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Nissan Titan, King of Nissan Off-Roaders

We know an executive or two in Detroit who’d like to, but there’s really no denying that with the Titan, Nissan has finally built a real, competitive, full-size truck. We’ve tested it in our usual week-long way before; puttering around town, flying down freeways, and hauling whatever home-improvement detritus we’d been putting off dealing with for as long as the fleet was full of sports-cars and such. Now, though, we’ve had a chance to evaluate the 2006 Nissan Titan in a seriously harsh off-road environment-and as you’d expect, it proved to be an entirely different animal when released into the wild.

Our last Titan had an upscale, Infiniti-like interior-and a highway ride to match. It was as civilized, or more so, than any other full-size pickup we’ve ever reviewed. And it was powerful; the 5.6-liter V8 pumps out a considerable 305 horsepower and a class-leading 379 lb.-ft. of torque. None of this is meant to imply that the Titan didn’t seem tough-just that its real strength wasn’t required at the time.

Having run several Titans through the hills, boulder-strewn flats, and muddy ponds of the 900-acre Bridgeport Recreational Park, we can say we’ve finally explored the limits of the Titan’s robust, rugged nature.

We had fun doing it, too.

Under the Titan is a fully-boxed steel ladder frame, with 8 welded crossmembers. The enclosed framerails lend serious stiffness, and are matched by few competitors in the segment-the 8 crossmembers are matched by none. All this adds up to one serious stiff chassis-we were amazed at the utter lack of body flex or audible Torsional protest, even when we had the thing articulated in ways no experienced off-roader would probably have tried. Hooray for solid engineering-this is one pickup that won’t, even after 30 years of rough duty, exhibit that tell-tale “I’ve been abused” bend between the cab and bed.

Titans also boast Dana axles front and rear, plus variable-rate leaf springs in back and a double-wishbone front suspension. Rear-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive high, and 4WD low are all selectable by a switch on the dash-as is a electronically-locking rear differential. Off-road prowess is further augmented by limited-slip at all four wheels, Rancho shocks, and class-beating 33-inch tires on 17″ alloys. Skid plates protect the delicate bits, and the pertinent numbers read an impressive 10.3 inches for ground clearance, 32 degrees for approach, and 28 for departure angle. Basically, there’s no factory-stock pickup on the market that can out-explore the Titan. We literally tried to get one hung up somewhere, or to make something break-and we could not. We crashed down onto loveseat-sized rocks, ran through footwell-deep water, and climbed hills that seemed sure to tip us over-and never once lost traction, stalled, or heard even the slightest “crack.”

These days, though, all that would be pretty meaningless if the Titan’s interior didn’t rank as a nice place to be. Fortunately, this is also one comfortable, well-equipped truck-and thus should meet the expectations of American pickup-buyers who have lately come to expect living rooms on wheels. In fact, Titan boasts 126 cubic feet of interior space-more than any competitor. The rear doors open a convenient 168 degrees wide, and the seats back there split and fold in 60/40 fashion. Second-row head- and leg-room also bests all other pickups. Seating, too, is comfortable and sturdy-feeling, whether you’ve got the leather-equipped high-end model or the base-version cloth. And maybe best of all, in this high-tech era, the Titan can be had with a kickin’ six-disc Rockford Fosgate stereo and XM’s NavTraffic navigation system.

Even the bed has been thoughtfully engineered. The Utlilitrak rail system is much stronger and handier than similar cargo-tie-down setups we’ve seen. The bedside lock-box is pretty neat, too. Especially appreciated is the assisted tailgate, which is damped to avoid crashing down or agonizing lifting. A 12-volt outlet in the bed, a standard factory bed-liner, and entry lighting add to the convenience factor. With all that, the Titan still can tow an outstanding 9,500 pounds with the five-speed automatic tranny in Tow Mode! (Or 9,400 lbs. for Crew Cab models; the Tow Package, with trans temp gauge, is required, too.)

Since the Nissan Off-Road Experience was, after all, in Texas, Nissan also trucked (heh!) out a special Texas Titan model for us to check out. Making up a third of Titan sales in the Lone Star State, it features special star badging and floor mats, as well as chrome on the mirrors, step-rails, and unique 18″ rims. Note to Detroit: Nissan is NOT being subtle here; they want a slice of that last market!

Also of note: Flex Fuel Titans can run on renewable E85 fuel, and cost not a penny extra to buy.

A few more notes from our drive time with the Titans: Compared to the Frontier mid-size pickups also on hand, the bigger Titan is smoother, but somewhat less nimble. The locking rear diff really does provide excellent traction, and the optional Hill Descent Control (HDC) made even the scariest down-slopes idiot-proof. For all that stability, though, sideways action was just a flip of the 4WD/2WD switch away. We definitely enjoyed the Rockford Fosgate stereo, too-it not only kicks ass, but it’ll vibrate the heck out of yours if you’ve got the bass cranked up. Finally, we noted that the hard plastics Nissan used in a few interior spots were very good for cleaning up messes, but kinda bad for smacking your head on. (OK, maybe we shoulda had that seatbelt on.) Bottom line, the Nissan Titan is a seriously capable truck; not just in the day-to-day drone of everyday life, but in pretty much any part of the American outdoors. What more could you ask for?

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