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Truckin’ In a Titan: We Talk Nissan Titan’s Fuel Economy, Future

Sections: Chassis, Fuel Economy, Powertrain

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2013 Nissan Titan PRO-4X Photo Shoot 031

Our test Nissan Titan PRO-4X barely edged higher than the fuel economy displayed here by the end of our test week, averaging a trip computer-indicated 16.5 MPG. What’s Nissan got up its sleeve to make the Titan more competitive in the era of V6 full-size trucks that make 300+ horsepower while averaging mid-20s MPGs? We asked them exactly that question. (Lyndon Johnson photo.)

While I loved my week with the Nissan Titan PRO-4X, two things were always in the back of my mind: The truck’s fuel economy is near the bottom of all full-size trucks on sale in America today, and it’s the oldest design and chassis on the market here. So I asked Nissan if they plan on changing that anytime soon, and how.

Cue Nissan North America Corporate Communications Manager Steve Parrett, who told us Nissan hasn’t talked much about the next Nissan Titan. That’s not unusual for Nissan, who does not typically release information about future vehicle plans to the press until it’s good and ready to do so. Parrett did hook us up with a release Nissan quietly put out earlier this year, however.

In that release, Nissan North America Product and Advanced Planning and Strategy Vice President Pierre Loing said, “As a full-line manufacturer, Nissan aims to be a player in every part of the truck business. Our truck teams in Michigan, Arizona, Tennessee and Mississippi are hard at work on a next generation full-size truck line that will expand Titan’s appeal to a broader spectrum of truck buyers, including the all-important skilled trades-buyers. Our new truck will be filled with Nissan innovation and expertise without compromise.”

To us, that means Nissan must be working on fuel economy and powertrain options, for starters. The Titan has made do with only its 5.6-liter V8 for its entire existence. That V8 is an excellent engine, by our experience, with plenty of power for your average pickup truck buyer and a brawny exhaust soundtrack sure to please V8 fans everywhere. However, other truck manufacturers offer multiple engine options in their half-ton pickups, including V6 engines that are now only a few horsepower (though several ft-lbs) away from the Titan’s 317 horsepower and 385 ft-lbs of torque.

Those V6 engines offer a better compromise in fuel economy and capabilities for weekend warriors like myself, where the Titan’s V8 is all-muscle, all-the-time and makes the driver pay for it at the pump. We observed 16.5 MPG over the test week, which included a lot of highway miles with the cruise control turned on. Those kinds of numbers aren’t impressive to truck buyers like me who seldom carry heavy loads or tow trailers in this era of 23- and 25-MPG options from Ford and Ram, respectively, as well as a 23 MPG V8 from GM and the promise of a mid-20s MPG rating on the new 4.3-liter V6 in GM trucks.

Nissan had volunteered a Titan to the Department of Energy for testing a Cummins diesel engine setup in recent years, but while we asked Parrett about an update on that effort, he again referred to the release, which said nothing of the diesel trials. While the Cummins engine’s horsepower rating would likely be pretty low– around 210 horsepower– its torque was said to be equal to the 5.6-liter gasser in our test truck, at 385 ft-lbs. The difference: The four-cylinder, 2.8-liter Cummins diesel is expected to have no difficulty hitting 30+ MPG on the highway, while the VK-series V8 struggles to break 20 MPG going downhill with a wind to its back. Color us, and the rest of the world’s pickup truck fans, very interested in seeing this experimental model come to life as a production item.

The testing notes from the Department of Energy said the diesel-powered Titan was working with a ZF-supplied 8-speed transmission. You might recognize it from the latest Ram 1500 that gets 25 MPG highway ratings from the EPA with its Pentastar V6 engine. Of course, Ram itself has said it will be the first to market in the U.S. with a half-ton diesel pickup, while Nissan remains quiet on whether diesel will be a part of the Titan’s first major redesign and refuses to give the media a timeline for possible release of that redesign.

The Titan’s design has remained static in the face of multiple minor tweaks in the designs of other major OEMs. That’s the other part of the equation for the next Titan: What will it look like? Our bet is muscular, for sure, but a lot of truck buyers– including fleet managers and work truck fans like yours truly– will be watching to see if Nissan bothers to offer a regular cab version of the Titan next time around. The current generation comes only in King Cab and Crew Cab configurations, which, while nice for transporting a lot of people, are not necessary or desirable for many of the aforementioned buyers.

The Titan’s interior design has evolved a bit over its decade of existence, including the excellent infotainment system we noted previously, but we’d bet Nissan goes for big improvements there in the next-gen Titan, including giving the infotainment screen more real estate. On the whole, though, Loing said the Titan design and engineering teams were given encouragement to go for broke.

“Our truck engineers and designers have very clear marching orders,” said Loing. “Deliver a winner. Nothing is off the table. Many of our team have lived and studied the truck market and lifestyle most of their careers. They know the stakes.”

We look forward to seeing their work– whenever it finally sees the light of day.

Disclosure: Nissan provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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