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264 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
"They want me to test a what?"

"This is a joke, right?"

"Don't they know who I am?"

"And they want me to do it anyway?"

"They must be out of their collective corporate minds."

I hung up the phone, laughing.

My wife walked in and asked why I was laughing. The identical conversation took place.

"They want you to test a what?"

"Don't they know who you are?"

Nissan Corporate had a lot of guts asking me to off-road test their new 2006 Titan. I mean, I'm the archetypical American truck guy. Everything I do revolves around trucks. From hauling heavy loads to hauling butt in the desert I use trucks.

But I use American trucks. Exclusively.

Nissan's logic was explained to me like this: We'll have Kroeker test the truck and write about it. If it's positive, that's great; if it's negative, we'll use the feedback to improve the vehicle. This was a bold move, considering the fact that my slant concerning their product was more than a little negative - especially since the truck they wanted me to test had beaten my race truck by only minutes in the 2004 Baja 1000. And almost two years later, I'm still bitter about it.

A few years ago, I tried a "full-sized" non-Nissan Japanese truck. It was a good, reliable truck but it always struck me as "dinky" and unsubstantial. It just wasn't up to the tasks I would give it - and I wasn't asking much either. I would load a couple of dirt bikes in the bed for a day at the track, cinch them down tight and the front tires would bend the bed's sheet metal into the cab. I would load a trailer with race bikes and a couple of drums of race fuel, and on the drive to Baja the little, Japanese motor would huff and puff and wheeze up every hill, then on the way down, the brakes would burn up. Sure the truck was easy to park and road nicely on the highway, but every time I needed it to work, it wimped-out on me.

If I was going to spend my hard-earned money on a truck, it better do what I tell it to and not complain. Four trips to the dealer for new brakes, a blown transmission and the service manager telling me, "they all do that," when I showed him my bent bed soured my disposition and distorted my perspective.

I had had enough.

So I sold that truck for small change and became a card-carrying, full-blooded, dyed-in-the-wool, red-white-and-blue, you-can-have-my-American-truck-when-you-pry-my-cold-dead-fingers-from-around-the-steering-wheel, truck owner - an Ugly American truck owner who would yell at friends about their wimpy Japanese horsepower, brake swept-area, and towing capacity like an American tourist in Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirt and cowboy hat yelling at a foreign waiter in English. I had become a Truck Bigot.

So when it came time to off-road test the new 2006 Nissan Titan, my objectivity was questionable to say the least. But as a professional I knew I had to do two simple things.

1. Gather data

2. Evaluate the data

I didn't trust my own perspective, since the glass was already way more than half empty, so I enlisted a couple of experienced off-roader buddies to help with task number one.

Upon arrival I asked them what they thought about the way the truck looked. One said the modern styling was "overdone" probably to make the truck more easily identifiable. The other said, "it sucks." A little prodding revealed that there were no "reasons" why the styling "sucked."

"What don't you like about it?" I asked.

"I don't know. It looks like a Japanese truck…" was the answer.

I wanted data, like, "the belt line is too low," or "the wheel wells are too large." But I wasn't getting anywhere. At the time I didn't say anything, but personally, I like the look of the truck. It doesn't have the superfluous, non-utilitarian look of the older Nissan trucks. The window to body relationship is well-balanced and the low, short hood line is modern and smart. It looks tough and functional -like it means business, even while it's just sitting there static.

"How do you think it's going to perform?" I asked.

One said, "Like a crappy Japanese truck."

The other said, "I think it's going to suck."

Asking, "why" gathered no intelligent response.

I was beginning to think the Truck Bigot had made the mistake of hiring the Truck Gestapo.
Check this out MIkeup.

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264 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Next was road testing. We got in and I fired her up. We're all big guys - two over six feet tall and the other somewhat robust. Passenger space in the Crew Cab was no problem front or rear. There was plenty of head and leg room for everyone. The instrument cluster is clearly visible and easy to read, and the controls are all within easy reach. At idle, since there is no engine vibration or noise. Without looking at the tachometer, it was difficult to determine if the motor is turned on. Our test model was a five-speed automatic that shifted smoothly and quietly with no unusual lags or pauses between up or down shifts. Unlike American manufacturers that traditionally mount the shifter on the steering column, Nissan mounts the shifter on the center-console - like a race car.

On the road the Titan is very comfortable. The low hoodline and large windows aid vision and increase the feeling spaciousness already present in the interior. There is very little wind noise and almost no vibration or noise from the engine - that is until you stomp on the skinny pedal. Then the motor comes alive with a pleasant roar that is 100% V-8. The sound and db level of the engine is perfectly balanced - aggressive without being obnoxious. And it's got plenty of power too - 305 horses and 379 ft. lbs. of torque to be exact. According to Nissan the Titan has enough power and driveline strength to tow 9500 lbs. This kind of engine sound quality, driveline strength and power are going to make the aftermarket upgrade manufacturers work overtime to improve what Nissan gives you from the factory.

On the way to our off-road testing area, the boys made snide comments like, "This this thing feels like a mini van." And "Needs more cup-holders and some baby seats."

Even though I'm the Truck Bigot, I was getting annoyed. I didn't bring them along for their bias; I had enough of that on my own. I had to do something shut them up or this whole event was going to be a waste of time.

"I'm launching her into the field." I stated.

"Don't even think about it. This thing will grenade; it'll take hours to un-yard-sale the pieces."

"Launching into the field" is a little game we play with the uninitiated. On the way to our private test track there's a spot where we sail race vehicles off the highway, over an eight inch curb, down a four foot drop off and onto a rutted dirt road that you can't see until you land. In a race truck with 37" tires and ten thousand dollars worth of specialized suspension, at 60 mph. you can hardly feel it. It's fun to watch the uninitiated guy in the right seat scream and spasmodically reach for something to hold on to.

Since we were in a stock truck with stock suspension, I slowed down to 35 mph. before veering off the highway. We all knew it was coming, since we had all done it before in various trucks, but everyone in the Titan squealed like little girls anyway.

Amazingly, the impact, though sharp, wasn't a quarter of what we thought it would be. When the truck landed it bottomed out, but there was no metal-to-metal crunch and no loss of control. Everyone was impressed - especially since this stunt is nothing any normal person would ever do in their personal vehicle, and was certainly not in the design parameters of Nissan engineers.
"Not bad for a mini-van." I said as we got back on the highway. I released the steering wheel to see if everything was still straight. It was perfect.

Silence from the Gestapo.

A series of hilly curves showed that the Titan handles well, exhibiting very little body roll. The steering ratio is not too quick and not too slow. Steering is very precise but it has an unusually heavy feel which made our LE model seem much more substantial than its 5323 lb. curb weight would lead one to believe.

When we arrived at our test track, I got out of the driver's seat and got in back. Nissan engineers did wonders maximizing space in the rear. I'm six foot two and felt perfectly comfortable.

The first real off-road test was the hill climb. It's a tight trail that winds up a mountain through deep red clay silt. Off camber turns complicate things because as vehicles seek traction, they tend to fall down the the mountian. On this hill we've stuck many trucks, including specialized off-road vehicles. In two wheel drive the Titan made it about a third of the way up. Switching to low-range four wheel drive got us about half way, then it started going sideways, threatening to roll over right before digging its own shallow tire grave.

"Now what, Kroeker?" our agitated driver asked.

"I think this thing's got a locker - try that"

Some searching revealed the switch for the locking rear differential. Some fiddling revealed how to work the switch. I got out to take some photos and try to direct the driver so he wouldn't send the Titan cartwheeling down the mountainside.

With the rear wheels locked, the Titan cruised right up to the top of the hill. Now we had to get down. Brake application is an enemy of steering down steep hills. With the added traction of the locked rear wheels, very little brake modulation was required, making the down-hill section a piece of cake.

"I guess now the mini-van thinks it's a Jeep," our driver stated dryly.

Next we blasted through our high-speed desert section. This consists of sandy turns with small berms on the outside edges. In two wheel drive the truck exhibited a gentle oversteer, normal for a utility vehicle with an empty bed. In four wheel drive the handling was simply amazing. Predictable 60 mph. four-wheel drifts were the norm. The Titan's well-damped suspension keeps the tires in contact with the terrain and, though softly sprung, each corner absorbs small irregularities with aplomb.

Our driver stated, "It feels just like a 5500 lb. rally car - totally neutral!"

Our rock-crawling section turned out to be a bit much for our Titan. Aerodynamic bodywork and sleek lines take design precedent over steep approach and departure angles. Still, once on top of our boulder pile, the Titan was able to maintain traction and we were able to stay in control without difficulty.

At a glance, the Titan's front independent coil-over suspension is a great design. But the Titan's suspension engineering suggests that lifting the truck significantly without a longer spindle and drop-down bracketry is impossible without also increasing track width. This is due to the fact that when the upper a-arm droops down it contacts the shock bucket. This limits some of the ways in which the aftermarket can address its low ground clearance issues.

Next was the thrashing.

Ever take a truck on a motocross course? We did. Whoops, jumps, sand, you name it. We pushed the Titan to the limit for one final general-purpose thrashing. We weren't testing anything in particular; we were just abusing the product for good measure. Like a Marine Drill Instructor thrashing his recruits for one last time the day before graduation, our mission was attrition.

We wanted to make the Titan fail but we couldn't. Maybe we were angry that the Japanese truck worked so well. Maybe we were angry with ourselves for our unwarranted bias. For whatever the reason we unleashed a fury upon that truck, romping, stomping, moshing and raging until the sun went down.

Before the drive home we stopped to make sure no fluids were leaking, and no damage had been done to steering or driveline components that could make us a hazard to other drivers with whom we shared the road. Amazingly, none of our relentless abuse had damaged the Titan. Its solid box-section frame and multiple, reinforcing cross-members helped maintain perfect chassis and body integrity. When we were finished the Titan remained as quiet, tight and rattle-free as it was on the way to the test track.

As we drove, Der Furer and the Gestapo were silent.

Once back at the compound, some serious mental regrouping was in order. We had to evaluate the facts.

In sum, the 2006 Nissan Titan does everything it should, and it does it so well it's deceptive. It has the road comfort of a mini-van, the trail prowess of a Jeep, the high-speed dirt road handling capabilities of a rally car and the durability of an M-1 tank. To say we were impressed would be an understatement.

No matter what your bias, warranted or unwarranted, the facts stand on their own. The 2006 Nissan Titan isn't a good truck; it's a great truck.
i need to write something.

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264 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·

I was like "HOLY SHIIIT" when i first read that article, be warned some of the info might make you cringe. :) .

-son of sqs
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