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Review: 2004 Nissan Titan SE 4x4

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Titan: In ancient Greece, a member of a mythical race of giants, a personification of a force of nature. In astronomy, the second-largest moon in the solar system - the largest if you include its dense atmosphere in its diameter. In sheetmetal, the newest truck from Nissan. And ``Titan'' is an appropriate name for the newest Nissan.

The Nissan Titan is capital B big, a full-sized pickup designed for the active-lifestyle, personal-use American truck market. If not the first Japanese-brand full-size pickup, it's the biggest, and the first to aggressively go up against that last bastion of American-brand exclusivity.

The conservative, tentative Nissan that nearly died in the mid-1990s is definitely gone - the Titan is bold, brash, and will make an impression anywhere it goes. Nissan isn't going after the three American pickup makers head-on.

A large part of the pickup market is fleet sales, to utility and construction companies, government agencies, and more. Nissan is starting small, aiming at the growing personal-use market. There are no basically-equipped models in the Titan lineup. No V6, no regular cab, no stripped-down version that screams ``fleet sales.'' The choice is extended cab - ``King Cab'' in Nissan parlance - and full crew cab, each with two- or four-wheel drive, and all with a new 5.6-liter V8 engine that boasts 305 horsepower and 379 lb-ft of torque.

Three trim levels - XE, SE, and LE - are offered in both body styles, with the XE the simplest and the LE a chrome-plated, leather-equipped luxury truck.

As might be expected, the Titan is an American product, designed, styled, and developed largely in North America and assembled in a new, $1.43 billion facility in Canton, Mississippi. Given its size, it's effect in Japan would likely be similar to that of a certain large green lizard from the late-night movies. A crew cab Titan takes up most of my driveway at the moment. It's a pre-production version of an SE 4x4 crew cab with the off-road package, number 91 made if the serial numbers are sequential.

Often pre-production vehicles are a little looser than the production versions, as assembly techniques are still being dialed-in and materials used may be a little different. Not a problem here. This big guy is solid, tight, and strong, even after many hard miles of press use - I doubt that the scrapes on the sides and the gouges in the skid plate came from a supermarket parking lot.

It's an impressive vehicle with great comfort and space, and serious power. The bed is short, at five-foot-seven, but should do for many uses. A trailer can always be used for longer, larger items - with 9,400 lbs of towing ability, a trailer won't be a problem.

APPEARANCE: At six and a half feet width and nearly that in height, the Titan is a large truck. And its imposing styling makes it seem even larger. The looks may be controversial, but the Titan gets attention and there's no denying that it has presence. The hood is short but high, and bulges with the implication of power beneath. The bed, while also short, is longer than that of smaller crew cab trucks and SUVs. The passenger cabin is immense, and is the visual center of the vehicle when viewed from the side. A sharply-raked windshield gives it the look of a 21st Century pickup, and race car-like fender blisters hint at performance. The off-road package's large P285/70R17 tires barely fill the wheel wells. From the front, the Titan has the look of a toothy prehistoric beast caricatured in steel, with the three-piece grille for the mouth, the bright, complex headlamps for eyes, and the domed hood and massive roof as the forehead. The front bumper is plastic-covered, like that of a car, and has an air intake and foglamps. The only similarity between the Titan and the smaller Frontier is the black plastic garnish piece on the locking tailgate.

COMFORT: Two interior configurations are available in the Titan. Mine had the front split bench, which is really two bucket seats with a small jump seat between. The center back folds forward to act as an armrest and console box, and the gearshift is on the steering column, allowing access to seats from either side. Front captain's chairs with a center console and floor-mounted shift are also offered. With either configuration, the rear seat is a bench with plenty of room for three passengers, and a 60/40 folding back for internal cargo storage. Interior grab handles are placed near all four doors, a good thing considering the 22-inch floor height. Comfort and space are excellent in all positions save the front center. The instrument panel is styled in the contemporary Japanese manner, with well-shaded instruments in front of the driver and audio and climate system controls in a bulging central pod, highlighted by silvery plastic trim. A large glove box and door pockets, and the central console provide useful storage. SE and LE models have an overhead console with space for everyone's sunglasses. An available factory-installed sprayed-in bedliner and reconfigurable tie-down system can reduce wear and add convenience to the cargo bed.

SAFETY: The Titan has Nissan's ``Zone body construction'' design with front and rear crumple zones, side-impace and rollover protection systems, front and side airbags, and available side curtain airbags.

ROADABILITY: It's built like a truck, and a heavy-duty truck at that. But, even in 4x4 trim with the off-road suspension package, the Titan crew cab feels like a car on all but the most broken and potholed pavement. Give credit to a rigid, fully-boxed ladder frame, excellent soundproofing, and a suspension that uses independent double A-arms and coil springs in front and a well-located solid rear axle with dual-rate leaf springs. The off-road package's Rancho(r) shocks and the air in the large P285/70 R17 mud and snow tires improve damping, and the ride quality is further helped by the weight distribution, with the long crew cab and relatively short cargo bed placing more weight on the rear wheels than in many pickups. It's an excellent highway cruiser, comfortable and untiring to drive. And quick rack and pinion steering and a reasonable turning circle for a vehicle of its size give it good maneuverability around town. Alas, I didn't have the opportunity for any off-road excursions, but, judging by the brush scrapes on the sides and rock nicks in the thick aluminum skidplate, someone before me had plenty of dirty fun. With 11.5 inches of clearance, rocks, holes, and the odd muffler on the highway should present no problems.

PERFORMANCE: ``Horsepower, torque, and towing capacity'' were what focus-group participants told Nissan were necessary for interest in a truck. Nissan listened, and developed a high-tech 5.6-liter aluminum alloy twincam 32-valve V8 with 305 horsepower at 4900 rpm and a healthy 379 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm. Towing ability is up to 9,400 lbs with the towing package. A five-speed automatic transmission transmits all of that power very smoothly, and a ``tow'' mode holds gears longer when necessary. Power is never, ever a problem, and the drivetrain is as refined as that of many high-priced cars. 4x4 models have a shift-on-the-fly system controlled by a rotary switch on the instrument panel, and a locking rear axle adds traction in loose environments.

CONCLUSIONS: Nissan is in trucks in a big way with its new full-size Titan.

SPECIFICATIONS 2004 Nissan Titan SE 4x4 Crew Cab Pickup

Base Price $ 29,800
Price As Tested $ 30,970
Engine Type dual overhead cam 32-valve aluminum alloy V8 Engine
Size 5.6 liters / 339 cu. in.
Horsepower 305 @ 4900 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 379 @ 3600 rpm
Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length 139.8 in. / 224.2 in.
Curb Weight 5,341 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 17.5
Fuel Capacity 28 gallons.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires P285/70 R17 BF Goodrich Rugged Trail
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone wit coil springs / solid axle with leaf springs
Ground clearance 11.5 inches
Drivetrain front engine, on-demand dual-range four-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 14 / 18 / 15
0 to 60 mph 7.2 sec
Payload 1,453 lbs.
Towing capacity up to 9,400 lbs with tow package

Off-Road Package - includes: switch on demand locking rear axle, Rancho(r) gas shocks, 3.357:1 final drive, P285/70R17 BFG tires, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, skid plates, fog lamps, tow hooks $ 700
Split bench front seat -($180)
Destination and handling $ 650