Originally published Dec. 18, 2015

Tucson, Arizona – Billowing red sand in our wake, we plow down the embankment and rumble along a dusty road hacked into the arid Arizona back-country. Towering saguaro cactus line the roadside like sentinels as we bounce over rolling desert in the rusty foothills of the McDowell Mountain Range.

It’s a great day to flog a tough truck off the tarmac, in the quest to see if it lives up to its hype. And this one, the Nissan Titan XD, has generated a lot of buzz. It’s the very first of its kind – a heavy duty truck that comes in a light duty package.

It’s a bold move by Nissan – who have spent six years in development, testing and refining before finally unveiling the Titan XD. Until now, there was no overlap between the truck segments and customers were often forced to choose between a truck that was too much for their needs, or not enough. Nissan called that gap the “white space” between segments, and they’re convinced that the Titan XD is the truck to fill it.

The truck market is huge in North America, and carving out even a small portion of it will be lucrative for the Japanese brand. Traditionally, we tend to favour home-grown pickups, and buyers are fiercely loyal to their particular brands.

For thousands of buyers, the contractors, the campers, the farmers – there hasn’t been a truck that truly fits their needs. Many of these end up in a half-ton for its greater maneuverability and ride quality, but occasionally find it’s not quite truck enough for the big jobs. The big, brawny heavy duty trucks are simply too large to use as daily drivers for most folk, and their beefed up chassis and suspension don’t deliver a very comfortable ride.

It’s not a matter of simply throwing a diesel under the hood and calling it a day. While Ram was the first to introduce a diesel-powered light duty pickup, the Titan XD takes it much further. Half-ton trucks are now posting tow ratings exceeding 4,535 kg (10,000 lb) – numbers once seen only in the three-quarter ton segment – but they don’t have the solid frame, suspension and braking components of their larger counterparts. This is important. A truck may have the power to tow over its recommended tow rating but lacks the overall stability – and a load that’s become unsettled due to the chassis flex of its tow vehicle could have disastrous consequences. Not to mention that hauling a 5,443-kg (12,000-lb) camper down a mountain pass is no time to find out that your suspension and braking components aren’t up to the job.

Here’s where the Titan comes in. It features a unique chassis that’s based on the NV2500 cargo van, using a fully boxed steel ladder frame that’s been reinforced for torsional rigidity and stiffness. It doesn’t share a single nut nor bolt with the conventional gasoline Titan that will follow it to market.

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It rides on beefed-up suspension bits consisting of a double-wishbone and coilover setup with stabilizer bar up front, and leaf springs with twin-tube shocks and a 3.5-inch solid rear axle. A 10.5-inch rear differential, available with an optional electronic locker, has a 3:92 final gear ratio. Ventilated disc brakes are at each corner and instead of electric-assisted steering, there’s a hydraulic recirculating ball system with parallel rod links.

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