Review: The 2020 Nissan Titan Is Simpler and Better for It

Nissan may have wisely given up on battling the big boys.

PARK CITY, Utah—The idea of giving up is highly underrated. So, when I say the updated 2020 Nissan Titan feels like Nissan has given up, I don't mean that as a bad thing. Nissan seems to have accepted that the Titan is never going to rival the Detroit Three's trucks in sales numbers; brand loyalty in the pickup segment is just too fierce. It therefore seems as if it has accepted its lot, and the result is quite favorable. If you're not blindly tied to a brand, but just want a well-built, easy-to-use pickup truck that will double nicely as a family vehicle, then Nissan's capitulation is your opportunity.

The 2020 Titan is a refresh of the truck first introduced in 2016. Outside, it gets new front-end styling that makes it a bit less Ford-like, although to be fair, it's the F-150 that changed more than the Titan. There are unique grilles and styling cues for different trim levels, including a red Nissan badge for the Pro-4X and an absurd amount of chrome for the mid-level SL. Inside, the Titan gets several much-needed improvements, including bigger touch screens (8.0 or 9.0 inches) and a reshuffled center stack.

The Titan's 5.6-liter V-8 gets a power bump to 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft, bettering the standard V-8s in all other full-size pickups, along with a new nine-speed automatic transmission. New standard safety kit includes automatic emergency braking front and rear, blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning, and automatic high beams. The Titan's epic five-year/100,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty makes a return appearance.

Nissan has simplified the body/bed lineup for 2020, too, now offering either an extended King cab with a 6.5-foot bed or a crew cab with a 5.5-foot bed; both the single cab and 8.0-foot bed are gone. The heavier duty (but not quite fully heavy duty) 2020 Titan XD model—which will trail the regular Titan's showroom arrival by a couple of months—drops its King cab option, coming only as a long-wheelbase model with a crew cab and six-foot, five-inch bed. The XD's Cummins V-8 diesel has been dropped—no big loss, as the engine never really lived up to its potential—and there was no mention of the oft-promised-but-never-delivered V-6 engine.

Nissan sent us out on a too-brief drive in a mid-level SV truck, along with some towing and off-roading. Let's review the driving impressions on that order. First things first: 400 horsepower! Nissan's upgraded V-8 does not disappoint. It delivers muscular acceleration with a pleasing low-rpm growl and an aggressive yowl at full tilt. The nine-speed automatic delvers smooth upshifts, but downshifts—part- or full-throttle—are a mess. The gearbox hesitates, lurches, and tries two or three different gears before it finally settles on the right one. We can only hope the extra gears will have a beneficial effect on fuel economy. Nissan didn't have final numbers at the time of our press preview, but we saw just shy of an indicated 18 mpg in our brief mix of city, highway, and back-country driving.

The nine-speed's wider gear spread allows for a taller rear end and resultant lower cruising rpm, and combined with a new acoustic windshield, that makes for an exceptionally quiet highway ride that is noticeably more serene than the outgoing truck's. And speaking of things we like, the new touchscreen infotainment, with its bigger display, crisper graphics, and optional Fender-branded premium audio, is a welcome improvement.

The Titan still employs hydraulic steering, though it doesn't deliver particularly good road feel (not that any pickup truck does). The Titan's ride can't match the comfort of the best in the business—that'd be the Ram 1500, which bests the Nissan with even its basic steel-sprung setup and is miles ahead with optional air springs—but it's good enough. There's enough bump and jiggle to remind you that you're driving a pickup truck, but not so much that you'll regret buying one. The Titan's comfortable front seats help a great deal. And while we're on the subject, back-seat room is acceptable in both cabs, but we wish the rear seatbacks had a bit more padding and were mounted at a less severe angle.

For towing, we drove a king-cab Titan SV attached to a 33-foot Airstream travel trailer. The Titan's optional towing package includes a trailer-brake controller, four- and seven-pin wiring connectors, and Nissan's nifty Trailer Light Check feature, which cycles through tail, turn, and brake lights with a few presses of the key fob. Combined with the Titan's wide-angle rearview camera, it makes one-person hookups a cinch.

The Airstream weighed in at just under three tons, well within the Titan's maximum towing capacity of 9,370 pounds (this number drops as low as 9,210 for 4x4 crew cabs). Acceleration was not an issue; the V-8 didn't feel like it was bogging down the way many gas-powered pickups do when towing. That's especially impressive when you consider that Park City sits 7,000 feet above sea level and the Titan doesn't have a turbocharger.

Stability, though, could have been better. At highway speeds, we could feel the tail trying to wag the dog when the wind picked up. In the Titan's defense, 33 feet of Airstream is a lot of trailer for a half-ton pickup. I think the Titan would do just fine towing something with a lower profile such as a boat, car, or landscaping trailer. If towing something this big was in my plans, I'd opt for the Titan XD, which has a longer wheelbase, a beefier chassis, and a max bumper towing capacity of 10,880 pounds (11,000 using the factory-fit gooseneck). I've towed a high-profile horse trailer with with the pre-facelift XD, and it offered stability (if not capacity) comparable to my own three-quarter-ton pickup. With no major changes to the chassis, the new XD should do the same.

I did some not-too-strenuous off-roading in a Pro-4X model, which gets a host of off-road upgrades including Bilstein shock absorbers, a lockable rear differential, hill-descent control, skid plates, and red tow hooks. And, yes, I can verify that it crawls as well as any 4x4 pickup, even if it doesn't have the higher-speed bashability of a Ford Raptor or a Toyota Tundra TRD Pro.

What the Titan Pro-4X lacks is anything extra-fancy like Toyota's Crawl Control or Ram's disconnecting sway bar. Same can be said for towing: While the light-check feature is a real boon, that's all that the Titan has to set it apart. There's no fancy trailer-camera system like what GM offers, and nothing like Ram's blind-spot system, which automatically measures the trailer, or Ford's trailer backup control, which lets you steer the trailer in reverse with a dial on the dash. The Titan is a bit like buying a pickup truck in 2010.

And that, believe it or not, is part of the Titan's appeal. Here is a truck that covers all the basics, one that is comfortable, quick, and reasonably capable. Nissan hadn't announced pricing at the time of our press preview, but if it sticks close to last year's figures—around $35,500 for the Titan S King Cab—it will present a reasonable value proposition, sweetened by the extra-long warranty. The Titan's shrunken lineup and lack of advanced towing-and-hauling tech makes it seem like Nissan has given up on competing against the big boys, and that might just be a strategy that works in its favor.

2020 Nissan Titan SL Crew Cab Specifications
ON SALE Early 2020
PRICE $36,000 (est)
ENGINE 5.6L DOHC 32-valve V-8; 400 hp @ 5,800 rpm, 413 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD pickup truck
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 228.2 x 79.5 x 77.2 in
WHEELBASE 139.8 in
WEIGHT 5,919 lb
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