Behind the Wheel
2020 Nissan Titan PRO-4X Review: Its facelift was kind, but the transmission is not
In 1939, 65 years before the Nissan Titan first arrived at U.S. dealerships, Prime Minister Winston Churchill uttered the iconic phrase, "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key." Here, in 2020, we find the Titan epitomizing the subject of the quote.
Don't get me wrong. I like the Titan. I just want to like it more.
The major facelift for the 2020 model year was kind to the Titan. As tested in the PRO-4X trim, the model is beefy and brawny looking with a black grille, tailgate finisher, and badging. Red-orange detailing is present on the Nissan emblem one the grille and tow hooks. The model looks unlike all the other Titans in the lineup and that's a good thing.
Moving inside the cabin, the highlight is the Titan's Zero Gravity Seats. They were co-designed with NASA and provide hours of fatigue-reducing comfort. The truck's leather-appointed upholstery is nice but the rest of the interior doesn't hold a candle to the supple materials in and luxe looks of Ram's mid-grade and up models.
The refreshed center stack in the Titan is at least as nice as what's in the GM pickups. As equipped, the model had a 9.0-inch infotainment touch screen that is reasonably responsive though the visual design of the system is not the best there is. Still, it's cleaner than the purple graphics-heavy design of the screen in the 2020 Subaru Outback and Legacy.
Nissan has made the system capable of over-the-air updates thanks to a standard Wi-Fi hot spot. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and two USB are also standard across the Titan lineup.
As fresh as the center stack is for the 2020 model year, there are still obvious places in the cabin where leftover buttons and equipment show their age. Chief among them is the trucks's steering wheel. While the blacked out emblem on its center and black button surrounds that are part of the PRO-4X grade helped the look, there's no getting around the fact that the wheel looks like something a decade older than the rest of the design. However, as ugly and dated as it may be, it's still perfectly functional.
Powering the truck is a 5.6-liter V8 engine. It offers 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, making it plenty strong (those are best-in-class figures) and plenty thirsty. Nissan doesn't offer the truck with a host of engine options like its competition does. It's not a matter of holding back. Currently they don't have anything in their lineup that would even be a contender to be made available.
The truck's nine-speed automatic transmission was also refreshed for 2020. It has more ability in higher gears now, which is good for towing, but, quite frankly, the lower gears of the transmission are a complete mess. The nine-speed can't decide what it wants to do while on daily driver duty at moderate speed. It hems and haws and switches positions more often than a politician scrambling to get your vote.
Being behind the wheel of the Titan makes one still feel like you're driving a truck. Like the Nissan Frontier, there's a connected and true truck experience when you're driving that is a reminder of the way it used to be (which is also a reminder of just how good the other truck manufacturers are at engineering their steering systems). It does soak up the bumps in the road well and, based on previous experience, the model is good and capable off-road.
The truck also comes standard with Nissan Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, high beam assist, and rear automatic braking. A number of additional driver assist technologies are available. If you're going to spend some extra cash on a Titan, let it be for the Intelligent Around View Monitor, which offers a 360-degree view of the truck's surrounds. This makes parking a breeze.
Nissan deserves kudos for putting that camera button in an easy-to-reach, quickly accessible location on the center stack. How is this not standard operating procedure for automakers?!
After test driving the Titan for a week, and seeing the evolution of the truck landscape over the last few years, the way Nissan has designed the model gets even more confusing. It seems like the truck was a victim of the budgetary process and time constraints more than any other model in the Nissan lineup.
The Titan feels like a compromise, not necessary for the average buyer, but for the truck's engineers. That may be the key here.
Granted, every decision in the automotive development process is a compromise, but with the Titan, the sore spots show through more than most. The Nissan Titan is the girl you date while you're waiting for the woman who will be your wife to come along - good enough for a good time, but not the one you want to commit to for life.
While there's a lot of reasons why Nissan isn't selling as many full-size trucks as their rivals, chief among them is the trucks the Titan is up against. They're more capable, nicer appointed, and filled with more innovative features. To gain market share, the Nissan Titan needs to do something, anything, better than the competition. Ram has its interiors. Ford has its capability. GM has innovative camera tech and a new type of tailgate. Toyota has historically good reliability.
On its own the 2020 Titan stands tall, but next to other full-size trucks, it sits in the shadows.