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Nissan moves into full-size pickup market

October 17, 2003|by JASON STEIN/Wheelbase Communications

Maybe Nissan just felt left out. Maybe it felt a little lonesome. Or maybe it was just a matter of being the last guy in and wanting a chance to do it right.

Whatever the case, the Japanese automaker has taken the plunge, producing its first entry in the full-size truck market.

Welcome to another half-ton player in a very crowded, very competitive segment. Welcome to a titanic effort in something called the Nissan Titan.

Beware, Detroit. Not until now has a Japanese manufacturer taken on the full-size Big Three truck market with such size, ambition, focus and drive.

Just how serious is Nissan? Does a new $1.4 billion plant in Canton, Miss., say enough?

It's all part of a bigger plan. After relaunching the "Z"-car (now called the 350Z), redefining its family sedans with the phenomenal Altima and stunning new Maxima, and recasting the sport-utility mold with the Murano, the "Nissan revival" now includes a truck: a big truck.

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In the 2004 Titan, Nissan is unveiling enough interesting features, rugged design cues and aggressive pull under the hood to change everyone's impression of the company's place in the market. It's all by design. Truck buyers are like NASCAR racing fans - loyal right down to the engine block. So, in building the Titan, the thinking was simple: take the best that Detroit does and make it better. Nissan is trying.

Two cab styles will be offered when the full-size pickup debuts this fall: an extended cab (called King Cab) with a pair of reverse opening rear access doors that swing 180 degrees; and a Crew Cab that comes with four full-sized doors. Bed lengths are 6' 6" and 5' 6", respectively.

Both will be available with two- or four-wheel drive.

From the ground up, everything about the Titan screams big and bold. It's built on a new platform that will also form the basis of a new Frontier small truck and Xterra sport-utility vehicle down the road.

From the outside, the Titan is all about being rugged, mimicking the dimensions and attitude of the Dodge Ram, Chevrolet Silverado and Ford F-150.

From the gas pedal it's meant to be a rush. An all-aluminum 5.6-liter V-8 that makes about 300 horsepower (final numbers have not yet been determined) sees to that. Nissan reports that the Titan will hit 60 mph in about seven seconds. Perhaps more important is the torque, as in close to 400 lb.-ft., most of which is available from just 2,500 r.p.m.

Making it all seamless is a five-speed automatic transmission.

But what do truck owners - real truck owners - really crave? Towing ability. And, in that way, the Titan pulls through. It's capable of hauling more than 9,400 pounds when appropriately equipped, just shy of the new F-150's stout rating.

You'll also get rack-and-pinion steering, beefy suspension pieces as well as "dual-stage" leaf springs designed to keep you in control with heavy loads.

Four-wheel-drive Titans arrive with shift-on-the-fly capability and electronic traction control.

With a flat cabin floor, there's enough interior room to hold five tall adults. Front and rear leg room are practically identical. Don't want to bring anyone along? The rear seats fold up against the rear bulkhead for even more stowage.

Interior amenities will include a choice of bench or bucket seats as well as adjustable foot pedals.

Four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock are standard as well as side-impact air bags and side-curtain air bags (to protect the head) and rear-proximity sensors that alert you when something or someone is in your backup path.

Titan options will include a Utility Bed package that offers a flexible tie-down system (to hold down, among other things, the planned sliding toolbox). There's also special bed lighting, a factory-supplied bed liner and a storage bin built in behind the driver's-side rear wheel.

All added together, it doesn't even add up to much - about $27,500 for base models.

Something for everyone? Almost. But, let's face it, if you're going to come to the party last, you might as well aim for first.

Nissan is trying.

Copyright 2003, Wheelbase Communications.

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