2020 Nissan Titan XD Review: The Full-Size Truck Nissan Should've Built All Along
The HD-ish Titan XD steps up.
Nissan's half-ton-and-then-some Titan XD pickup has lived its entire life in a state of uncertainty. Who does it compete with, a loaded full-sizer or an HD specialist? What's the market for a truck that costs more and tows less than a Ford F-150? And speaking of that, why not just buy American like millions do every year? These questions weighed down the old truck like so many boulders in the bed—the Titan was the worst-selling pickup in the country last year at 31,514, a whopping one percent of the market—an even smaller share of which were XDs. Even Honda moved more Ridgelines than that.
But 2020 brings a pretty heavy mid-cycle refresh to the Nissan Titan. With it comes a new focus from product planners to give the Titan XD its own identity as a single-configuration truck, easier to think of as a mechanically extensive "heavy-duty" trim of the Titan rather than a separate model like an F-150 vs. F-250. No more choice of bed lengths and cab sizes, no more intriguing 5.0-liter Cummins diesel V8 option, and no more different drivetrains—the 2020 Titan XD is available as a crew cab truck with a 6.5-foot bed, gas V8, and four-wheel drive.
You can still apply the usual option groupings (base S to luxurious Platinum Reserve) to the XD to decide how comfortable you want to be, but the truck is the truck, and it's built to pull and haul. In a game that's all about numbers, the Titan XD's strengthened frame, stronger suspension components, thicker rear axle, and larger brakes give it a higher max tow rating (11,000 pounds) and payload capacity (2,450 lbs) than the normal version. They also push its gross vehicle weight high enough to exempt it from EPA fuel economy testing. Convenient.
And yet—when today's 2500-level pickups from Ford, GM, and Ram can tow north of 20,000 pounds, does the Titan XD still impress? Yes and no. It still has its obvious shortcomings in the HD world being tied so heavily to the regular half-ton truck. But there's a case to be made that it's what the Titan should have been all along.
The 2020 Nissan Titan XD, By the Numbers
- Base Price: $46,175
- Powertrain: 5.6-liter V8 | Nine-speed automatic transmission | Rear-wheel drive with part-time four-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 400 hp @ 5,800 rpm
- Torque: 413 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
- Max Tow Capacity: 11,400 pounds
- Max Payload Capacity: 2,0 pounds
- EPA Fuel Economy: N/A
- The Promise: A kinda-heavy-duty truck that's easier to live with than a true 2500-level pickup.
- The Delivery: The Titan XD is plenty capable...when stacked up against other half-ton trucks.
Unlike the differences between other automakers' light and heavy-duty pickups, the Titan and Titan XD are dimensionally similar enough that the exterior styling is essentially the same on both models: a slightly angular, swept-back fascia with a few different bumper and trim options that resolves into a traditional boxy pickup. Riding on a longer, stronger steel frame, the XD gains 10 inches between the wheels and over a foot in overall length. Nissan essentially dropped a regular Titan crew cab and 6.5-foot bed on this platform, a combo no longer available on the normal truck; both have the same body width at 79.5 inches.
Still, there are lots of invisible improvements. The boxed frame is strengthened with more material and added crossmembers to combat unwanted bending. Larger brakes (14.17-inch rotors in the XD vs 13.78 inches in the regular truck) improve stopping performance, while thicker stabilizer bars front and rear and a stronger rear axle with 3.5-inch tubes are set up to handle the stresses of hauling a literal ton of junk in the bed.
Titan XD Interior Has What You Need and Most of What You Want
Having driven its the normal Titan few months back, the XD felt entirely familiar—probably because it's the exact same interior in both trucks, right down to stats like front headroom (41 inches) rear legroom (38.5 in). That means things like Nissan's Zero Gravity thrones and the fantastic 12-speaker Fender audio system make a welcome return, joined by new options like a super-crisp 9-inch NissanConnect infotainment display with over-the-air software updates and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a dual-pane panoramic moonroof, and a 360-degree parking/trailering camera.
As I said last fall, it's a pretty conservative design that neither excites nor offends, which is the hypothetical sweet spot for mass-market acceptance (and much better than GM's latest effort). It doesn't scale well into the higher trims, though. The Platinum Reserve's material contrasts between wood and leather are less well executed than in the Ram Limited or even the Ford King Ranch trucks, though it is a few thousand bucks cheaper. Likewise, the black-and-red motif and vinyl-bolstered seats of the Pro-4X felt a little juvenile. At least that column shifter is a sight for sore eyes.
But if the interior is Merely There, Nissan is hoping a standard helping of its Safety Shield 360 driver assistance tech will push the value proposition even further. Every Titan XD driven off the assembly line in Canton, Mississippi packs automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, reverse automatic braking, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, and automatic high beams. Getting all that on a Ram, Chevy, GMC, or Ford requires spending a couple grand more over the already-higher MSRPs.
Only the Toyota Tundra comes with a nice standard assistance setup, though the basic Toyota Safety Sense package doesn't offer blind spot monitoring, rear emergency braking, or rear cross traffic alert. The Tundra does have radar cruise control, but that's also standard on every Titan XD except the basest of base models.
No More Diesel, and That's Okay
Since the Cummins engine is no longer, the 2020 Titan XD touts the same 5.6-liter gas V8 as its lone power plant, just like the basic Titan. It's been tuned to 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which is a ways off the diesel's 550 pound-feet. Without compression-ignition in the lineup, the Titan XD's 11,000-pound tow rating is almost 700 pounds short of the old max. But really, it's ok to let go of the diesel dream here.
That Cummins never felt especially great at anything other than towing; fire up the 2020 model, and you'll find the aluminum V8 remains a characterful engine that sounds legitimately good rumbling through the exhaust. Peak torque supposedly comes on at 4,000 RPM, but the wide band and new nine-speed automatic transmission unlocks a lot of low-end power. A tap of the throttle is all you need to scoot off the line even with the 8,000-pound trailer Nissan supplied for testing attached.
The only place you might notice its absence is calculated fuel economy, because let's face it—if you're towing at the Titan XD's max every day, you probably should've sprung for a different truck.
Confidence Is Key in the 2020 Titan XD
The Titan and Titan XD are the same width and use the same powertrain, so parts of the driving experience are familiar: effortless and impressive acceleration when unladen (this thing weighs three tons!), a commanding view of the road, and those exceedingly comfortable seats are a constant. What's different is the steering—a recirculating ball setup for the XD versus the normal Titan's rack-and-pinion construction—which feels vague and imprecise when you're dealing with a 151-inch wheelbase. Fortunately, the larger brakes clamp down with confidence.
More so than the Titan, the XD's ride is noticeably firm when unladen. This is common to heavy-duty trucks and not a specific knock against the XD. On the other hand, the effect is slightly offset by that longer wheelbase, and things really settle down when you toss a bunch of crap in the bed or hitch up a trailer.
I didn't get to test the truck's max tow rating, but part of the logic behind a superlative number there is that it makes pulling an average load a breeze. Now, I won't throw some cliche at you by saying that the 8,000-pound trailer Nissan provided might as well have been a feather. But it's competent enough that someone who'd never towed anything before could get behind the wheel and feel somewhat confident with the acceleration and braking—until they had to turn the steering wheel, at least. The automatic transmission also does a stellar job with engine braking to help manage the load.
On-paper performance is one thing, and admittedly, it's the only thing to a lot of buyers. But in the real world, the 2020 Nissan Titan XD is more than enough truck for 90 percent of people. So it comes down to subjective feel—and at highway speeds with a load, the XD is as confident and comfortable as any full-size pickup.
Verdict on the 2020 Titan XD
If you're going to buy an expensive Titan, you might as well spring for the XD. Ultimately, it comes across like the full-size truck Nissan intended to build all along, a maxed-out half-ton truck whose outsized mechanical upgrades push it into heavy-duty territory. You pay about a dollar for each extra pound of towing capacity, which is ultimately worth it if you want the XD's inherent confidence. The basic formula can be remixed with off-road ability in the Pro-4X or cushy luxury in the Platinum Reserve, so if like most buyers these days you're looking for a crew cab, you won't lose anything by going with the XD.
In my review of the 2020 Titan, I said it would undoubtedly appeal to someone looking to buy their first truck without having a stake in the Ford vs. GM vs. Ram pickup wars. The same is true of the Titan XD. It's very good, and the 5-year/100,000-mile warranty alone could a selling point for some. But apart from a price break, there still isn't a super-compelling reason to pick the Titan XD over a comparable HD truck from the Big Three.
Stack it up against any half-ton truck and its merits are clearer. You get the sense that if Nissan could lower the weight and clean things up a bit, the Titan XD would do well in direct competition with the F-150, Ram 1500, Chevy Silverado, and GMC Sierra. Unfortunately, that's not the world we live in.
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