2016 Nissan Titan XD Cummins First Drive

Nov. 16, 2015 By Josh Burns
We spent a few days behind the wheel of the 2016 Titan XD in Arizona recently.

Nissanís new Titan XD is the truck for you. Or at least it definitely maybe could possibly be the truck for you.
Seriously, the Titan XD just might be the answer for someone who needs more capability than a half-ton but doesnít want something as large, or expensive, as a 3/4-ton pickup. With its 5.0-liter Cummins turbo-diesel engine, a max tow rating of 12,314 lbs. and a payload capacity of 2,091 lbs., the Titan XD is intended to perfectly shoot the gap between half-ton pickups and their usually much heavier-duty 3/4-ton brethren. Its capabilities and features place it right in that undefined area between the two markets. After sampling the Titan XD, all we can say is that even if it represents a truck nobody as asking for, weíre sure glad Nissan answered the question anyway.

We had the chance to get behind the wheel of Nissanís new turbo-diesel truck at a press launch in Arizona. We were also lucky enough to be allowed behind the gates of Nissanís Arizona Test Center (ATC) to see where the Titan XD was put through its paces before launch. The Titan XD may not fit neatly into a conventional truck category, but we came away from the event with a clear understanding of how that was part of Nissanís design parameters from the very beginning. Rich Miller, Chief Product Specialist for the Titan XD, explained that the Titan XD isnít looking to reshape truck segments so much as it is to offer something that isnít currently available.

ďWeíre not defining a segment; weíre providing an alternative to the customer,Ē Miller said. ďThey can still buy a big 3/4-ton truck or 1-ton truck, thatís there for them to go grab, but itís giving them an alternative for something more right-sized and getting the right tool for the job instead of taking less, or a lot more, than what they need.Ē

We were allowed into Nissan's Arizona Test Center (ATC) and the team showed us a few of the tests the Titan XD went through, such as this simulated curb jump that tests suspension durability.

If thereís one question that we editors get more than any other, itís ďWhich is the best (fill in the blank)?Ē Which is the best 4x4 SUV, or which is the best diesel pickup, or whatís the best exhaust to buy, etc.? Our response, more often than not, is usually the same: What do you plan to do with it? Answering that question, and maybe a few others, will typically point someone in the right direction, or at least narrow their choices. Nissan went through that very exercise with a number of different truck owner focus groups, and the feedback from those sessions factored heavily in the Titan XDís development.

Nissan points out that there are roughly 75,000 customers moving up to a 3/4-ton truck and another 75,000 or so people moving down to a half-ton truck. The Titan XD finds that ďwhite space,Ē and as Miller explained, the key for Nissan was to target that specific truck buyer to see if a vehicle such as the Titan XD meets his needs.

Among the many tests Nissan has at its facility, a mud pit (with bad smell and all) was one of the many.

ďWe know weíre not going to only sell to this customer, but we know if we make this customer happy that thereís a lot of other customers on the fringe that kind of ripple away from that person,Ē Miller said. ďSo our buyer for the Titan XD is a little bit younger for the segment. Heís 45-48 years old, has two kids that are a little bit olderóin the 10 to 12 rangeóheís a sub-contractor type person, and he uses his truck for business. He has guys that tow trailers for him and he tows trailers as well, but he also uses the truck as a dual-purpose vehicle because he also has campers, and he coaches his kidsí teams and goes camping and stuff like that. So thereís more than just the work part of it for this customer. Thatís the person that we were really looking atóa person that really needs a truck but also needs one for his lifestyle.Ē

The 5.0-liter Cummins V8 turbodiesel is rated to produce 310 hp and 555 lb.-ft. of torque.

Cummins Now
Nissan made no secret that a Cummins powerplant would power the Titan XD (if you remember seeing those Cummins Soon bumper stickers that the company released in its advance press, then you know what we mean). The move was a crafty one, as it spoke directly to the heart of diesel enthusiasts, who typically buy from the Big Three, by partnering with the well-known diesel-engine manufacturer. Nissan then wore it like a badge of honor for the past two years.

Unlike the turbodiesel found in Ramís line of heavy-duty trucks, the Titan XDís Cummins isnít an inline six-cylinder. It is a 5.0-liter V8 turbodiesel rated to produce 310 hp and 555 lb.-ft. of torque. Contrary to popular belief, Cummins does in fact produce V8 engines and this isnít the first, though this is the most modern small V8 the company has produced. It is based on Cumminsí ISV5.0 engine, which typically powers busses, RVs and more (and provides up to a 30,000 lbs. GVWR in those applications), and the Titan XD engine shares 70 percent of its parts with the ISV5.0, so it is hardly uncharted territory for Cummins.

Powering up hills, whether on road or off, is no trouble for the Cummins-powered Titan XD.

The Titan XD V8 features a compacted graphite iron engine block and it uses a Cummins M2 two-stage turbo system that uses a smaller turbo to help minimize turbo lag during initial acceleration and a larger one to provide boost through the rest of the power range. A Bosch High-Pressure Common Rail (HPCR) fuel system is employed along with a timed HPCR fuel pump for efficient fuel delivery. The V8 features dual overhead cams, and Bosch ceramic glow plugs are employed that Cummins says will still cycle in 2 seconds at -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Itís B20 biodiesel compliant as well.

But perhaps the biggest selling point for this engine, and for the Titan XD itself, comes down to its comparison to typical gas engines. As Cummins notes, in a typical driving range, the 5.0-liter turbo-diesel provides 45% more torque at cruising speed. Those familiar with diesel engines know that the engine will be spinning at a lower RPM at said cruising speed too, so that means fuel savings are part of the equation as well. Weíd love to report fuel economy figures for the Titan XD, but unfortunately we didnít have a large enough sample size to provide test data, and due to the truckís size it isnít required to have EPA fuel data. Weíll have our hands on a test unit very soon so that we can provide real-world fuel economy data.

The display not only provides a backup view of the Titan XD, but it also can provide a view of the trail ahead during slow-speed off-roading.

All-New Design
Nissan says durability is one of the cornerstones of the Titan XD, and its chassis is designed to be rugged. The fully boxed ladder frame borrows key architecture from the companyís NV2500 and NV3500 commercial vans. Unlike the vans, however, the Titan XD doesnít rely on rack-and-pinion steering and instead uses a recirculating-ball setup that provides decent, but not great, overall turning. Suspension chores are handled by an independent a-arm front system with coil springs up front and a solid axle with leaf springs out back. The Pro-4X model, in which we spent a great deal of time during out intro, is upgraded with monotube Bilstein shocks that we greatly prefer over the standard twin-tube shocks on the SL and Platinum Reverse trims at the event. Although the Bilsteins offer superior off-road performance, we had no overall complaints with the ride of the truck on the highway regardless of trim.

Ride comfort is key for Nissan, as they know this buyer will spend a great deal of time on the road. So Nissan uses Zero Gravity Seats both front and rear that are based on NASA research synergy. The front bucket seats are very comfortable in our opinion, and although the back seat is not uncomfortable it lacks the definition and cozy feel we found up front.

The interior of the Titan XD is nicely furnished and well laid out, even if it's not the most flashy interior. This Platinum Reserve shown here, however, is the most nicely furnished of the bunch, with leather featured throughout.

A new four-spoke steering wheel is used on the Titan XD, and although the new dash design isnít very flashy and could be considered a little boring it is nicely laid out and really easy to find the proper dial or button needed. The push-button start is a nice addition for the Titan XD, and the column shifter opens up space on the center storage console and features manual shift buttons for towing applications. Automatic dual-zone climate control is a nice addition, as are the heated and cooled seats, and Rockford Fosgate premium audio is available on upper trims. Charging devices shouldnít be an issue in the Titan XD either, as it features 12v, 120v and USB connections. We also like the Nissanís AroundView monitor that uses cameras on the truck to provide a 360-degree view while backing up or a front view of the truck while off-roading at slow speeds.

The Titan XD isnít the only Titan Nissan will introduce in the coming year, but the XD is its own platform with a chassis to accommodate the 800-pound Cummins engine. Nissan elected to launch the XD in advance of the new half-ton Titan truck, which we will likely see in 2016. Although the Titan XD is launching with the Cummins diesel, itís noteworthy that a 5.6-liter V8 gasoline engine will also be offered for the Titan XD and for the new Titan (and it wonít be the same engine as the first-gen). Details on that engine will probably come at the same time as news of the new Titan.

There are a lot of things to like about the XD in the handling department, but the slow-speed turning is a little heavy and cumbersome.

Driving Impression
Getting behind the wheel of a Pro-4X Titan XD, we were pleased with the overall layout of the cabin and the angle of the driverís seat in relation to the steering wheel and dash. The push-button start fired the 5.0-liter Cummins to life, and we were happy to hear the gentle rumble didnít overpower the cabinóno doubt the laminated front side glass helped in this regard. Nissan also told us it really works to improve body sealing with holes and gaps in the body to reduce road noise, and we can honestly say we noticed a difference compared to the prior Titan. Pulling away from a stop, we were happy the engine stayed relatively quiet and didnít transmit much shake inside the cab; the hydraulic body mount helps keep the ride smooth, even when we found some weathered, bumpy Arizona roads.

But, just as we anticipated, the Cummins engine is a real bright spot for the truck. Its 555 lb.-ft. of torque gives it a muscular feel right off idleóin fact, when we leaned into the throttle while accelerating away from a stop sign we were surprised at just how much punch it had. The two-stage turbo system definitely reduces any lag off the bottom and maintains strong acceleration throughout the powerband. Compared to other diesel engines, the XDís 5.0-liter Cummins has more get-up-and-go than Ramís VM Motori EcoDiesel turbo V6 (240 hp, 420 lb.-ft.) but not quite the same brute strength as the Ram 2500ís 6.7-liter Cummins diesel six-cylinder (350 hp, 600 lb.-ft.). Weíd say its engine performance is right in-between them, and its Aisin six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and effortlessly, nicely complementing the great overall drive-ability of the engine.

We towed a 9,000-pound trailer during our press introduction, and overall we were very impressed with the Titan XD's abilities.

We had the chance to tow a 9,000-lb. trailer during our trip as well. We drove down a steep grade during the test, which was just long enough to appreciate the Downhill Speed Control and its ability to maintain a steady downhill speed while towing. The 14-inch disc brakes on all four corners helped bring us to a stop, and the integrated trailer brake controls on the dash are a nice addition to help dial in the trailer brake as well. Although we didnít need it, itís nice to know the truckís Trailer Sway Control system will apply the brakes if needed to maintain control of the trailer. The trailer was already hitched to our intro test unit, but the Titan XD is equipped with a backup camera integrated with the AroundView monitor to make lining up and hooking onto a trailer with the tow-ball hitch a one-person job.

Driving uphill on the 6% grade, we were impressed with the pulling power of the Cummins. The engine doesnít quite have the same limitless power feel of the 6.7-liter Cummins on the top end, but it feels very comfortable pulling the 9,000-pound trailer. It should be noted that Nissan offers a gooseneck hitch option as well, as each truck is fitted with this tow mount option on the frame.

When it comes to handling, our initial feelings of the Titan XD are mixed. Overall, the truck drives comfortably and smoothly on the highway despite being a bit brawnier than a half-ton, but its slow-speed speed turning is one area we arenít in love with. The Titan XD imparts a heavy and bulky feel in turns, and it simply wasnít as effortless to turn as the Ford F-250 that Nissan brought out for the sake of comparison. When we asked about the steering, Nissan officials told us the recirculating-ball steering is a design in which certain compromises must be made to handling. Nissan clearly erred on the side of smoother steering at cruising speed, so slow-speed turning is where the Titan XD is not at its finest; itís the proper tradeoff as the truck is great for highway driving, but slow-speed turning is not a strength.

Final Thoughts
Nissanís move to offer a truck that does not fit into an established market segment is bold, and whether or not there are enough customers out there for the Titan XD remains to be seen. If Iím being honest, I do like the idea of the truck on a personal level because it does speak to me. Iíve toyed with the idea of purchasing a diesel truck, because I do want something with more capability for towing than a half-ton, especially when you consider how much legal ďtowing weightĒ you lose with a fully loaded truck of family, friends and gear. But for me, a 250/2500 is borderline overkill since I most likely will not be towing 15,000 pounds on a commercial trailer, and I find a four-door version of that size truck to be a bit cumbersome for errands around town. As much as Iíd love a big diesel, itís more truck than I need right now. If there are more people like me out there, Nissan may be on to something.

The important consideration for some will be price. With a Cummins equipped, the XD S Crew Cab in 4x2 will start at $40,000, the Pro-4x Crew Cab 4x4 will sit at roughly $50,000 and the loaded Platinum Reserve Crew Cab will run about $60,000. Although the truck may not hit top marks in every category, the Cummins V8, quiet ride and overall capability make the Titan XD a legitimate consideration in the full-size truck market - or heavy-half-ton, or whatever you want to call it.

Off-Road.com Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!