Tackling the Smoky Mountains with the 2018 Nissan Titan XD

Diving into mud and rocks in a big diesel pickup

May. 14, 2018 By Stephen Elmer. Photos by Nissan.

In the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, springtime pronounces itself with the scent of fresh crisp air, produced by water and sunshine pouring into the ground, bringing the sleeping earth from its slumber. The lush forests and fields combined with the twisting ribbons of asphalt make this perfect road trip country, but it's also a great combination for those who want to leave the road too.

All that freshly fallen springtime water brings with it a multitude of mud, offering playtime for those of us who like to venture into the wilderness on four wheels.And at Windrock Park behind the wheel of a mammoth Nissan Titan XD, we found more than enough slick mud to make it a challenge.

READ MORE: On the Hunt with the 2018 Nissan Titan

Nestled in the Smoky mountains, Windrock park takes advantage of steep climbs and rocky terrain with a long set of tight trails that wind constantly up, down and around the big hills. Access roads, which are well-kept gravel paths that link different trails throughout the park, can be used to quickly get to a desired trail, but we started our accent on nothing but dirt and rocks. In most places, the trails are wide clear, with rocky outcroppings offering new climbing opportunities around every turn. 

In the dry, the trails we traversed would have offered little challenge for the big Nissan. Luckily for those of us who love a challenge, all the falling water of Tennessee springtime had worked to erode the trail into a muddy mess, and that made it quite challenging in spots.

To tackle these challenges, we set forth in a convoy of Nissan Titans, both half-ton and big XD models, and ours was the larger variety sporting a Cummins diesel engine. None of these trucks made it off the trail unscathed, but more on that in a moment.

The first thing that must be said about the Titan XD if you plan to take it off-road: this truck is heavy. It feels bulky from behind the wheel and the Pro-4X’s 7,113-pound curb weight cannot be masked. Treading lightly when heading off-road is the name of the game with this truck, because the heavy Titan is prone to slipping sideways through the mud.

The Pro-4X model comes outfitted with 275/65/R18 General Grabber all-terrain tires, a lower radiator skid plate, Bilstein shocks and an electronic locking differential, and we used all of them before our day was done. Mud terrains wouldn’t have been out of place in the conditions we were in, but our General Grabbers performed admirably. The sticky Tennessee mud was prone to caking on the rubber, but still the tires had enough bite to pull us over slick rocks, even with three out of four tires grabbing only wet earth.

At 80.7-inches wide, getting a sense for where the Titan's tires are exactly also takes some time, certainly more than getting acclimated to something smaller like a Tacoma. Once calibrated though, the 555lb-ft of low-end diesel torque combined with the nearly 40.0:1 low-range crawl ratio help this truck feel like it could creep over just about anything.

The approach of 22.8 degrees was enough to keep our front end high enough to let the Grabbers do their job. The 21.7 degree break over angle was tested on more than a few tall rocky outcroppings, and thankfully the skid plate was there when the off-road angles didn't add up. And at 8.7-inches of ground clearance, the rear differential bounced off a few rocks as well, but nothing could stop the Titan, with enough grip and power to drag its low-hanging steel through the course.

As we crashed over each rock, the seats in the truck came into focus. Nissan's "zero-gravity seats" are at once plush and firm, offering good support for passengers and helping to absorb each obstacle as our hefty truck bounced through.

Now, we didn't escape without some damage. A sheer rock face on the right and a large rock outcropping on the left fooled every single Titan driver in our pack, with the mud playing a nefarious role. The obvious line to take was to hug the rock wall on the right and avoid the sharp, jagged rocks on the left. Everyone thought so. The mud had other plans.

Like a slot car, each truck followed the ruts, which halfway through the pinch slid the front end directly to the driver's side, pushing a nice apple-sized dent into the bumper. At least when everyone in the group inflicts damage on the exact same obstacle, you don't feel quite as dumb.

After a solid hour on the trail doing nothing but climbing, we came to a lookout, that quickly explained the name "smoky mountains." On a sunny spring day, a haze hangs over these big rolling hills in the distance, adding an ethereal quality to what is already a vibrant green display of life. On any off-road adventure, that connection to nature is the reward, and feeling like you had to fight to make it is all the more rewarding. Our Titan XD delivered that experience, and for that it gets an A in my book. But that doesn't mean it's really the weapon of choice.

Straight up: I would not recommend buying a Titan XD if your sole purchase intent is to head off-road. But considering how well this truck handles empty, how competently it can tow massive loads (up to 12,160 pounds), and how comfortable the interior is, the fact that it can hold its own in the mud and rocks is a bonus attribute to add to a strong package.

And for off-road warriors everywhere, the five-year 100,000-mile bumper-to-bumper is a welcome contract that you won't find in any other dealership.

Our trip to the smokies wasn't only about finding the mud. Off-Road.com was invited to the Great Titan Meat Up to compete in a barbeque competition. For all the coverage on how our smoking went, head over to our sister site AutoGuide.com where the entire competition has been documented (link to be included when the story is published).

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