2020 Nissan Titan first drive review: New and improved, but still trailing the pack

The full-size truck segment is uber competitive, and manufacturers are constantly trying to one-up each other with power, features and technology. The Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 are the current rulers of the class, with the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra not trailing too far behind, Nissan is attempting to make its Titan relevant again with a pretty thorough refresh for the 2020 model year.

The 2020 Nissan Titan gets a new mug and a revised powertrain.

Nissan

When the 2020 Titan goes on sale next year, it'll only be offered in two configurations: Crew Cab with a 5.5-foot bed or King Cab with a 6.5-foot bed. A single-cab option is no longer available. These two body/bed combinations are the ones people buy most often, but Nissan once again can't match the myriad options available from American truck manufacturers. The King Cab can be had in S, SV and Pro-4X grades, while the Crew Cab adds fancier SL and Platinum Reserve trims at the top end of the spectrum.

A big upgrade for 2020 comes in the way of driver-assistance technology. Nissan's Safety Shield 360 is standard across all Titan trims, and includes rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and automatic high-beam headlight assist. Forward collision warning is standard as well, and adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition are available as options.

On the infotainment front, an 8-inch touchscreen runs the latest Nissan Connect software, as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A larger, 9-inch screen is also available. Nissan Connect is a lot easier to use than before, but still not quite as good as the Sync 3 and Uconnect systems offered by Ford and Ram . The Titan gets a smattering of 12-volt and 110-volt outlets, as well as USB Type-A and Type-C ports. Wireless charging, however, is nowhere to be found.

Where the Titan struggles is with camera technology. The available surround-view camera is blurry, and there are no cameras to assist with towing. Meanwhile, the GMC Sierra can be optioned with as many as 15 cameras, including one that lets drivers "see through" their trailer.

The Pro 4X interior gets lava red trim, including the Nissan badge on the steering wheel.

Nissan

Elsewhere in the full-size truck space, you'll find lots of powertrain options. The US-based manufacturers offer I4, I6, V6 and V8 engines, powered by either gasoline or diesel. The Titan, however, has just one option: a 5.6-liter, naturally aspirated V8, which is slightly more powerful for 2020, pushing out 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque (on premium fuel, anyway. On regular fuel expect 390 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque). The Titan's old Cummins diesel engine is dead.

The updated V8 and a new, nine-speed automatic transmission work together really well. The Titan is quick off the line and has plenty of midrange punch. The transmission never hunts for the right gear, quickly and eagerly upshifting and downshifting based on your throttle inputs. A burbly V8 noise makes its way into the cabin, with little road or wind noise to interfere with that great sound.

This powerplant allows for decent towing capability, but hardly best-in-class stuff. You'll get the most out of a King Cab with rear-wheel drive, which can tow 9,370 pounds. The Titan's max payload rating is 1,680 pounds, which is attainable with either cab configuration with four-wheel drive. Elsewhere in the truck world, the Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 can be optioned to tow more than 10,000 pounds and haul over 2,000 pounds in their beds.

Having said that, I'm able to tow a 6,000-pound Airstream trailer without any fuss. The integrated trailer brake controller keeps the trailer's brakes from locking up, and the anti-sway feature keeps the Airstream on the straight and narrow. V8 power is ample while towing, too.

For the off-road-spec Titan Pro-4X, Nissan adds some skid plates, Bilstein shocks, red-painted tow hooks and some special screens in the 7-inch gauge cluster display for things like pitch and roll angles. My test course in Utah isn't particularly challenging, the truck's General Grabber tires chewing through the dirt like a boss. But really, the Pro-4X is more of an appearance package than anything else. A Ram 1500 Rebel will perform better off-road. Don't even think of comparing a Pro-4X to a Ford F-150 Raptor.

Regardless, I think the Pro-4X is the best-looking Titan, especially compared to the blingy SL and Platinum Reserve trims. The SL is the chromiest, with shiny stuff on the grille, step rails, door handles, mirrors, front bumper and 20-inch wheels. The Platinum Reserve tones it down a bit, but adds body cladding and dark wheels. The Pro-4X, meanwhile, keeps the grille black with an attention-grabbing lava red Nissan badge in the middle to go with the tow hooks. New optional LED headlights and taillights strike a great lighting signature on the road.

Inside, the Titan looks fresh, and all the truck's controls are within easy reach of the driver. Nissan's Zero-Gravity seats cradle my hiney in supportive softness, and they can be had with heating and cooling, to boot. Center console storage is ample, with large cup holders for my Diet Dr Pepper. If you opt for the Pro-4X, you get red stitching, natch and special floor mats.

Really, the Titan's story is the same as before. It's competent -- in fact, more so for 2020 -- but can't match any of the American trucks in outright capability. I'm glad there's a larger smattering of safety features, and the updated design looks great. Yet I still can't imagine ever buying a Titan over an F-150, Ram, Sierra or Silverado, and it'll take more than a few new safety features and LED headlights to change my mind about that.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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