Toyota didn't do Nissan any favors. Its tenuous steps into the full-size-pickup segment, first with the T100 and then with the 7/8-scale Tundra, muddied the waters for American consumers, who became thoroughly schooled in the notion that Japanese trucks simply didn't measure up. Nissan's full-size truck would have to make a very strong statement if it were to reeducate people whose vision of a pickup focused squarely on the Ford F-150. Nissan's U.S. dealers, embarrassed by the utter wussiness of the last-generation Frontier truck, told Nissan's new chief, Carlos Ghosn, not even to think about bringing another truck to our market without a V-8 engine. Nissan's U.S.-based product planners, engineers, designers, and executives made similar pleas to Japan: If we're going to do a truck bigger than the Frontier, it has to be a real pickup.
And so, the Titan that made its public debut at the January 2003 Detroit auto show and went on sale that fall was a pickup truck writ large. You might think that the Titan's designers were on loan from Tonka Toys, as they almost went overboard making the Titan at least as big, bold, and butch as anything from Detroit this side of a Cummins-powered dualie. Likewise, Nissan's engineers made sure the Titan equaled or exceeded the competition in the big five big-truck attributes: horsepower, torque, towing capacity, cab size, and bed size.
Nissan had the right idea. It didn't even bother making a regular-cab Titan, as those account for less than twenty percent of full-size-pickup sales. We chose the extended-cab model, which Nissan calls the King Cab, but Nissan also makes a crew-cab model with four full-size doors and a bed that's a foot shorter than the King Cab's 6.5-foot box. We passed up the base XE model in favor of the midlevel SE, which has front captain's chairs with a floor-mounted gearshifter rather than a Detroit-style column shift.
We put our Titan to work right away. Within days of its arrival, Tim Jennings, husband of editor-in-chief Jean Jennings, seized the Titan's keys and headed to New Hampshire to fetch a 1972 Norton Commando 850 motorcycle. He became a big fan of the Titan's optional utility bed package, which includes a factory-applied spray-on bedliner, a twelve-volt outlet, and a clever airline-inspired system of aluminum rails with tie-down cleats that allows you to secure all manner of cargo. "The Titan's bed is well thought out," Jennings said. Nissan dealers sell bed dividers, sliding cargo trays, modular storage units, and bike and kayak racks to make the most of the setup, although we simply lashed our mountain bikes to the floor rails. We also subjected the bedliner to multiple loads of big landscaping rocks and found it to be a durable alternative to a drop-in plastic unit.
The King Cab's rear half-doors were also welcome. With two-stage hinges, they swing open first to a conventional 85 degrees and then all the way toward the bed sides, a full 168 degrees. Folding the 60/40-split rear seat bottoms up against the bulkhead, which exposes a nearly flat floor, and opening both the front and rear doors creates a huge cargo-loading aperture. We even managed to fit a dishwasher, in its shipping carton, into the passenger's side of the cab.
That big opening had a big downside, though, as noted by contributor Matt Phenix at about 9000 miles: "The Titan is awash in squeaks and rattles. It's those gaping, B-pillar-less side openings and loose-fit clamshell doors." One six-foot, four-inch passenger found plenty of headroom in the rear seat but noted, "the front seatbelt is fastened to the rear door, so the front-seat passenger can't let the person in the back out without taking off the seatbelt--or getting strangled." Ford mounts the F-150's front seatbelt to the front seat itself, a much more elegant solution.