"Man, what a nice looking truck."
"Wow, that pickup's a real looker."
"Nice looking ride, buddy."
Talk about a guy magnet. Gas station, grocery store, car wash, even the dentist's office, everywhere we took the 2018 Texas Titan Edition SL Crew Cab, it drew admiring looks and envious comments from men, baby boomers, millennials and whatever comes next.
Hey, Texas men know what a pickup ought to look like, and the Texas Titan darn sure meets the eye test. Our tester's "magnetic black" paint was accented by chrome everywhere: on power folding mirrors, door handles, front bumper, a massive and manly front grille with chrome-painted insert that just smelled of testosterone. Add 20-inch chrome wheels, metallic kick plates and chrome exhaust finishers and let the wolf whistles begin.
Rarely has style won such an overwhelming victory over substance. To be sure, Nissan offers Texans a great deal, selling nearly $3,900 in goodies for the low, low price of just $1,295, but at the end of the day, all of that is just lipstick.
"What a great looking truck," said Texarkana College accounting Professor Curt Langford as he and his wife, Sarah, loaded into the spacious, leather-lined cabin for a ride to dinner at a community college teachers' confab over in Frisco.
"It's a Tennessee truck," he said, taking note of the manufacturer's license plates. Indeed, it is. The Titan is assembled in Canton, Miss., one of two American factories operated by Nissan North America, headquartered in Nashville.
Still a Big Three world
The Titan serves to demonstrate that while Toyota and Nissan have built truck factories here and are competing in the profit-ladened American pickup market, they are not doing it especially well. Last month, for example, General Motors, Ford and Ram sold nearly 160,000 full-size pickups, Nissan and Toyota sold around 10,000.
There are a couple of reasons for that. One is brand loyalty. Ford buyers switch to Chevy about as often as a Baptist becomes a Methodist. It happens, but not often and rarely willingly. (We Methodists are less picky.) Dodge changed its name to Ram just to cut into that loyalty thing, with some success, although it remains firmly planted in third place.
The more important reason that the Japanese have not become major players in this market, in my humble opinion, is that the Americans build better trucks. A lot better. In the past few years, the gap has widened. The Japanese trail in powertrain development, fuel efficiency, weight reduction, chassis strength, hauling and towing capacity, safety, and technology.
Good, not great powertrain
To be sure, one can argue that the Americans, with much broader product lineups and heavy-duty lines, can come up with combinations that outwork the Japanese, which are focused on light-duty pickups.
Nissan tried to deal with this issue with the heavier-duty Titan XD, which sits on a frame that is a foot longer and is powered by a Cummins turbodiesel. The XD is carving out a niche as a great work truck, but that diesel comes at a price premium.
The regular Titan comes with a single engine choice, a smooth-driving and quick 390-hp, 5.6-Liter V8 that can turn out 394-ft.lb of torque. Mated to a 7-speed transmission with shift-on-the-fly 4WD capability, the Titan's powertrain is altogether pleasant company.
On the other hand, Nissan's V8 is rated at 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, which is at the low end for today's pickups. An F-150 powered by a 3.5-L twin-turbo V6, bolted to a 10-speed automatic is rated at 17 city/23 highway. We have spent time with both. The Nissan averaged 16.7 mpg, the Ford a little better than 21.
That works out to a third higher fuel costs. Add that to Ford's lower starting price and, well, you get the picture.
Despite its big engine, the Nissan, has some of the lowest towing and hauling capacities in class. Properly equipped, it has a maximum towing capacity of 9,740 lbs. A similarly equipped Ram 1500 can haul 10,640 lbs., while a V8 Silverado and F-150 can tow 12,000 lbs. or more.
In its bed, the Titan can carry a maximum payload of 1,950 pounds. A V-8 powered F-150 can carry 3,300 lbs., and a twin-turbo V6 F-150 carries up to 3,250. You see the trend?
Two steps behind
Alas, I have fallen into the pickup trap, a discussion of torques and payloads when most of us, most of the time, haul nothing more massive than air. I that sense, a weakness in work capacity might be overlooked by other qualities.
Alas again, the 2018 Titan is a step behind the times. One area is ride quality. With a hard, bouncy rear end, the Nissan trails the class. By the time my Beautiful Blonde English professor Bride and I reached the Metroplex, our morning lattes had churned into espresso buttermilk.
Even the infotainment system is half-a-decade behind, with no available Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and but a single USB port.
To be sure, the standard 5.0-inch display screen as well as the 7.0-inch available on our SL model, are attractive and easy to use, but larger displays and more robust software are now the norm.
For a $53,000 truck, our test model lacked life-saving features that ought to be non-negotiable in vehicles costing half as much.
Toyota, for example, makes things like adaptive cruise control and lane-keep technology standard on every car and truck it builds. Insurance data shows these technologies reduce injuries and fatalities by a third. They are not available at any price on a 2018 Nissan Titan.
The Titan's safety gear includes things like 4-wheel ABS, dynamic vehicle control, a tire pressure monitoring system, a security system, an immobiolizer, blind-spot warning and rear cross traffic alert. The final three items on that list started showing up in the last two or three years. All the rest were state-of-art more than a decade ago.
One thing the truck needs, indeed, all pickups need, is a birds-eye camera view to help with parking and driveway maneuvers. Nissan pioneered the technology in 2007, but apparently has yet to ship the schematics to its Canton truck factory. In the meantime, Ford is running circles around everyone with it, even offering a line-of-sight guide to help direct hitch ball to trailer receiver.
In crash testing done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Titan received four stars, putting it on par with the Toyota Tundra and the soon-to-be-replaced Ram 1500. Ford and General Motors models earned five stars.
Bottom line: In a day of $60,000 luxo-trucks, Nissan's great-looking $53,000 offering seems tempting; but its shortcomings bode ill for resale value. A three-year-old model might be a smart play.