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The 2020 Nissan Titan.

Doug firby

Pickup trucks and comfort. They’re two terms that haven’t gotten along so well over the years.

Automakers know this and have made great strides in transforming those old bone-jarring ear-splitters into the smooth and quiet family vehicles they are today. None, it seems, have played the comfort card better than Nissan with its heavily updated 2020 full-size Titan light-duty truck.

“These seats are so comfortable!” declared my driving companion as we eased into our zero-gravity saddles for a day of exploring the Utah hills east of Salt Lake City. They truly are all that.

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And quiet? With laminated sound-deafening glass in the windshield and front windows, there was virtually no wind noise and no need to raise your voice at highway speeds of 110 km/h, leaving the premium Fender audio system free to work its chest-thumping magic.

The Titan's interior is extremely comfortable and quiet.

Doug firby

Although the frame and undercarriage is largely unchanged, Nissan made extensive improvements to the appearance, comfort, performance and safety in this update. The “Powerful Warrior” theme that informs the styling creates a mythological feel, with headlight, taillight, grille and wheel treatments that pay homage to the angularity of Japanese warrior armour. The low-beam LED headlights on premium models, by the way, put out more than twice the light of previous models.

The 5.6-litre V-8 gasoline engine is the same basic unit as in its predecessor, but with 10 more horsepower. It is now rated at 410 hp and 413 lb.-ft. of torque – enough to give the truck a rated towing capacity of 4,178 kilograms – plenty to haul a typical full-sized trailer. Rich Miller, Nissan’s global program director, said the engine will run on regular gas, but delivers extra punch when you treat it to hi-test.

There is a price to be paid for all that comfort, however. The oh-so-soft suspension that delivers a car-like ride also allows the truck to sashay like a ballroom dancer when towing a 2,200-kilogram Airstream at freeway speeds. Thankfully, electronic trailer-stability control keeps the bounce in check.

The hefty 5.6-litre V-8 hauls an Airstream trailer with power to spare. (Note: The king-cab configuration shown here is not available in Canada.)

Doug firby

The V-8 is the only engine available – an optional Cummins diesel engine was dropped from the previous model. Miller said when developers looked at the cost of bringing the diesel up to current emissions standards, they decided they could invest the US$230-million development budget in more fruitful ways. And truly, those improvements are substantial.

“This is not a lipstick and mascara treatment,” said Chad Yee, chief marketing manager for trucks and SUVs at Nissan Canada.

Finally, the Titan gets a modern transmission, as well – a nine-speed automatic that keeps the engine on its power curve much better than the six-speed it replaces. That’s especially helpful when towing or carrying the rated 739-kg maximum payload.

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Inside, the cabin exudes an almost zen-like calm. The leather seats and accents in the Platinum Reserve and Pro-4X editions (the latter as an option) convey a premium feel. Two lower trim levels are also offered with cloth seats – the basic S and SV. Safety has been improved with a panoply of technology, which Nissan wraps up in a package called Safety Shield 360. Features include such typical goodies as lane-departure warning, intelligent emergency braking (front and rear), intelligent forward-collision warning and blind-spot warning.

The Pro-4X can be tricked out with a panoply of aftermarket features, such as the oversized wheels and wheel flares.

Doug firby

Perhaps the most encouraging shift with the Titan is the measurable improvements in quality. In 2019, the outgoing model won the J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey. To bolster consumer confidence in the new model, the company offers a five-year/160,000-km bumper-to-bumper warranty – the longest in Canada. Could the new Titan herald a shift from Nissan’s quality blues?

The Titan update couldn’t come soon enough for Nissan, which has seen sales of its pickup plummet in recent months. Through August, Titan sales in the United States were down 28 per cent from a year earlier. The picture in Canada is even more dismal – the outgoing model has a mere 0.5-per-cent market share, and sales are dropping like an ocean liner with a big hole in its side.

Nissan is realistic about its expectations. Ask a typical Canadian what kind of full-sized, light-duty pickup they’d like to buy, and you’ll hear three brands, none of which start with the letters N or T. But the company says it’s not aiming to unseat any of the Detroit Three, whose pitched battle for market share have led to constant improvements in styling, power, durability, safety and fuel-efficiency.

“We are a niche truck,” said Yee. “There’s a good market for buyers who don’t want to follow the herd.”

In the world of light-duty pickup trucks, Nissan faces a titanic challenge to turn around flagging sales. Yet this cleverly executed and thoughtful update just might do the trick, helping the automaker to reclaim its niche.

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Prices have not been announced. The 2020 Titan is expected to appear at Canadian dealerships in February.

Tech specs

  • Base price/As tested: Not yet announced
  • Engine: 5.6-litre, naturally aspirated, V8 gasoline
  • Transmission/drive: Nine-speed, with part-time four-wheel drive.
  • Fuel economy (L/100 km): Not yet released, but we recorded an average of about 13 L/100 km on our stop-and-start drive
  • Alternatives: Toyota Tundra, Ram 1500, GMC/Sierra 1500, Ford F150

Looks

The Powerful Warrior theme is subtle yet gives the truck an aesthetic that sets it apart from the Detroit Three.

Interior

An elegant leather-wrapped ergonomic steering wheel and a simple gauge layout put the controls at your fingertips.

Doug firby/The Globe and Mail

The premium test models we drove have the ultra-comfortable and good-looking zero-gravity front seats. The cabin is one of the quietest of any pickup on the road. The gauge and instrument layout is clean, intuitive and right in the sweet spot: high-tech, yet with cues to traditional design.

Performance

The new nine-speed transmission gets the most out of the venerable 410-horsepower V-8, and the brakes provide plenty of stopping power. Although the diesel option apparently sold poorly, it is missed for its torque.

Technology

The optional 9-inch screen completes a simple and intuitive centre-console layout.

Doug firby

Nissan has greatly improved its electronic safety features by adding Safety Shield 360, which includes lane-departure warning, intelligent emergency braking (front and rear), intelligent forward-collision warning and blind-spot warning. Apple Car Play and Android Auto are standard on all four trim levels.

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Cargo

A 5’6” (1,722 mm) cargo box is the only size offered – good enough for weekend warriors. Contractors who want more space may prefer the beefier Titan XD, which is a different truck and comes with a box that is a foot longer. The rear bench seat is split and folds flat when you want to fit big stuff inside the cabin. Nissan says the total interior volume is 3,390 litres.

The verdict

Nissan’s designers clearly did their homework for this update. It is better than its predecessor by every measure. The Titan could be perfect for families who put a premium on comfort and don’t mind a light pickup that’s a little lighter-duty than its competitors.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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