Nissan is getting back into the full-size truck business, and going about it in a sly way.

Rather than go head-to-head with market leaders Ford, Chevy, Dodge and Toyota, and do battle for a slice of the traditional half-ton or three-quarter-ton truck customers, Nissan has invented its own niche.

The 2016 Nissan Titan XD, the company says, “is in the Goldilocks zone” – just right for enough people to make a new truck segment make sense. It is bigger and more powerful than the light-duty everyday pickups, but smaller and more fuel efficient than the heavy-duty work trucks.

The new truck is burly. Twenty feet long, it’s powered by a massive 5-liter V-8 Cummins turbo diesel that pumps out 310 horsepower and 555 pound-feet of torque. It has a towing capacity of up to 12,000 pounds and is said to haul more than Ford’s F-150, Chevy’s Silverado, Dodge’s Ram 1500 or Toyota’s Tundra.

Everything about it feels big. Getting into the Titan XD driver’s seat requires a step ladder or a pole vault. Getting it through traffic requires experience with products made by Peterbilt. Parking the USS Titan, I could have used a pilot boat, or a pair of those guys who use flashlights to park jumbo jets at the airport.

But inside it’s as cozy as a Camry and comfy as a Cadillac. The top-of-the-line model I drove was fitted with seat warmers, seat coolers, a banging sound system and enough cup holders to pass for a cocktail lounge.

The rear-view camera and Around View Monitor, which projects a 360-degree panorama of the truck’s surroundings, made parking the Titan possible, although still not exactly easy. A very sophisticated suspension system made city driving soft and sweet. On the freeway, the truck was steady and surprisingly silent.

Nissan has extra-large plans for this middle-size pickup. The Titan XD is the first in an entire line of new Nissans, joining the currently available small Frontiers and non-XD Titans.

Strategically, Nissan’s executives insist that this is neither a “beefed-up half-ton” nor a “watered-down three-quarter-ton,” in the words of Brent Hagan, the Titan’s manager of product planning.

“This is for the customer for whom the half-ton isn’t enough and the three-quarter-ton is too much,” Hagan said. “This is something in between.”

In particular, Hagan said, Nissan’s new machine is a response to half-ton truck-fanciers who said they wanted a diesel power plant – which typically features lots of torque, good fuel economy and long range – that didn’t come in the three-quarter-ton package.

My own experience suggests there are more than a few such customers. Driving the Titan XD for a week, I was approached by multiple men – they were all men – who said things like, “Is that a Nissan diesel?” and asked how much it cost and when it would be available.

Hagan said Nissan is determined to raise its profile in the U.S., where it is overshadowed by Toyota, Honda and Subaru. To do that, he said, the company “needs to be a credible player” in the truck market.

Americans love trucks and buy a lot of them. For decades, the Ford F-150 has been, quarter after quarter, the country’s bestselling vehicle – not just bestselling truck, but bestselling vehicle.

Analysts predict 2015 full-size truck sales will be at their highest level since 2007.

To increase its market share, said Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer, Nissan has to be a presence in the truck market. Heading for the unoccupied middle ground is smart.

“Nissan looks longingly at the profit margins some automakers earn on their full-size trucks,” Brauer said. “It’s splitting the difference between light- and heavy-duty capabilities in an effort to provide something unique in an ultra-competitive segment.”

Hagan and other Nissan executives say the Titan XD is designed to work in all three of the usual segments: good as a daily driver, useful for the construction worker carrying a load and suitable for the weekend warrior towing a boat or a horse trailer.

Those in the latter category will appreciate innovations like the XD’s trailer brake controller, trailer sway control, trailer light check system and downhill speed control.

To suit those consumers, Nissan plans an entire line of XDs and is coming to market with a variety of models.
Over a gradual rollout through the end of next year, the Titan XD will be available in single cab, crew cab, king cab and off-road Pro-4X versions. Each will offer a variety of trim levels – including a Platinum level, Nissan’s first in the luxury truck niche.

By mid-2016, the XD also will be available with a 5.6-liter V-8 gas engine, making 390 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. That power plant also will be an option on the regular, non-XD Titans. (Later, there will also be a V-6 option.) The V-8 will be paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission.

Meanwhile, the company will continue to produce its Frontier and Titan lines in several trim levels.

The XDs will be priced accordingly. Whereas the current entry-level Titan starts at just under $30,000, the new line of 2016 Titan XDs will begin at $41,485 for a two-wheel-drive crew cab and rise to $61,715 for the Platinum Reserve 4×4 crew cab with all the trimmings.

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