Despite the daily pillage at the pumps—now hovering around a buck-thirty-five a litre—there seems no end to the popularity of the pickup.
That’s because when there’s work do be done, no vehicle does it better.
During the last few years, industry players have been engaged in continuous one-upmanship: more horsepower, more torque, bigger payloads and monstrous towing capacities.
And all of this delivered with monstrous size. The full-size pickups from the 1990s would be our mid-size today. The current full-size truck will soon need its own postal code.
Even the models from Japan, which were once relative lightweights among the F-150s, Sierras and Rams, now stand head-to-head with the domestic behemoths.
But they don’t match Ford, GM and Chrysler in numbers, and my tester for the week—the Nissan Titan—is probably the most obscure with only 1,460 sold year-to-date at time of writing.
Compare this with 61,677 F-Series trucks purchased in the first half of 2013.
But don’t let that deter you.
Detroit has been building trucks far longer than Japan, and there’s still a tremendous amount of brand loyalty among pickup owners.
I still remember the odd stares I received on driving an early Toyota Tundra through cottage country—but that mindset is changing.
Toyota and Nissan have a reputation for building world-class small and now mid-size pickup trucks, and their reputation among the big boys is growing.
The 2013 Titan is available either in King Cab or Crew Cab format with two- or four-wheel-drive and three bed lengths, along with four trim levels. The Crew Cab offers 4×4 only and either a 67.3- or 87-inch bed length, while the King Cab offers both drive options and a single bed (79.1 inches).
That may seem like a lot of choices, but nothing compared with the thousands of possible configurations offered through the Ford F-Series.
Indeed, Nissan is keeping it simple, and in that vein there’s only one Titan powerplant: a DOHC, 32-valve 5.6-litre V8 that delivers a robust 317 hp and 385 lb/ft of torque. It’s mated to a heavy-duty five-speed automatic transmission with wide gear ratio for better performance.
In today’s steady climb for more power, these numbers aren’t overly impressive, but they still top GMC’s 5.3-litre V8, yet don’t measure up to the 5.7-litre Hemi from Dodge (395 hp, 407 lb/ft) or the 5.7 from Toyota (381 hp, 401 lb/ft.).
That being said, the Nissan unit provides more than enough grunt to launch the 2,500 kg Titan briskly off the line, and with a throaty growl. Passing power on the highway also gets more than a passing grade. Throttle response, however, is perhaps a little too sharp, making it a challenge to accelerate smoothly from a full stop.
Ride is civilized for a pickup, thanks to a double wishbone with stabilizer up front and dual rate, overslung leaf springs in rear. Even with the larger rims (20-inch) on my top-trim SL, the Titan was surprisingly forgiving on bumps and potholes.
But don’t expect nimble handling, as this vehicle has a wide turning circle: up to 50 feet, depending on wheelbase.
My crew cab tester was equipped with an advanced shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive system with 2WD/4HI/4LO modes, with an electronically controlled part-time transfer case. It’s a rugged unit, but if you’re really into off-roading, there’s the PRO-4X trim package that also includes Rancho performance shocks, additional skid plates on the oil pan and transfer case, electronic locking rear differential and a lower final drive ratio. 18-inch aluminum offroad wheels are shod with beefy P275/70R18 all-terrain tires.
Construction is a fully boxed ladder frame, and at up to 9,500 lbs for the King Cab and 9,300 for Crew Cab, towing is on par with the domestics. So is payload at up to 1,900 lbs. for the latter.
The bed itself comes standard with a factory spray-on bedliner and a set of channels with four moveable cleats for securing your load. Also in back is a 120-volt outlet on all but base models.
Inside, the crew cab Titan has limo-like room in back, where you can really stretch out your legs. Alternatively, the seat cushions flip up for a cavernous cargo hold—ideal for a load of bags (on the grocery hooks), boxes or a couple of bikes.
Additional storage can be found in the large console box, which can accommodate hanging files, not to mention paper, pens and business cards in the lid.
And there’s the usual array of door bins and bottle holders to keep the passenger cabin tidy.
Space is no issue in the Titan, with ample room for five large occupants, and the wide, comfortable seats are ideal for long hauls. Too bad the Titan, like many large pickups, has a big appetite for petrol with my fuel consumption well above the already thirsty 17.7/12.0 litres/100km (city/hwy) rating.
But I digress. Driving or riding in the Titan, depending on trim level, is akin to an SUV experience with available features that include leather seating, heated up front with eight-way power adjust for the driver and four-way for the passenger; seat memory; dual-zone climate control; power sunroof; navigation and 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate AM/FM/6CD/MP3 audio system with Bluetooth.
There’s even a power rear window that comes standard on crew cab models. As an alternative to A/C, I sometimes prefer the flow-through breeze with side and back windows open—something you can’t do in most vehicles.
My only gripe with the interior is that it looks a little dated with an abundance of faux woodgrain that is reminiscent of my parents’ Scarborough basement circa 1979. But that’s a minor gripe in an otherwise handsome truck.
Pricing is a bit steep, with the top-trim SL short-box coming in at $51,648, not including $135 for optional pearl paint and $1,730 for delivery.
At the opposite end, a base Titan S 4×2 King Cab starts at $33,898, with even more payload than the Crew Cab at 2,153 lbs. For the rest of the lineup, and equipment lists, check out Nissan.ca.
Bottom line: The Titan is a small player in this highly-competitive market, and is up against some very good domestic product. Because of this, import manufacturers like Nissan have had to up their game to the point that they, along with the North Americans, are building trucks that are exponentially better than in previous generations.
The Titan may not rule this segment, but it’s worth a closer look.
Nissan Titan SL 4×4 Crew Cab 2013
Body Style: full-size pickup truck
Drive Method: front-engine, part-time 4WD
Engine: 5.6-litre 32-valve DOHC V8 (317 hp and 385 lb/ft of torque)
Fuel Economy: 17.7/12.0 litres/100 km (city/hwy)
Bed Length: as tested 67.3 inches, available 87 inches
Towing: short box 4,218 kg (9,300 lbs), long box 4,082 kg (9,000 lbs)
Price: (Crew Cab) base S $39,898; SV $44,448; SV long bed $44,598; PRO-4X 4×4 $46,198; SL $51,648