There was no question the 2016 Nissan Titan was a monumental improvement over the 12 year-old truck it replaced, but it was the truck Nissan should’ve released five years earlier and it showed. Four years later, the refreshed 2020 Nissan Titan boasts a handful of improvements that bring it much closer to competing with segment leaders from Ford, Ram, and Chevrolet.
You’ll notice the updated styling first, which takes a refreshing step away from aping the Ford F-150 in front and establishes a better identity for the Titan. Unfortunately, that’s balanced with a new tailgate trim piece that looks like it was pried off the back of an F-150 last week. Three times on our drive I mistook the rear of an F-150 for one of the Titans in our convoy.
Nevermind the new look, because the real news is hiding under the skin. The star of the show is a new JATCO 9-speed automatic that’s worlds better than the 7-speed it replaces. Smoother and smarter, it makes the Titan drive like a whole new truck. It’s quicker to shift, more clever about when to do it, and has none of the slop.
Helping redefine the 2020 Titan’s personality are an updated 5.6-liter V-8, which now makes just enough more power (400 hp and 413 lb-ft) to claim “best in class” bragging rights and a 3.70:1 rear end that really wakes things up. Considerably shorter than before, the new rear end makes the Titan jump off the line with the kind of enthusiasm the V-8’s healthy roar always promised but never quite delivered.
Good as they are for the everyday driving experience, none of these updates have improved the Titan’s payload and tow ratings, which still sit at a disappointing 1,680 pounds hauling and 9,370 pounds towing when competing domestic trucks can haul hundreds of pounds more and tow thousands more. There’s good news, though, because the upgraded drivetrain lets the 2020 Titan tow a lot better. Hitched to a 4,500-pound horse trailer, the shorter rear end let the truck and trailer get moving with authority and the improved transmission made the most of the engine’s prodigious power. In previous tow tests, we found the old 7-speed had a bad habit of hanging at redline, engine racing, for what felt like an eternity before finally upshifting. Now, all the parts feel well-matched and are working together for an easier and more confident towing experience. Do watch your tongue weight, though, as it’s limited to 937 pounds and Nissan’s horse trailer full of hay had the Titan sitting on its rear bump stops.
Even if the numbers haven’t changed, the powertrain improvements were the missing piece of the Titan’s puzzle. The old truck’s smooth ride and precise steering both carry over to make this a more complete truck. Steering effort is heavier than other trucks, but it fits the Titan’s macho personality.
It’s macho like The Rock is macho, big and tough but able to pull off a designer suit when the occasion calls for it. The interior is mostly the same, but laminated glass and massive improvements in noise, vibration, and harshness make it a much more pleasant place to be on a long drive. A big 9.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system from this decade offers better graphics, a more usable surround-view camera system, and an impressively clear optional Fender audio system. The updated instrument cluster is familiar to Nissan owners and offers a much larger digital screen with more information pages, though it would be nice if the digital auxiliary gauges had scales or even red lines to give them context. Up top you can add a massive dual-pane sunroof that’s a bit narrower than others to preserve space for grab handles on the ceiling, a thoughtful touch. The “Mature Camo” seat pattern option, though, feels like straight pandering, and the upright cell phone holder appears ripped straight out of a Ram truck, likewise the Ford-style air vents.
Here again, the biggest news is hiding under the dash. In addition to upping the airbag count to eight, Nissan’s new Safety Shield 360 suite of passive and active safety features is standard across the board, something the domestic competition can’t all claim. Every truck gets blind-spot warning, lane departure warnings, automatic emergency braking with the ability to see pedestrians and vehicles alike, rear cross-traffic warnings, rear automatic braking, and automatic high beams. To those technologies you can add the camera system, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, driver alertness monitoring, and traffic sign recognition. For those who tow, the optional trailer brake now adjusts both stopping power and how quickly the trailer brakes apply for finer tuning.
None of this, thankfully, has had any effect on the Titan’s off-road capability. Clearances and angles remain the same, and the 31-inch General Grabbers fitted to the Pro-4X off-road trim level nicely balance on-road quiet and off-road grip. The Pro-4X’s locking rear differential can only be activated in 4 Low, which is obnoxious but not uncommon. The Bilstein shocks keep the big truck from throwing you around too much when the trail gets tough.
Nissan has slimmed down the lineup after figuring out which combinations sold best, so the single cab is gone in favor of the King Cab with its clamshell doors and the full four-door Crew Cab. As such, the absolute base price will rise to around the old truck’s King Cab base price. Expect prices on all trim levels and configurations to rise slightly to account for the new hardware. We estimate that’ll put the starting price around $36,500 when the truck is released in early 2020. By then, we should also have fuel economy numbers, too. We hope the new transmission will raise them from the old truck’s 15/21 mpg city/highway.
With a few well-placed updates, the 2020 Titan is now the truck Nissan should’ve built four years ago. Hardcore truck buyers will continue to dismiss its towing and payload numbers, but Nissan has found a niche with buyers who’ve never owned a full-size truck before and they’ll be better served than ever by this updated truck. Not class-leading, but now worthy of consideration if you don’t need maximum capability.
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