Attention, Motor City: Godzilla has risen, and he’s tramping your way. The last bastion of all-American market share and healthy profit margins-full-size pickup trucks-is about to be hassled by a Japanese-nurtured, V-8-powered, chrome-fanged monster with anger-management issues. This fall, a spanking-new factory in Canton, Mississippi, will hatch Nissan Titans by the score to escalate the fight Toyota halfheartedly picked a decade ago with the 7:8-scale T100/Tundra.
Titan is the perfect name, even though it’s a recycled Chevrolet badge (1970-81 heavy-duty trucks), because it brags big. Riding on a 139.8-inch wheelbase, stretching eighteen-plus feet in length, and bumping against the maximum permissible width without clearance lights, the Titan has the stature to rub shoulders with the Chevy Silverado, the Dodge Ram, the Ford F-150, and the GMC Sierra incumbents. Its frame is stoutly boxed stem to stern. There’s a husky V-8 and suspension gear worthy of every pickup cowboy’s respect. Instead of attempting to reinvent the genre, Nissan wisely bought into the full-size pickup game the old-fashioned way-by anteing up $1.43 billion (that’s with a b) for a local manufacturing plant and by sticking resolutely to the basics-size, power, and the spine to haul and tow heavy loads.
Before handing over keys for an early shakedown of one rough Titan prototype, chief product specialist Larry Dominique acknowledged that his truck can’t hope to match the breadth of models available from the domestic brands. Instead of their wealth of powertrains and body styles, the Titan’s portfolio is initially limited to one 5.6-liter DOHC V-8 engine, a five-speed automatic transmission, rear- or four-wheel drive (with a choice of two transfer cases), and two cab-bed combinations. Take your pick between a King Cab with rear-hinged back doors and a 6.6-foot bed or a Crew Cab with real back doors and a 5.6-foot bed.
Even though it’s too early for accurate horsepower ratings, the interior trim was a mess, and electrical accessories were for the most part out to lunch, we can confirm that the Titan is the first pickup truck since the F-150 Lightning with a soul that speaks to car enthusiasts. Nail the throttle, and the torque-rich V-8 lights up the tires and charges toward a 5600-rpm redline. Intake and exhaust system harmony is sweet enough to accompany the Three Tenors. Fourth gear runs to 93 mph before it reluctantly passes the baton to fifth.
Speed is always intoxicating, but the Titan’s road manners are what truly distinguish this pickup from the old guard. Grab the wheel, and the road grabs back. This is steering tweaked by car guys who’ve tasted a 350Z or two in their time. Damping is tight enough to take the willies out of sharp maneuvers without inflicting stiff-leggedness over bumps and heaves. The Titan has ventured beyond the friendly appliance realm into the ranks of machinery that you wouldn’t mind hustling down a back road as tail gunner for a flight of sport sedans.
Hard-core traditionalists aren’t likely to give the Titan a passing glance, but those with an open mind will welcome the first big pickup that doesn’t drive like one.