2004 Nissan Titan
Nissan Titan SE King Cab. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Paul Williams

San Francisco, California – With the new Nissan Titan pickup truck, the Japanese company enters a domain ruled by domestic manufacturers for the past 50 years. Apart from Toyota, which has made only a small impact with its Tundra, no other import brand has tried to compete in the lucrative full-size pickup market, which represents Canada’s the third largest vehicle segment.

The challenge for Nissan is great. Pickup truck owners are notoriously loyal to their brand, and getting them to switch manufacturers, let alone getting them to switch from domestic to import, will require serious marketing magic.

How will they do it? Initially, Nissan sees an opportunity to sell to a group that marketing director Ian Forsyth calls “modern truck guys.”

“These buyers are more open-minded,” he explains. They’re using their truck primarily for personal use; sports activities on the weekends and commuting during the week. They don’t mind standing apart, trying out new things.”

Mr. Forsythe reasons that if these buyers respond to the appeal of the new Titan, this will begin a process of acceptance among the more traditional truckers, whose primary use for the vehicle is work or business.

2004 Nissan Titan

2004 Nissan Titan

2004 Nissan Titan

2004 Nissan Titan

2004 Nissan Titan

2004 Nissan Titan
Click image to enlarge

And the Titan does have appeal. With a 5.6-litre dual-overhead camshaft aluminum-block V8 making 305 horsepower and 379 foot-pounds of torque (using regular-grade fuel), a full-length box ladder frame, a choice of two spacious cab styles, chunky 17″ or 18″ wheels and a 9500 pound towing capacity, the aptly-named Titan is as brawny as they come.

When not flexing its muscles, the Titan’s standard five-speed automatic transmission and double-wishbone front suspension (leaf-springs at the rear) permits highway cruising at low engine speeds for a relaxed, quiet drive.

Pricing will be announced in November, but it is expected to cost between $30,000 and $50,000.

The Titan arrives in XE, SE and LE trim. Standard equipment for all trim levels includes the V8 engine and five-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, air conditioning, cruise control, six-passenger bench seating front and rear, and a 106-litre gas tank.

The SE model adds alloy rims, a chrome grille and mirror package, a bed with a spray-on liner, bucket seats, gated floor shifter and power windows, locks and mirrors. The LE version includes special six-spoke wheels, fog lights, heated leather seats, power seats with memory and side and curtain airbags.

Two cabs and two bed sizes are available. The king-cab with a 6′ 6″ box features conventional front doors and smaller rear-doors that open wide toward the back of the truck. Although the king-cab style is common in compact and full-size pickups, the Titan’s rear doors swing fully open (traveling almost 180 degrees) so that they can almost rest against the box. This eliminates the problem in parking lots of occupants getting trapped between the front and rear doors when both are open.

The crew cab features two, forward opening doors, similar to a car, and a shorter, 5’6″ box. Nissan expects that sales will be evenly split between the two cab styles. Currently, no eight-foot box is available with either cab, although according to Mr. Forsyth, a longer-box version is contemplated.

Additional offroad (4×4) and comfort packages can be selected, depending upon the choice of cab and trim level. Features variously include a DVD entertainment system with sunroof, navigation system, auto dimming mirrors, 10-speaker, 6-disc CD player, power adjustable pedals, tow hooks and a lower axle ratio.

The Titan also boasts a purpose-designed “utili-track” bed channel system that includes four moveable aluminum alloy tie-down cleats, each with a 500 lb capacity. These attach to nine aluminum C-channel rails applied to the upper bed wall, header panel and floor. Various bed accessories, including sliding overhead racks and a sliding bed-extender are available, and attach using the utili-track system. An external weatherproof and lockable bed storage compartment is built into the box, behind the rear wheel.

Visually, there’s one key difference between the Titan and other pickups. The comparatively short hood and fenders of the “cab-forward” style make it easily identifiable. This design has several benefits, among them a roomier cab with best-in-class rear legroom, best 4×4 approach angle (32 degrees), and improved balance and handling, says Mr. Forysth. The sharp angle of the cab’s A-pillars, tall roof, angular fenders and industrial-strength grille are additional visual cues.

On the road, the formidable torque of this engine, 90% of which is available from 2,500 rpm, is immediately apparent. This Titan rockets up steep mountain grades without the slightest effort, and pulls from a stop with a powerful exhaust note. Highway cruising is comfortable and poised; accommodations are pleasant and appear tough. Although the Titans we saw at a press preview were pre-production vehicles, my expectation is that Titans will be solidly built, although some items, like the plastic and fragile-feeling interior door handles, seem to bow more to style than function.

Similarly, the knobs for HVAC, while commendably big, have tiny icons on them that are hard to decipher, and are not adequately marked to determine their current position. Gauges, however, are big and legible.

Rear-seat legroom is abundant, although the seat squabs are short. Head restraints for outboard rear-seat passengers are present.

Externally, the Titan is big, tall, wide and imposing, especially from the front. There’s no doubt that it’s a “real” truck.

Nissan’s approach to selling this vehicle to North Americans is described as a “walk before we run” strategy. The company’s task, according to Mr. Forsyth, is to overcome the perception that Japanese trucks are too small or under-powered. Sales expectations for Canada are modest: a 1%-2% segment share in the first two years, or approximately 2-3000 trucks, rising to 3%-4% in the following two years. In 2002, Toyota sold 2,173 Tundras.

Designed and engineered in the United States, and built in Canton, Mississippi, the Titan begins production on October 20. Look for it in showrooms before the end of this year.

Connect with Autos.ca