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Second-hand: 2004-2006 Nissan Titan

Nissan especially could hardly be considered a newcomer. It breached Fortress America in 1959 with its 37-hp mini pickup offering a quarter-ton load capacity. By 1967, it was selling 15,000 units a year.

The Human Rights Code may protect individuals from discrimination due to their gender and faith, but choice of pickup truck is still fair game.

Consider this online posting from a Dodge Dakota owner deep inside pickup-truck country: “Because I don’t drive a Ford F-Series or a Chevy 1500, I am considered an Eastern liberal pansy. The militia only drives Fords or Chevys.”

If Dodge truck drivers are subject to ridicule, imagine the abuse heaped upon Nissan and Toyota truck owners.

Yet Nissan especially could hardly be considered a newcomer. It breached Fortress America in 1959 with its 37-hp mini pickup offering a quarter-ton load capacity. By 1967, it was selling 15,000 units a year.

Nissan’s succession of compact pickups continued to win over North Americans, but many of them were suburban hobbyists who didn’t need a “real” truck. For Nissan to crack the hardcore market, it needed a big ass-whupping stick.

So committed was Nissan to delivering the right-sized truck, it built a new engine plant in Decherd, Tenn., and a complete assembly facility in Canton, Miss.

CONFIGURATION

The aptly named Titan arrived in late 2003 sized 6 cm longer than Chevy’s Avalanche and with a 30-cm longer wheelbase than that of a previous-generation Toyota Tundra – the last Japanese truck groomed to take on the domestics (it failed).

Unlike the Detroit Three, Nissan kept its Titan line simple with a minimum of choices. There was only an extended King Cab with a 2-metre bed and a proper four-door Crew Cab with a shorter 1.7-metre box.

It was remarkably roomy inside to dispel any notion that a Japanese truck has to be cramped. Buyers could choose either a front bench or bucket seats, and a column-mounted or floor-mounted shifter.

The three-passenger rear bench offered decent space, though access was gained through two ungainly half doors on the King Cab, which could not open independently of the front portals (at least they swung almost 180 degrees). The Crew Cab had four conventional doors and an even bigger cabin.

The instrument panel won accolades for its big, easy-to-read dials and classic three rotary climate control knobs that could be handled with thick gloves.

The rear- and four-wheel drive platform featured a fully boxed frame, independent unequal-length control arm front suspension, dual-rate rigid leaf rear suspension, rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes.

Given the sturdy underwear, the Titan was capable of towing up to 4,300 kg. Power was directed through the standard five-speed automatic transmission.

All models were propelled by the same engine: an all-alloy 32-valve 5.6 L V8 that produced 305 horses and 379 lb.-ft of stump-pulling torque. Unlike most twin-cammers that pull strongest near the top of the rev range, Nissan’s motor spun 90 per cent of its torque below 2500 r.p.m.

Owners raved about the tuneful engine: “If you step on it, it will sound loud but I love the sound of the exhaust,” wrote the driver of a ’05 King Cab.

The Titan introduced a few innovations, including a factory-installed spray-in bedliner, and optional cargo rails and storage bin tucked behind the rear left wheel.

Models changed little in subsequent years. For 2005, the Crew Cab got an optional power-down rear window. The V8 gained 12 horses for a total of 317 horsepower in 2007.

The 2008 Titans got styling tweaks and a long-wheelbase version, which supported larger available cargo beds: 7-foot beds for Crews and 8-foot beds for Kings.

ON THE ROAD

In its first magazine comparison test with America’s full-size pickups, the Titan walked away with the crown.

Thanks to its significantly lower curb weight, the Titan could sprint to 96 km/h in seven seconds, handily beating all the 2004 domestics including the Dodge Ram Hemi.

Its powerful engine and aggressive gearing collaborated to make the truck feel downright sporty.

“The engine runs and pulls the truck similar to my dad’s ’05 BMW 745i,” wrote one owner.

Its well-sorted suspension balanced the ride/handling trade-off; ride motions were nicely damped and steering was quick and accurate.

About the only thing owners had to complain about was the V8’s thirst.

“Own a country in the Middle East before you buy,” read one acerbic comment.

In reality, the Titan’s fuel economy was no worse than many large-displacement V8s. It’s just that some consumers expect vehicles from Japanese manufacturers to somehow burn less fuel.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

Designed and built for American truck sensibilities, owners have generally been pleased.

“My Nissan Titan is a good-looking truck with lots of power and plenty of room in the cab for five large adults,” read one online remark.

Despite emanating from a new factory employing an unproven workforce, the Titan has been very reliable — except for one weakness. The 2004 and 2005 models were rife with brake problems, blamed on undersized rotors that were prone to overheating and warping.

“Brakes have been replaced and rotors turned three times in first 20,000 kms,” read a typical post.

Nissan eventually introduced a program to replace the brakes with thicker rotors and new-formula pads, though it’s unclear if owners paid for the upgrades. Be prepared for a fight with your service manager.

Other problems include leaky transmission cooler lines and rear differentials (the revised diff has a vented cover), malfunctioning door locks and power windows, and easily scratched interior trim.

All in all, a solid effort from an importer that studied the market carefully. Unfortunately for Nissan, prejudice keeps the Titan from grabbing a larger slice of the market.

WHAT’S BEST: spirited engine, big workers’ lunchroom, fun to drive

WHAT’S WORST: scratchy interior, small beds, brake woes

TYPICAL GTA PRICES: 2004 – $16,000; 2006 – $21,000

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Chevrolet Epica, Mazda RX-8 and Chrysler 300. Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

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