FIRST DRIVE: 2016 Nissan Titan XD – Forerunner of a Truck Revolution

On a bright, sunny December day in Phoenix, Arizona, several new 2016 Nissan Titan XD trucks roamed the city streets and highways. This convoy of trucks, perhaps noticed by passersby, but maybe not, marked the beginning of a truck revolution with the new truck leading the charge in turning back the clock on capability and price.

It is a big gamble for the small automaker, yet it could pay off really well. Here’s why.

For more than a decade, trucks have gotten more capable and more expensive. These days a half-ton truck offers the same capability a heavy-duty truck did in the late 1990s. In fact, every truck category seems to have shifted up one. The older 1-ton trucks are now sold as 3/4-ton trucks and 3/4-ton trucks are 1/2-ton trucks. It has gotten so out of hand that a person buying a 1-ton truck configured with the maximum towing setup needs a commercial driver’s license (with log book and corresponding insurance) to utilize all of the truck’s capability. The race for the “Best in Class Towing” title has created this mess and Nissan aims to stop this silliness with their new Titan XD.

Heavy-Duty Half-Ton

In order to address the growing gap between heavy-duty trucks and 1/2-ton trucks, Nissan has built the Titan as a heavy-duty half-ton (for the record, there will be another Titan truck model in the future which will just be a 1/2-ton model). This new term is explained as a truck that rides like a 1/2-ton, yet has the capability of the older 3/4-ton trucks (2003-2005 era). The trucks from that era also had lower price points which is the third key for the Titan XD.

With these goals in mind, Nissan engineers developed the XD in a unique way. Instead of making the truck as robust as possible, Nissan product planners really worked on hitting a moderate towing capacity number of 12,314 lbs with 2,091 lbs of payload while preserving good ride comfort.

For example, they reinforced the frame and made it incredibly strong. Yet, they removed some of the heavy-duty leaf springs associated with 3/4-ton trucks to reduce overall capacity and improve ride comfort. This balance between capacity and ride comfort is a key part of the new truck.

20151201-1S2A4976_1000How Does It Tow/Haul?

Make no mistake, this truck was meant to work especially with its large 5.0L Cummins diesel engine. Putting 555 lb-ft of torque and 310 HP into service, Nissan setup a towing demonstration with a trailer and bobcat (9,600 lbs) up and down a 6 percent grade. With 14-inch brakes, a unique downhill speed control (tap the brakes going downhill and the truck will hold that speed) and its robust powertrain, the Titan XD handled the load like it wasn’t even there and it was really comfortable to drive. The comfortable drive while towing is a key part of this truck.

Why is a comfortable drive while towing that big of a deal? Simple, towing can be stressful and driver fatigue happens faster than in other situations. Also, on paper, the Titan XD’s towing numbers are nothing exceptional, yet behind the wheel the truck is a different story. While there are 1/2-ton trucks and gas-powered heavy-duty trucks which come close to the Titan XD’s numbers, driving them back to back, it is clear that isn’t an apples to apples comparison.

Towing and hauling (another demonstration had us carrying 750 lbs in the bed), the XD is well suited to handle the loads and put the driver at ease. In fact, people who don’t often tow or who are nervous about it will find themselves at ease. This is a key part of the Titan XD’s competitive advantage and one you can’t understand driving it empty.

Before I finish talking about towing/hauling, Nissan added a few nice features worth mentioning:

  • Trailer Light Check – from the key fob, you can check all of your trailer lights (press lock, lock, hold lock). The truck will cycle through the left, right turn signals, brake lights and reverse. This is incredibly useful when hooking up a trailer on your own.
  • 360-degree camera helps hook up the ball.
  • Lower tailgate height of 37.5″ high which is quite a bit lower than say a Ram 2500 at 41″.
  • Lower step-in height of 15.3″ to running boards.
  • Under-rail LED lights to improve lighting even with putting a topper over the bed.
  • TITAN Box – removable and lockable bed storage running the length of wheel wells. Includes drain plug to accommodate having drinks on ice or holding fish in ice among other things.
  • Running boards extend to the outer wheel wells to help get into the bed near the back of the cab.

20151201-1S2A4846_1000Ride Comfort

Another part of the equation is ride comfort. Anyone who has driven a 3/4-ton or 1-ton heavy-duty truck understands those trucks need weight in the bed or in tow to have a good ride quality. For Nissan, they understood customers aren’t always towing or hauling thanks to many focus groups they held across the country. These customers wanted to work their trucks all day while not feeling beat up by the end of the day. The Nissan Titan XD delivers this good ride comfort.

During our day of driving, I spent quite a bit of time driving with an empty bed along city streets and highways. With the bed empty, most trucks will hop, skip or will have a harsh ride due to how the suspension was setup. Again, sacrificing capability for ride comfort, the XD hits the sweet spot between having a really good ride comfort as well the towing capacity most customers need.

While the Nissan Titan XD doesn’t ride as nice as say a Cadillac for the average truck guy, it rides really well and probably is in the middle of the pack for ride comfort.

20151201-1S2A4561Price and Configurations

The last goal for Nissan when developing the XD was to offer an in between price point (1/2-ton and 3/4-ton). Also, they needed offer more configurations than they had in the past. While the previous generation was only offered in a V8 King cab (extended) and Crew cab, the new Titan XD will be offered in a regular, King cab and Crew cab with most in either a 5.5′, 6.5′ or 8′ bed (only in regular cab). Finally, there will be S, SV, PRO-4X, SL and Platinum Reserve trim levels.

Chief Product Planner Rich Miller explained if they were going to offer less capability, they better offer a lower price to match. With final pricing still to be announced, general targets are for the base model to come in at $40k, the Pro-4X model to hit the $50k mark and the top trim Platinum Reserve at $60k. These prices seem about right based on our initial research – a bit cheaper than a 3/4 ton with a diesel engine.

Photo by Kristin Barclay

Forerunner of a Truck Revolution?

It may be a stretch to call the Titan XD a forerunner of a larger truck revolution, however it is accurate to say this truck breaks the mold. Where other trucks are getting more expensive and more capable, the Titan XD is bucking the trend. Ultimately will consumers go for it? This is Nissan’s billion dollar question. While conventional wisdom says consumers are over-buying for their needs on a daily basis, will these consumers really opt to get less truck capability?

Who knows at this point. Nissan’s marketing team has their work cut out for them with needing to educate the consumer on what they really need as well as selling the truck. If they do a good job at both, we could be looking at pivotal product which started a truck revolution. If they don’t, the trend toward more expensive and more capable trucks will continue. That trend isn’t in the best interest of every consumer out there.

Consumers can expect the new 2016 Nissan Titan XD trucks to hit dealers lots in a few months with the Cummins diesel engine. A gasoline engine and non-XD Titan models will be coming later.

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl

Hailing from Western Nebraska, Tim has covered the automotive industry for many years. He has written for a variety of outlets including Truck Trend,, and others. He is a married father of three and an avid golfer.