The 2020 Nissan Titan.

Mack Hogan | CNBC

In the ever-growing full-size pickup truck segment, no player is as often forgotten as Nissan. The company’s Titan truck has been around for over 15 years but has never achieved the blockbuster success that trucks from American brands enjoy. Even Toyota’s Tundra trounces the Titan in yearly sales.

Part of that comes from long-entrenched loyalty American companies have instilled in truck buyers. No other segment is more roundly dominated by U.S. automakers. And while Toyota tries to make up for its decade-old truck’s shortcomings with the Tundra’s unmatched reputation for reliability, Nissan’s truck feels aimless.

The Good

Part of the reason that the Tundra feels so outclassed by American trucks is that Japanese truck makers have historically been bad about keeping their trucks fresh. Toyota has kept the Tundra around since the George W. Bush administration, Nissan’s Frontier is absolutely ancient, and the first-generation Titan stuck around for over a decade. That can help ensure dependability and consistency, but Nissan seems to be realizing that it’s hard to stay competitive when Ram, Chevy, GMC, and Ford are constantly releasing new, better trucks.

The 2020 Nissan Titan.

Mack Hogan | CNBC

So the Titan, in its second generation, seems to be getting more love from product planners. The company has continued introducing new variants and technology, with a big refresh for 2020 that included updated, 400-horsepower V-8, a new nine-speed transmission, better infotainment options, and an impressive suite of standard safety features.

In some ways, then, the Titan outdoes its competitors in Detroit. The base Titan comes with way more equipment and power than American trucks, but it also has a much higher entry price. You won’t find a Titan with no cruise control, a basic V-6, and a regular cab. Ford, though, will happily sell you a stripped-out F-150. 

With better standard equipment and new motivation, the Titan feels like a mostly modern truck. Our tester was well-equipped, as it should be for close to $60,000. It was a PRO-4X, Nissan’s term for the rugged, off-road model. It includes true off-road goodies like Bilstein off-road shocks and a locking rear differential, but — perhaps more importantly — looks aggressive and capable.

The 2020 Nissan Titan.

Mack Hogan | CNBC

On-road performance is also decent, though we should note that recent Ram 1500s and F-150’s we’ve driven have the refinement and comfort edge over the Titan. It’s a comfortable place for longer driving stints, with tons of room and good in-car tech like Apple CarPlay, though none of that is extraordinary for the class.

That being said, if you’re set on a Japanese full-size truck, the Titan is undoubtedly the more comfortable, refined and advanced truck compared to the Toyota Tundra. Its resale value won’t be as high and nearly nothing on sale can match the Tundra’s legendary reliability (two current-generation trucks have hit 1,000,000 miles), but the Titan is a better performer.

The Bad

Outdoing the Tundra in multiple categories, though, isn’t enough to rise to the top of the class. That truck was one of the most disappointing cars we drove in 2018, while Ram and Ford have wowed us recently. The Titan may feel modern and refined next to a Tundra, but it’s ultimately left behind by the GMC Sierra, Chevy Silverado, Ford F-150 and — most of all — the Ram 1500.

The 2020 Nissan Titan.

Mack Hogan | CNBC

The Japanese automakers just cannot match the insane spending and constant updates that keep Detroit trucks fiercely competitive with each other. In almost every key metric, the Titan falls toward the back of the pack. It may be ahead of Toyota, but it’s far closer to the Tundra than it is to nipping at Ford or Ram’s heels.

Some of that can be explained by the sheer variety of trucks offered by the big-time players. Ford, Chevy, and Ram’s massive sales volumes gives them the ability to offer niche variants that maximize capabilities or minimize consumption. Nissan focuses on core models that suit the 80th percentile truck buyer, but the result is that no matter what you want, an American truck is likely best at it. 

Ford offers an incredible range of capability, from highest-in-class towing and hauling to the inimitable Raptor. Ram offers industry-leading comfort and honest-to-God luxury trucks. Chevy, with its new diesel engine, offers the most fuel-efficient full-size truck we’ve ever seen. 

The Titan can’t match any of them. It’s not even mixed in with the A-team, with fuel economy, towing, refinement, and comfort falling far behind the best offerings from each American manufacturer.

The 2020 Nissan Titan.

Mack Hogan | CNBC

Final Thoughts

That makes it pretty hard to justify spending nearly $60,000 on a Titan. The only competitor it beats is the Tundra, and even that has a unique selling point in its reliability and more affordable price. The Titan is not a bad vehicle or at all offensive, it’s just that there’s no compelling reason for us to recommend one over an American truck. If you plan to keep your truck for over 300,000 miles, a Tundra makes sense, but everyone else is probably better off with a Ram or F-150.

Ratings:

Exterior: 3.5

Interior: 3.5

Driving Experience: 3.0

Value: 3.0

Overall: 3.3

Price as tested: $58,000 (est.)

Ratings out of 5

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