The 2020 Titan represents a heavy refresh of a recently-redesigned truck, but it's not completely new from the ground up. It faces stiff competition from established rivals such as Ford, GM, and FCA.
The Nissan Titan (stylized TITAN) first debuted in December 2003 as a 2004 model, surprising the industry with class-leading interior space, a powerful dual overhead cam 5.6L Endurance V8 engine producing 305 horsepower and 379 lb-ft of torque, and a 5-speed automatic transmission when 4 speeds was the accepted norm. Maximum tow capacity for the 2004 Titan was 9,400 lbs when properly equipped. It was beyond competitive for its class, and Nissan made a big splash against the established domestic rivals. Nissan made minor improvements over the years: in 2007, the output of the 5.6L V8 increased to 317 horsepower and 385 lb-ft of torque. A Long Wheelbase version and a new PRO-4X trim was introduced in 2008. 2016 marked the debut of the second (and current) generation and split the Titan lineup into two models: the half-ton Titan and the heavier-duty Titan XD, which sits in-between a half-ton and three-quarter ton truck. The latter was initially available with an optional 5.0L Cummins Turbo Diesel V8. Meanwhile, the standard V8 gained technical enhancements that increased output to 390 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque, mated to a then-new 7-speed automatic transmission.
Fast-forward to the present: Nissan has once again refreshed the Titan for model year 2020. While the Titan XD still remains, the Cummins engine option has been dropped. The 5.6L gasoline V8 is the standard engine across the entire Titan lineup, and each model has received notable updates to enhance everyday performance and usability. We’ll dive into the major 2020 upgrades to see if the Titan can compete with its domestic rivals.
The most noticeable change is the exterior redesign. The SL trim we received as a press car has an imposing presence with its Cardinal Red Metallic paint and large chrome grille. Other trims receive different grilles with, arguably, the PRO-4X looking the best with its blacked-out grille. The 2020 updates are also heavily focused on the interior. The new 8.0” center touchscreen is the largest standard infotainment screen in the class; our tester was equipped with the upgrade 9.0” screen, which is available on the PRO-4X models and up. It's bright and easily legible under all circumstances, offers a high-resolution picture, and presents colorful, high-contrast graphics. It resists fade or wash-out in direct sunlight and responds quickly to touch inputs, massively distancing itself from the outdated infotainment suite it deservedly replaces. Unfortunately for Nissan, RAM offers the largest-in-class infotainment option with an available 12.0” vertically-oriented center touchscreen display. Another addition to the 2020 Titan Crew Cab is the optional dual panel panoramic moonroof with tilt, slide, and one-touch open/close. It brings plenty of light into the cabin and makes the interior feel even larger than it already is.
One of the carry-over options - not that we're complaining, as it was an absolute treat in the current-generation Titan when it first became available for the 2019 model year - is the 485-watt, 12-speaker (10-speaker in King Cab) Fender Premium Audio system. You may recognize the "Fender" name from the renowned electric guitars; Nissan is the only automaker outside of Volkswagen to offer a Fender-branded audio system. As per its namesake, this sound system really thumps with punchy bass and crisp highs. Another carry-over is Nissan’s Zero Gravity padding, making the Titan beyond comfortable for long stints on the highway.
Nissan’s 5.6L VK56 V8 (dubbed "Endurance" in truck applications) has been around in one form or another since the Titan’s debut in 2004. It has been reworked throughout the years and bristles with the latest gasoline engine technology; the addition of direct injection allows this already stout mill to produce even more power while running more efficiently than before. The 2020 Titan receives a slight bump in output to 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque (up from 390 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque) in all trims, and it provides the Titan with best-in-class standard horsepower and torque ratings. Beyond the impressive numbers, the Titan's V8 is one of the few modern engines left with a distinctive character; there's plenty of power at any RPM, and it rewards a heavy right foot with a wonderful old-school 8-cylinder soundtrack. As cliche as it may seem, it feels like a hot-rodded sports car engine stuffed under the hood.
Also new for 2020 is a 9-speed automatic transmission - resulting in a gain of two forward gears versus prior years. It's the transmission that the Titan should have had all along. Shifts are smooth and unobtrusive under gentle acceleration, and this gearbox has enough breadth to crack off firm and decisive upshifts under heavier loads. Due to the wide spread provided by the 9 ratios, the engine can relax at highway speeds until you need to pass someone. In terms of fuel economy, the EPA rates this new engine/transmission combo at 15 MPG city, 21 MPG highway, and 18 combined. Coincidentally, these are the exact figures the 2019 Titan acheived with the 7-speed transmission - on regular fuel, no less. The new transmission considerably improves drivability; that it does so without a drop in efficiency is a net gain in our book.
The last significant upgrade for 2020 is the inclusion of Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 as standard equipment. Equipped on all trims are Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Blind Spot Warning (BSW), High Beam Assist (HBA), and Rear Automatic Braking (RAB). Along with the alphabet soup of standard safety items, Forward Collision Warning, Around View Monitor (pictured above), adaptive cruise control, driver alertness recognition, and traffic sign recognition are available as optional equipment.
We have always been fans of the Titan here at Bestcovery. The latest round of updates keep the Titan fresh and competitive enough to deserve attention. The 5.6L Endurance V8 may be the best-sounding engine among the half-ton pickups, and the fact that it offers the most standard horsepower in the class is a neat bonus. The seats are comfortable, and there’s plenty of space to stretch out in the roomy interior. The tie-down cleats in the bed are very practical and useful, leapfrogging competitors that settle for a handful of hooks in the corners of the bed. Let’s not forget about Nissan’s generous truck warranty: 5 years/100,000 miles bumper-to-bumper.
So why is the Titan last in sales against all other trucks? The easy answer is pure brand loyalty. Half-ton pickup truck buyers are notoriously unwilling to shop outside of their favored brands, and the fact that Nissan is a relative newcomer to the scene (a decade and a half makes it the second youngest competitor after Toyota) does the Titan no favors. There's also the issue of progress - the safety features introduced just this year have been available on every single one of the Titan's competitors. Beyond safety and tech equipment, certain practical limitations also hold the Titan back. While it's commendable that Nissan equips the 5.6L V8 as standard equipment on every single Titan, other manufacturers offer buyers multiple engine choices from turbo V6s, diesels, and small and large displacement V8s to fill every niche and task. Perhaps a culmination of brand loyalty, capability, and technology are the reasons why the Titan continues struggling to make a dent in the market. It's truly a shame - the Titan is a very capable truck, and the updated 2020 Titan has a lot to offer to truck buyers.