Behind the Wheel

2021 Nissan Titan Review: Looks good but isn't keeping pace with the competition

The 2021 Nissan Titan is a good daily driver.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

It's not the most powerful, for full of the most advanced technology, or capable of driving itself down the highway. But, the 2021 Nissan Titan has the most standard power, technology, and safety features in its class. Is that enough?

On the outside, the Titan is a beefy creature. Its mid-generation upgrade last year took care of that. With its Lava Red accents and black trim pieces, the Titan PRO-4X looks sportier than the S, SL, SV, and Platinum Reserve models.

The Nissan gets its power from a 5.6-liter V8 engine that produces 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, making it the best-in-class standard powertrain. Nissan says premium fuel is required to hit those numbers, however. Off the line, the truck is strong but midway through its gears, the Titan can't quite find its powertrain sweet spot.

2020 Nissan Titan PRO-4X The Titan PRO-4X stands out on the road thanks to Red Lava and black accents. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The truck's engine doesn't make it the most capable full-size truck on the market today, nor does it make it the most efficient. Trailer sway control is standard and a trailer brake controller is available.

Nissan has made the truck's interior perfectly adequate as well, nice even. As tested in the PRO-4X trim level, the Titan had suitable appointments for its price tag, nicer than the Chevrolet Silverado but not as upscale as what you'll find in the Ram 1500. Its seating is spacious enough for adults, but not as roomy as what you'll find in some truck cabins.

On the center of the dashboard is a nine-inch infotainment touch screen. The screen is receptive but the look of its interface is not as attractive as what you'll find in the Ford F-150. A a seven-inch programmable information display sits in front of the driver; it's bigger than what you'll find in most other trucks. There's some tech extras including NissanConnect and a Fender premium audio system that are available making the truck thoroughly modern.

2020 Nissan Titan PRO-4X The Titan PRO-4X also has red-orange accents in the cabin. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Thoroughly modern is not advanced, however. Despite being equipped with standard Nissan Safety Shield 360 (a suite that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, high beam assist, and rear automatic braking (a class-exclusive), the Titan doesn't have the hands-free driving capability that is coming the Ford F-150, nor does it have the type of multi-angle camera tech that is available on the Chevrolet Silverado trucks.

Nissan's infotainment system also isn't the freshest looking, though completely functional. When compared to the smooth and sleek graphics of the systems now in Ford and Stellantis vehicles, Nissan's looks like it was designed by someone without advanced training.

Whether or not you should test drive the Titan comes down to how you answer a few questions:

  • How much do you usually tow/haul?
  • Do you prefer safety technology that interferes with your daily drive or do you prefer tech that demands more driver control?
  • How important are the finer things in life to you?
Other trucks tow/haul more. The F-150 will have more invasive safety tech, and the Ram has a nicer interior. If you're looking for a full-size truck that is well-rounded, comfortable, and leaves the driving up to you, the Nissan Titan is worth a test drive.

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The Tahoe has three available powertrains.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

When I write car reviews, I don't typically say very much about the engine and drivetrain unless there's something particularly interesting or unique about it.

I believe most car buyers don't really care about things like zero to 60 mph times or how many gears a transmission has. Those are features and statistics, and they're an imperfect measurement of an automobile.

I'm a fan of the Good-Better-Best school of cars, and it looks a bit like a bell curve. There aren't any genuinely terrible new cars sold today, so at worst, you're getting something that's Good. I'll call that the bottom 20 percent of the market. Sometimes these cars have engines that really are too weak and should probably be avoided, and I'll mention that in my review.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel-powered versions of the Tahoe look just like gasoline-powered Tahoes.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Then there's the class of Better, or the middle 60 percent. When I review these cars, I'll include a throwaway line about the engine or drivetrain as it's not worth mentioning in depth. They get the job done, but there's nothing to get excited about.

Then there's that top twenty percent where the magic happens. Whether it's the perfect majesty of a Rolls-Royce V12, the throaty bark of a Lamborghini V10, or even the brilliance of a Toyota Corolla Hybrid's effortless 52 miles per gallon — these are engines worth discussing.

And so it is again with my test car this week: the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe. We've already reviewed two of the Tahoe's sister vehicles, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade. Despite being from the same family, they're definitively different branches.

But under the hood of the Tahoe is an engine that is so firmly lodged in the Best category that I can't help but write hundreds of words about it. It's the 3.0-liter six-cylinder "baby" Duramax turbodiesel that was in the works at GM for more than a decade.

It gives terrific fuel economy (for a giant truck, anyway) and fantastic torque in everyday driving. I find it far preferable to the extraordinarily thirsty 6.2-liter V8 that I had in the Yukon and the Escalade and heartily recommend it to anyone buying a GM full-size SUV or half-ton pickup. That's even more impressive because the 6.2-liter V8 is already an upgrade over the smaller 5.3-liter V8 that comes standard in most Tahoe trims.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel The engine is a mighty six-cylinder.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

It sports 277 horsepower, which doesn't sound like a lot, but horsepower is a poor quantifier of engine performance. Because it's a diesel and because it has a turbocharger, the baby Duramax has gobs of torque with which to pull away from stoplights or accelerate on a hill, or when you're trying to pass someone and you need to accelerate from 55 to 75 mph as quickly as possible.

The Tahoe's diesel engine excels in all these scenarios while delivering an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined in the RWD trim that I drove. That's a healthy improvement over the 16 mpg combined from the 6.2L and four-wheel drive-equipped Yukon. It's worth noting that the four-wheel drive diesel fares a little worse, getting 22 mpg combined, but that's still far better than the traditional gasoline engine.

It does all this, and it can even tow up to 8,200 pounds when properly equipped, but most people will never tow anything heavier than a small horse trailer or a boat with their full-size SUV. If you're hauling that much weight on the regular, you've likely opted for a heavy-duty pickup.

The irony of the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal is twofold. For one, some were pulling similar testing shenanigans that Volkswagen was — it's just that VW was the first to get caught. And second, those VW diesel engines were fantastic. They were torquey and excelled in everyday driving, pesky pollution aside.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel Tahoes are branded with the Duramax name.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

There's a dirty secret to the horsepower numbers that most carmakers cite: they peak at very high RPMs that average drivers will never reach. But torquey turbocharged engines like this baby Duramax? It generates 95% of its 460 pound-feet of torque at just 1,250 RPM, and then peak torque runs all the way from 1,500 to 3,000 RPM. That means you're in the prime torque band nearly continuously.

In plain English, that means it's way better to drive. It's more fun, it's more efficient, and thanks to all manner of fancy technology, diesel engines aren't weird and finicky anymore.

Yes, you should probably plug it in if you park it outside in frigid weather. But other than that one minor caveat, this diesel is nonpareil.

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The 2021 BMW 4 Series has the drive dynamics BMW enthusiasts will love.

Photo courtesy of BMW

A lot has been said about the looks of the 2021 BMW 4 Series. At its absolute worst, the car is a sleek-bodied rabbit. At its best, it's a dynamic driver that doesn't look as bad if you choose colors and packages that make the grille blend in with the body a bit. Either way, the 2021 BMW M440i is a good drive.

With a starting price of $58,500, the all-wheel drive version of the M440i is solidly in the luxury category. It has more generous proportions than its predecessor but as a coupe, the parts that truly matter are the cargo space and the head- and legroom for front seat passengers. Both are excellent.

The M440i is the upgraded version of the 4 Series that slots between the traditional 430i and 430i xDrive. As such, it has BMW's twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder under the hood that's capable of reaching 382 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. The car can get from zero to 60 is a zippy 4.3 seconds in a smooth fashion, which handy when you're working your way between highway lanes trying to get around snowbirds that don't use turn signals on Florida's highways.

2021 BMW 4 Series The car delivers pointed handling on highways, back roads, and city streets.Photo courtesy of BMW

The car has mild-hybrid technology, an engineering achievement that puts connects a 48-volt battery with the rest of the powertrain to give drivers immediate access to power off the line while saving on fuel. BMW traditionally does a great job seamlessly implementing this tech and the M440i is no exception.

BMW loaded up the model used for the test run with nearly $13,000 in extras - the paint job alone was near an additional $2,000. That numbers includes a few packages. The Drivers Assistance Professional Package ($1,700) gets a buyer traffic jam assist and Driving Assistant Pro technology. The $3,700 Executive Package adds a lot of the things you'd think would already come standard on a $50,000+ vehicle like heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, ambient lighting, a head-up display, and upgraded headlights.

The M Adaptive Suspension ($700) nicely balanced the car's on-road prowess, agility, and bump absorption. The upgraded disc brakes worked steadily without feeling grabby allowing the accelerator to be put close to the floor with confidence. Steering was, as BMW so often executes in its sedans, pointed and connected, a formula that aids in the enjoyment of time behind the wheel.

2021 BMW 4 Series This model features BMW's signature cognac leather interior.Photo courtesy of BMW

BMW is really good at designing one-size-fits-all solutions for the cabins of their vehicles and the M440i is no exception. While it creates an annoying feeling of sameness, it does allow the car's buttons, dials, switches, and knobs to nearly always be found in the same place. It's a little like coming home from vacation and standing in your own kitchen and knowing where all the dishes are without having to open multiple cabinets.

At the center of the dash is a 10.25-inch touch screen while a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster sits in front of the driver. The BMW infotainment system is pretty responsive. Whether or not you like the rotary controller is a personal preference thing, but putting biases aside, it's hard to complain about how much easier it is to use than the Lexus touch pad. There is a downside, however. The font and layout choices on the instrument panel look like they were chosen by elementary school children. Huge numbers and sweeping black space take some getting used to. After about 300 miles, I still wasn't used to it.

The sameness factor carries over to the M440i's safety systems where the adaptive cruise control tech's insistence that a passing road sign is the correct speed you should be going is enough to cause frustration at best, and at the worst, a rapid slow down that could endanger those around you and yourself.

2021 BMW 4 Series The 2021 BMW 4 Series carries over typical BMW design into the cabin.Photo courtesy of BMW

The 2021 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe is a good car, with plenty of caveats that keep it from being great car. It's a vehicle for people who really want to drive it and don't mind the way it looks because they don't see that angle on a regular basis.

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