) requires an annual inspection, which is most ¾ ton these days.

The low beams were LED’s, with halogen high beams.  The LED’s were a very bright white but didn’t seem more effective than halogens. The lighting performance overall was average.

Although I think this truck is particularly well suited for a person who recreationally tows a large trailer semi-regularly, I question the size of this market.   Nissan has the least brand power in the pickup market and these days it’s all about brand power.  I am sure many die-hard pick-up trucks guys will write it off with out and real consideration. It is a decent truck, but certainly not a game changer that will draw brand loyal customers.  So, I am not sure how many customers will be drawn to these trucks.  They certainly are a rare sight in my area.   While I question Nissan’s logic in introducing the Titan XD, I do give them credit for making a valiant effort.