Getting to know the 2020 Nissan Titan Pro-4X.June 12, 2020
The Lil’ Hustler grows up.
Author’s note: The test Nissan Titan was optioned in a way that most potential agricultural buyers would not choose and would be considered a detriment. The Farm Machinery Digest Road Test will look beyond that. The Titan will be evaluated on its worthiness as a pick-up truck serving the agricultural community.
Car companies live in a world like Hollywood does, where an actor or actress runs the risk of being type-cast into a specific role. Often, they become a victim of their own success. If their debut flops… no harm is done… no one remembers them. If it is a success, then that is another story. The die is cast.
That was Nissan’s problem when it entered the foray that the industry called the full-size pick-up truck market with the first-generation Titan in 2004.
Though having a presence in America since the 1950s, it was not until around 1972 with the Datsun 620 model small pick-up truck, did sales gain any traction along with brand awareness.
A few years later, a smart ad agency recognized that the small compact truck needed a name and a new twist to convince the American consumer to consider the brand.
During that time, a pick-up was a work vehicle and was not the mainstay of a supermarket parking lot (Malls did not exist then, and people shopped on Main Street.). The utilitarian Datsun 620 overnight became the Lil’ Hustler.
Though it could not do the work of a Chevy C-10, Ford F-100, or Dodge D-100, it carved out a market for itself. It found favor with the outdoor enthusiast, as a more practical commuter vehicle than the popular Datsun 510 car of the time, or as a second or third vehicle in a blue-collar tradesman’s fleet.
The Lil’ Hustler also found favor in the farm country of California and the western states. This region was much more welcoming to a Japanese vehicle than the Corn Belt and the rest of America.
For the 2004 model year, the Titan was introduced. Though on paper it had impressive credentials with a 5.6L V-8 among other features, it was met with a yawn in the marketplace.
I recall reading in Automotive News that Ford sold more F-150 pick-up trucks in one day than Nissan sold first generation Titans in one year.
As an aside to this, the auto industry is unique in that market acceptance, or rejection is not a valid qualifier of a vehicle’s ability or quality.
The original Titan was critiqued for not being large enough (Dodge Dakota-sized) and having awkward Japanese design features and appearance. In addition, memories of the Datsun 620 that had undergone evolution to become the Hard Body and subsequently, the Frontier lingered.
With their eye fixed on the hugely profitable full-size pick-up truck market, Nissan without committing hari-kari, accepted that the Titan needed not a freshening, but to be made entirely over into a new truck. Only the name and engine would remain.
It would have to dissolve the type-casting of the successful Lil’ Hustler and the market rejection of the 2004 version.
I am well convinced that the now French-owned Nissan Corporation believed that an American should lead the charge on the new Titan.
Fred Diaz was much responsible for the market surge that the redesigned RAM pick-up truck was enjoying. He was recruited to spearhead the truck that the Farm Machinery Digest road tested.
When I arrived at FMI’s office near New York City (The press fleet management company Nissan and others use), the Baja Storm colored Pro-4X was obviously not the first, second-generation Titan I had seen. Far be it from that.
As a test driver, though, you look at a vehicle through different eyes when it is your task to evaluate it for your audience.
The new Titan always looked uniquely American in appearance. I believe that if the huge Nissan emblem on the grille were removed, it could house the badging of any one of the Big 3 without question.
As soon as I opened the driver’s door of the Canton, Mississippi-built Titan, I felt comfortable.
The truck’s lower step-in height versus the competition, the simplistic and functional instrument cluster, and the foot-operated parking brake all made me feel at home. Though I was yet to sit behind the wheel.
Once inside, I appreciated the excellent visibility and the clear definition of where the front of the truck ends. I am sure you will all agree, this is important when doing farm work… you need to know where the truck begins and ends.
Even with all this preliminary “feel good,” the truth be told, I harbored reservations about the Titan’s valid truck credentials and the potential for serving my audience, farmers, and ranchers.
Was it just a bigger Lil’ Hustler fitted with a 32-valve 5.6L 400 horsepower Endurance V-8 and 9-speed automatic transmission? Is it just an imposter, or as they would say in Texas, “all hat and no cattle”? Could this thing live on an American farm and earn its keep? Soon the questions would be answered.
The engine sprung to life with a growl from a push of the starter button and seemed to hang at high idle longer than expected.
(At this juncture, I need to establish that my background in engineering and calibration had me critique aspects of the Titan that have no impact on its potential worthiness to the audience.)
(That protocol is usually evoked to quickly burn off the hydrocarbons from cranking and get the catalytic converter lit- off sooner.)
The original warm and fuzzy feeling that I first felt was confirmed. My doubts were dashed by the time I exited FMI’s parking lot.
This is a REAL truck but drives in a manner that allows you to feel connected and one with it… dare I say… like a slightly smaller vehicle than it is.
The following are my observation after spending one week with the Titan on our farm.
Though it was never pressed into any hard work during its stay with me, I can say with 100% confidence that the Titan is a player. It needs to be on your consideration list when looking to buy a new pick-up truck.
In the case of a new entry into an established market, common ground must be claimed.
Nissan, with the 2020 Titan, has thrown down the gauntlet.
The Titan did not give me any indications whatsoever that it could not accomplish what its competitors could… and do it for just as long.
You may be reading this as a “left-handed compliment,” but it is not meant to be that.
A new brand in a segment must establish to the market that it, too, can do what the others can.
The onus is on Nissan to conquest buyers from competing brands with features, the way it drives, price, warranty, and other tangible and intangible aspects.
Let me establish once more… the 2020 Titan is NOT a Lil’ Hustler but a full-fledged contender to find a home on your farm or ranch.
What I liked
The lower step-in height without sacrificing ground clearance.
The upright windshield for the clear view it provided.
The design of the hood that allows you to know where the truck ends.
Extremely comfortable and welcoming seats and driving position.
Easily retractable bumper sidestep.
Compliant ride with minimal quivers and shakes over low- resolution high-frequency road disturbances.
Doors do not automatically lock until 16 mph. Other brands lock between 4 and 10 mph.
What I did not like
The low-beam headlights have excellent illumination but not enough range on country roads.
The dashboard lights reflect excessively on the driver’s window.
The gear selector causes you to go over or under it to reach the radio or climate control.
The dipstick handle needs to be longer, and an extension needs to be put on the oil fill stanction.
The passenger seat does not go high enough for shorter people to look over the dashboard.
The radio station selector is awkward to use.
What I nitpicked
The engine being an OHC design has less low-speed torque off idle than the competition. It is also noisier at idle than the competition (Typical of an OHC design with the Ford EcoBoost exception. It is extremely quiet).
The Endurance V-8 appears to have an overly aggressive deceleration fuel shut-off logic below 40 mph. You feel it engage and disengage.
The 9-speed transmission in our test vehicle displayed several harsh downshifts at low speed.
Idle speed flare-up on cold start and intermediate to full temperature restarts are higher than I would like.
Test fuel economy came in at 22.3 mpg, three mpg lower than a 450 horsepower EcoBoost Ford F-150 and two mpg lower than a 2020 Chevy Silverado with the 5.3 V-8, with comparable horsepower to the Titan.
The under-hood area is painted black instead of body color.
Foam insulation between the fender liners viewed with the front doors open should be trimmed.
The only obstacle I see the 2020 Nissan Titan facing in penetrating the agricultural market is buyer brand preference and in more rural regions, the proximity to a dealership.
Other than that, do yourself a favor… forget about the Lil’ Hustler and give the Titan a hard look. The truck has earned that.