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The coming year will bring on a clash of titans, a poor pun, perhaps, but appropriate nonetheless. From Dearborn, Mich., comes the latest reincarnation of Ford’s F-Series pickups, long the best-selling nameplate in the U.S. But the ’04 model year also brings a very serious and very credible newcomer to the segment, the Nissan Titan.
Nissan’s not the first import to field a full-size pickup. That distinction goes to Toyota — sort of. Its Tundra is undersized and underpowered and has never been a serious contender in the tough-truck segment.
Not so with Nissan. Its Titan is big, bold, and aggressively innovative. Even so, making a dent in the full-size segment, the last real stronghold of the Big Three, won’t be easy. So the automaker is starting out slowly, aiming to earn credibility and build word-of-mouth. As TheCarConnection discovered during a few days of driving through the wilds of British Columbia, the word on the street is likely to be quite positive.
From first glance, you know this isn’t just a me-too pickup. The look is edgy, with crisp, sharp lines designed to instill a sense of ruggedness. The grille is particularly controversial and, for some, a bit off-putting. But there’s no question there’s more to the new Titan than its appearance.
Comparisons to Ford’s new F-Series are inevitable, especially with both new trucks coming out at the same time. Dearborn’s entry also puts an emphasis on innovation, though Ford’s focus was heavily weighted towards the interior. The automaker has effectively created five separate versions of the F-150, each aimed at a different buyer demographic.
2004 Nissan TitanEnlarge Photo
While there are different trim levels, Nissan’s interior is essentially a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s not nearly as lavish as the high-line F-Series models, such as the Lariat, but the Titan’s cockpit is nonetheless handsome and well crafted. It should seem familiar to those who know Nissan’s passenger car lineup. Indeed, you’ll get the sense of driving an upscale sedan, rather than a classic truck.
The Titan’s creativity is apparent both inside and out. In the standard, two-row Crew Cab, the rear seats fold out of the way to create a large cargo bed. And whether you’re stowing work gear or climbing in to the back seat, you’ll have easy access through the rear “Wide-Open Door” system, which swings a full 168 degrees.
Functionality is where Nissan has put its emphasis, and you’ll find nifty innovations almost everywhere you look. In the left rear fender well, for example, the Titan sports a small bedside lock box, a perfect place to stow small tools, jumper cables, or your lunch box.
The Titan’s pickup bed is the first in the industry to come with a factory-installed spray-in bed liner — optional on the base package, standard with the top-line model. The bed also features an optional track system. Rather than fixed tie-downs, it offers you the ability to position them where they’re most needed.
2004 Nisan Titan Cargo BedEnlarge Photo
Tough as nails?
Wisely, Nissan didn’t try to build a Japanese version of the American pickup. The automaker actively sought out some of the best Big Three designers and engineers and, for the first time, put an American in charge of this development project. The move was a sound one, yielding a full ladder-frame truck that’s right for the market, but with that very discernible level of Japanese fit-and-finish.
At the heart of the beast is Nissan’s new Endurance engine, a 5.6-liter DOHC V-8 that pumps out 305 horsepower and 379 pound-feet of torque. It’s the only four-valve engine in the segment, and is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. The truck is offered in both two- and four-wheel-drive configurations.
We spent most of our time driving the 4WD package, with its 10.3 inches of ground clearance. With three skid plates, our test truck proved surprisingly nimble traversing some deeply rutted old logging trails.
The Titan’s even more at home with a cargo hitch. It boasts a 9400-lb towing capacity, which it originally planned to bill as best in class. In one of those curious little turn of events, Ford unexpectedly upped its own ratings for the new F-150, besting Titan by 500 pounds. You’re not likely to notice the difference.
Nissan Crew Cab towing boatEnlarge Photo
On road, the Titan provides a sense of confidence and power. The big V-8 delivers 90 percent of its torque by 2500 rpm. It’s quick and smooth off the line, with a precise sense of throttle feel. It handles far more nimbly than most large trucks, though don’t let that fool you. This is a massive machine.
One place Nissan clearly has the advantage is with its side-impact airbags and full-length head curtains. It’s the only full-size truck to offer that option.
There are plenty of questions one has to ask of a first-time entry, especially one aimed at so rugged and demanding a segment as the full-size pickup. Reliability and durability are two of the most crucial. It’s one thing to build a solid sedan, another to put together a truck that can stand up to the rigorous demands of a construction site, or round-the-clock towing.
Nissan officials don’t deny it will take time to earn their stripes. This is, after all, the most loyal buyer segment in the U.S. market. It’s tough enough to get a Chevy buyer to consider a Ford, never mind an import. So Nissan’s not expecting a surge of sales, at least not initially. The Titan is being built at a new factory in Canton, Miss. It can build about 400,000 vehicles a year, but for now, only a quarter of that capacity will be used for the new truck. If demand grows? Well, there are ways to make room.
The Titan goes up against some tough competition, not the least the new F-150. Ford’s eagerly awaited entry has been billed as perhaps the best full-size pickup ever. Nissan hopes to challenge that claim. Whether pickup buyers will agree remains to be seen, but there’s no question that the Titan is a serious challenger.
Titan Crew Cab
Base price: $28,000 (est. — on sale Dec. 2003)
Engine: 5.6-liter V-8, 305 hp/379 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic; rear- or four-wheel-drive
Length by width by height: 224.2 x 78.8 x 75.1 (4x2) or 76.7 (4x4) in
Wheelbase: 139.8 inches
Curb weight: 5019 lb (4x2); 5341 lb (4x4)
EPA City/Hwy: 14/19 mpg (4x2); 14/18 mpg (4x4)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side airbags for front seat, head curtain, AM/FM/CD with eight speakers; auto-dim rear mirror, seat belt pretensioners, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution
Major standard equipment: Power doors and windows, cruise control, keyless entry, security system with vehicle immobilizer, tire-pressure warning system, 17-inch wheels
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles