2020 Nissan Titan XD first drive review: Extra medium

The Titan XD occupies an odd place in the pickup world by trying to blend the comfort and manageability of a half-ton rig with the towing-and-hauling confidence of a heavy-duty truck.

Craig Cole Former reviews editor
Craig brought 15 years of automotive journalism experience to the Cars team. A lifelong resident of Michigan, he's as happy with a wrench or welding gun in hand as he is in front of the camera or behind a keyboard. When not hosting videos or cranking out features and reviews, he's probably out in the garage working on one of his project cars. He's fully restored a 1936 Ford V8 sedan and then turned to resurrecting another flathead-powered relic, a '51 Ford Crestliner. Craig has been a proud member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).
Craig Cole
6 min read

The is something of a tweener. It's designed to be more comfortable and manageable than a heavy-duty pickup but offer more capability (and confidence) for light-duty owners when pushed to the limit. Neither light nor heavy, it's, um, extra medium.

But why has the Japanese automaker developed and built a rig that occupies this narrow gray area between established pickup classes? Its reasoning is logical, if a bit convoluted. 

A properly equipped Ford F-150, for instance, can tow more than 13,000 pounds, an impressive figure to be certain. But how easily does it handle such a load? It's one thing to get a heavyweight trailer up to speed, but you've also got to keep it under control and bring it to a secure stop. All this can be a tall order for a mere half-ton truck.

Of course, drivers that routinely drag massive loads are probably better served by a heavy-duty pickup. The Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD can tow up to 35,500 pounds with a gooseneck or fifth-wheel hookup. That's nearly three times as much as the F-150. But the downside to this option is that when you aren't towing, you're stuck driving a ponderous vehicle that's tough to see out of and even more difficult to park.

Delivering greater capability than the standard, light-duty Titan, the XD models feature a number of important upgrades. They ride atop a beefier frame, are fitted with larger brakes, have a huskier differential and come with an upgraded suspension system, among other enhancements.

The 2020 Nissan Titan XD is a not-too-heavy hauler

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Still, even though it's designed to bridge the gap between half-ton and heavy-duty pickups, the Titan XD isn't particularly capable. When properly equipped, its maximum tow rating is just 11,040 pounds -- less than the aforementioned half-ton F-150. Payload capacity tops out at 2,450, which is a mere 150 more than a maxed-out Ram 1500 can handle.

A stable, servile workhorse

On the road, towing with this Nissan is a relatively drama-free affair. I had extensive time behind the wheel of an XD that had a camper attached to its rear bumper -- specifically, a 27-foot-long Airstream. Clocking in with a base weight of just about 6,000 pounds, the Titan handled this trailer with remarkable ease.

Over the course of several hours in the left-front seat, not once did it feel like the camper was shaking the truck around, like the tail was trying to wag the dog, even when traversing sketchy pavement. Braking performance was admirable, the XD's husky, four-wheel discs bringing things to a safe, secure and straight stop every time. One downside, though, is the location of the available trailer-brake controller. It's mounted low on the dashboard and is a little hard to see. Beyond that, if you have a smartphone clipped into the driver's side holster on the center console, it will be partially blocked, which is undesirable if you need a touch of trailer braking to straighten things out.

2020 Nissan Titan XD

The Titan XD has no trouble towing. Even a 27-foot-long Airstream camper is no big deal. 

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Changes for 2020

Somewhat making up for these lackluster figures, the Titan XD is now offered in only one configuration, with a crew-cab body, four-wheel drive and a 6.5-foot bed. This simplified strategy makes sense; when's the last time you saw a regular-cab truck? These days, drivers can't get enough extended-cab and crew-cab pickups, which is why Nissan is putting all its XD eggs in one basket. If you want some choice, consider the standard Titan. It may be a little less capable, but it can be had with rear-wheel drive or a smaller, extended-cab body.

Other obvious new-for-2020 tweaks include a redesigned  grille, new tailgate finishers and four fresh paint colors, bringing the total number of hues to 10.  

Naturally, there are more substantive upgrades as well. Nissan's Safety Shield 360 tech is now standard in every model. This includes six driver-assistance features like automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning, to name a few. Adaptive cruise control is available, though Nissan's excellent ProPilot Assist system, which takes adaptive cruise control to the next level by including lane-centering functionality, isn't offered.

Inside, a 7-inch, reconfigurable instrument-cluster screen is standard; ditto for an 8-inch infotainment display. Stepping things up, Pro-4X, SL and Platinum Reserve models are all fitted with a bright and colorful 9-incher for a little extra screen estate. This touch-enabled display is home to a refreshed NissanConnect infotainment system, which now supports over-the-air software updates. For added flexibility, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both included, as is in-vehicle Wi-Fi that can support up to seven devices. 

2020 Nissan Titan XD

A mighty-fine engine resides beneath the Titan XD's hood.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

A world-class powertrain

Giving the Titan XD enough guts to get large loads moving is a powerful engine. Mounted between its front fenders is a smooth-running and sweet-sounding 5.6-liter V8. Fitted with direct injection plus variable valve timing and lift, it delivers 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque when you feed it premium fuel. That's a decent increase compared with previous model years, where this engine put out 390 hp and 394 pound-feet. 

This engine is an absolute sweetheart, both silken and sonorous. It's easily the best part of driving a Titan XD. Unladen, it provides ample acceleration, yet it has no issue putting its shoulder to the heaviest of loads. Bury the accelerator and it surges ahead, but there's still enough meat lower in the rev range that wide-open throttle is almost completely unnecessary, even when towing.

Maximizing its 400 horses, the engine is matched to a brand-new transmission. The nine-speed unit helps with both performance and efficiency. Shifts are quick, well timed and smooth, plus, putting it in tow/haul model makes trailering even easier. Upshifts are delayed for improved acceleration and it seamlessly drops gears as you slow down to help provide a bit of engine braking. I have literally zero gripes about this drivetrain combination. It's brilliant. 

But what about fuel economy? Well, unfortunately there's nothing to report in this department. Like other vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVRW) exceeding 8,500 pounds, Nissan isn't required to publish any. It takes a lot of dinosaur juice to move this rig, so don't expect it to sip gasoline like a Prius.

Now for a bit of bad news: The mighty 5.0-liter Cummins V8 turbodiesel engine that's been a staple option in the Titan XD has been dropped. Again, this is another move to simplify the lineup, though I'm still sad to see it go.

2020 Nissan Titan XD

This truck's interior is something of a mixed bag.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Room for improvement

This Nissan truck's powertrain is dynamite, but the rest of its driving experience is only so-so. On the highway, there's a bit more wind and tire noise than I'd like to hear, plus the steering is dead. No, I don't expect this rig to carve corners like a Mazda Miata, but the recirculating-ball steering system it's fitted with feels particularly heavy and numb.

Whether you're in a range-topping Platinum Reserve or an off-road-focused Pro-4X, the Titan XD's ride is firm. Consequently, it can be a bit springy, bounding over undulating pavement. The ride is noticeably smoother when towing. A little tongue weight settles things down nicely. 

The XD's interior is spacious, and its seats are properly comfortable in both rows. Unfortunately, a little more could have been done to improve this cabin. It's perfectly fine, but the hard plastic on the upper door panels looks a bit low rent, plus the steering-column shroud is loose, rotating ever so slightly clockwise when you put the truck in drive. This motion moves the turn-signal stalk a bit, since it's attached to the column shroud.

Overall, this truck's cabin is better than the latest Chevrolet Silverado's and about on par with the F-150, which, at this point, is pretty old. When it comes to interior appointments, Ram still has a distinct advantage over other truckmakers.

2020 Nissan Titan XD

This is A LOT of pickup truck.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Remember the Titans

The 2020 Nissan Titan XD is stable, confident and brings the thunder thanks to its superb powertrain. Sadly, a few rough edges detract from the overall package. 

This truck's segment-straddling position in the market makes sense, at least on paper, though in the real world, this strategy hasn't attracted many buyers. Last year, fewer than 32,000 Titan and Titan XD models left Nissan dealerships in America, almost certainly an unsustainable performance.

With so many excellent offerings from American automakers, this is a hard pickup to recommend, especially when you look at pricing. Since only one variant is offered for 2020, the base price is rather steep. The XD starts around $46,175, including $1,595 in delivery fees.

This is a good truck, though not a segment leader, however, it does have one trump card: an industry-leading guarantee. Buyers are protected by a 5-year/100,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. That's a huge deal, but still not enough.

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.