Review: 2021 Nissan Titan Pro-4X
“IS THAT THE DIESEL?” The five fellows surrounding our blood-red Nissan Titan Pro-4X were all cut from the same cloth, and that cloth was best described as “seriously worn-out Realtree Carhartt.” They’d piled out of a white Transit work van, perhaps attracted by the diesel-like tickover of the direct-injection, 400-horsepower 5.6-liter V-8, unironically badged “ENDURANCE” by Nissan for half-ton applications.
“If there’s a diesel center to the universe,” I quipped in response, “you’re on the pickup-truck planet it’s farthest from.” On paper, the Nissan V-8 is a nice halfway point between the General Motors 5.3 and 6.2, or perhaps a near duplicate of Ford’s 5.0-liter truck engine, with 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque at similar peak rpm to the competition. In practice, however, it needs to rev to alarming-sounding levels to make good power. Add a race car on a trailer to the equation, as I had just done, and you will find yourself above 4000 rpm approximately as often as would the owner of a Honda CBR600RR—which is to say, all the time.
I was truly nonplussed by the tough-looking Titan as a tow vehicle, so allow me to get all my complaints out in a single paragraph so we can focus on the bigger picture. Here goes: The Titan struggles to get 10.5 mpg in circumstances where I would regularly see 16 to 17 mpg in my Silverado 6.2, and it feels considerably less authoritative on the move, frequently grabbing a gear from the bottom of the deck and screaming to redline for even mild grades. Extended periods of this would produce a mild coolant smell from the engine, although the gauges never showed anything running hot. The mirrors are worthless for towing. The dim-witted parking sensors have to be switched off every time the Titan is placed into reverse. If you fail to do this, and it senses the trailer behind you, it will panic-brake to a stop. I found it remarkably difficult to balance the tongue weight of my trailer, largely because the Pro-4X has very soft springs that also result in a skyward-pointing nose and a lot of angry headlight-flashing from oncoming traffic.
Alright, that’s enough. Nissan isn’t reaching out to the tow-and-haul crowd with the Pro-4X. The discontinuation of the stout but unpopular Cummins-powered Titan XD was a signal to all and sundry that Nissan now sees the Titan as a lifestyle-ish truck. If the responses from the Carhartt crowd were any guide, they’re on the right path, because these dudes thought the Pro-4X was hotter than a California wildfire.
Can you blame them? This pickup looks the business inside and out. It’s got ride height, visual aggression, a serious-looking rollbar on the short truck bed, (that also makes it tough to get things OUT of said bed) and a bad-boy black-and-red leather interior. Put aside the fact that Marty McFly’s dream truck in Back to the Future was actually a Toyota, and this is basically the modern version of it. Don’t expect to see the Pro-4X doing much honest work. This one is all about the aesthetics.
That being said, the Titan has some virtues both due to and in spite of the Pro-4X theatrics. This has to be the best-riding 4×4 half-ton I’ve ever driven, and it’s remarkably quiet inside. The seats are supportive for long drives. Wind and tire noise are low for the segment. Unlike some previous “full-sized” trucks from Japanese automakers, the Titan is clearly proportioned to domestic half-ton standards in everything from the width of the cabin to the generous rear legroom.
If you’re not asking for excellence-in-towing, the Titan’s frisky, rev-happy 5.6-liter is more of an amusement than a hindrance, thanks to aggressive throttle calibration and plenty of intake noise. Steering and brake feel are both good, perhaps a whisker better than what you get in a modern F-150. Most of the interior feels high-quality, although the column shifter is flimsy and creaky in a manner that is straight out of a bad U-Haul box truck. The Fender-branded stereo is powerful, clear, and provides decent sound staging.
While I didn’t perform any off-roading with the Titan, I did use it to drag some race cars around the completely washed-out grass paddock of Nelson Ledges Road Course for all of the past weekend, and it was easily capable of doing that in two-wheel drive while the four-wheel-drive 3/4-ton trucks all around it struggled to get moving. Credit the tires and the aforementioned soft springs. The 4×4 system isn’t as sophisticated as GM’s, and there’s no “auto 4WD” available. If you need four-wheel drive, you are limited to 4-High or 4-Low.
The relentless market-focused optimization practiced by the Big Three is evident by its absence in the Titan. Instead of a fancy tailgate or even an integrated step bumper, you get a fold-out step beneath the rear bumper that visibly wobbles when used by a 110-pound child. The cabin is devoid of any laptop work tables or 48-ounce-friendly backup cupholders. The only “work feature” is a 110-volt outlet in the bed that is, in fact, powerful enough to run a drill or other jobsite equipment. We used it to drill some mounting holes for an AIM Solo 2 display in my Radical’s steering wheel; the drill spun eagerly.
At sixty grand fully equipped, you can think of the Pro-4X as a poor man’s F-150 Raptor or a rich man’s F-150 STX, your pick. The base MSRP is just over fifty but at that price you don’t get the nice interior, the 110-volt power point, or running boards. It’s hard not to think of the Titan in general, and the Pro-4X in particular, as a low-volume love letter to Nissan’s most die-hard fans, those people who bought Hardbodys and Frontiers in their youth and who can now afford something a bit nicer. It doesn’t have the power of a Chevy, the interior delights of a Ram, or the thoroughly-sweated details on a F-150. But it does have “the look,” and a little muscle to back it up. For some people, that will be enough.
2021 Nissan Titan Pro-4X
Base price/as tested: $50,290/$60,640
Highs: Looks cool, rides well, comfortable on the long haul.
Lows: Not happy towing, doesn’t have much of a work ethic, rather expensive for what you get.
Summary: If you like Nissan trucks, you’ll really like this one.