Until time stops, the American people will be utterly in love with the full size pickup truck. For the most part, these big-bodied haulers have surpassed the actual car in U.S. sales and have been doing so since the 1980s. Around that time, something happened to the truck that turned it from something of a play-thing to being legitimately useful. They started to become good – really good. No longer was the pickup made exclusive for working duty as words such as innovation, refinement, comfort and safety were finding their way into the full size truck segment. The result of this infusion created one of the most competitive markets the U.S. currently knows and breaking into the segment can be more difficult than getting out of Alcatraz. The Big Three have been the leading experts in the big truck game for years so when a Japanese brand makes an attempt to steal sales from the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado and Dodge Ram, the automotive industry usually rolls its eyes and laughs. In 2004, the laughter was silenced however when Nissan put forth the brawny and badass Titan. Eight years later, the blocky workhorse is still around but the question becomes, is it still relevent in today’s market?

The Titan isn’t the first full size truck offering to come out of Japan. That title belongs to Toyota but unlike the Tundra, the Nissan goes about its business in a much more radical fashion. Since the start, the Titan has been billed as a dirty, gritty, trailblazing workhorse that simply couldn’t care less. Commercials from 2004 showcased the truck bombing down lonely deserts and chewing up broken asphalt while hauling triple digit machinery in a dark, cloudy and vanished climate. Simply put, the Titan doesn’t want you to buy it as it really couldn’t be bothered either way; all it wants to do is pull trees out of the ground. Cool personalities aside, the executives at Nissan actually want people to purchase their trucks and have marketed the Titan directly at the American public in a rather unique way.

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To find out how “American” the made-in-America Titan is, we got behind the wheel of a 2012 Crew Cab SV 4X4. Like the majority of full size pickups, the Titan is offered in a variety of configurations from King Cab, four-door Crew, long bed, regular bed, two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive and each layout can come in a variety of trim levels. Excluding the specialty PRO-4X, the SV is the middle ground for the Crew Cab, regular bed four-wheel drive. Despite the multitude of variations, the Nissan falters to other offerings given that a regular cab and optional drivetrain are not available. Even still, our “Silver” (yeah, that simple) test truck rolled off the Canton factory floor with a wealth of standard features such as a two-speed transfer case, limited slip differential, numerous 12 volt outlets, cargo bed lamps, oil pan and fuel tank skid plates, front tow hooks and folding bench seats. Added to the base, $34,460 MSRP of our truck was the $1,350 SV Value Truck Package that included a power driver’s seat, leather wrapping for the shifter and steering wheel, bluetooth hands free phone pairing, fog lamps, rear sonar system and integrated receiver hitch. The $1,910 SV Premium Utility Packaged adds such items as a Rockford Fosgate 10 speaker stereo with subwoofer, satellite radio, power adjustable pedals, Utili-Track tie-down channel system, tailgate lighting and a 3.357:1 final drive gear set. A $225 rear bumper step finished off our Titan for a final MSRP of $38,920 with destination charge. Staying under the $40 grand mark is actually impressive especially considering the last two big pickups we tested, a Chevy and Ram, were unable to pull off that achievement.

Like its competition, the Titan could easily be described as “manly”. With its big, bold and angular lines, it is by no means nothing more than tough. Standing at 224.6 inches long and 74.7 inches tall, the Nissan isn’t going to get laughed at when parked next to a member of the Big Three. It truly is, full size and dimensions aside, looks the part. With a face borrowed from the smaller but rugged Frontier, the Nissan fails to look small, light and weak in comparison to the rest of its competition. In SV trim, the truck goes from makeup-less housekeeper to honest head turner. Chrome accents find their way on to the grille, side moldings and the rear but don’t overpower the pickup. Sitting tall on its 265 tires with 18 inch wheels, the SV certainly looks rugged and ready. The Titan really is a fantastic blend of tough, pretty, inoffensive and aggressive and no one should be ashamed to park one in their driveway.

Under the hood of all Titan models is one engine which is matched to one transmission. This has been the case since the truck debuted in 2004 and it will more than likely stay the same until a second generation is launched fairly soon. Until then, the pickup gets motivation from Nissan’s 5.6 liter VK V8 engine. A boost in 2008 uncorked a few extra ponies giving the 2012 a total of 317 horsepower. Using variable valve timing, the brawny eight puts a stout 385 lb-ft of torque to the ground via a five speed automatic transmission. Those figures may not seem that impressive compared to the Ram’s Hemi or Ford’s EcoBoost, but in the Titan’s case, numbers are not always everything. The muscle car worthy engine can push the truck to 60 mph from a standstill in under seven seconds and do so with one of the most howling and tough-sounding songs to come out of Japan. It may be stout and smooth, but the Titan’s 5.6 and automatic need to accompanied by a less and a better if the Nissan wants to be truly competitive. A 4.0 liter V6, six speed manual Titan would sell just as a 400 plus horsepower, supercharged V8 and turbocharged diesel version would as well.

Burning rubber in between the lights is one thing, but a truck must be a truck and it must be able to take on numerous challenges. In SV trim, the regular bed is only offered and measures in at five feet long and seven inches deep. Nearly 80 inches of width helps with cargo loading but sometimes, a longer flat space would be appreciated. Other rivals may have the Titan beat in bed length, but the Nissan can hang with the best when it comes to payload weight. Able to haul away more than 2,000 lbs on its back and strong enough to pull 9,300 lbs worth of stuff away, the Titan is certainly full size when it comes to working duty but as always, more could be had with a bigger engine/transmission setup. The utility doesn’t just stop at the surface as the Nissan’s insides are just as useful as its outsides. Multiple cubby holds and a utilitarian layout greet passengers who, oddly enough, have plenty of elbow room even in the back quarters. A full house can get cramped however, but if kept to two or three occupants, there should be no complaints regarding comfort.

The stranglehold that the Big Three maintains on the full size truck market has, for a long time, been unrivaled. Toyota was first to challenge it with the T-100 and Tundra, but those offerings never truly captured what made the segment so popular. When Nissan jumped into the pickup pool in 2004, their goal wasn’t to emulate the F-150, Ram and Silverado, but create something that was their own and wouldn’t get laughed at while on the job site. Therefor, the Titan may lack optional engine powertrain packages, a regular cab or a “heavy duty” variation, but it rolls around the U.S. with something no other full size truck holds: real, puppy-like charm. The Nissan’s steering is excellently weighted, sharp and sporting where the Ram can feel light and overboosted. On paper, the 5.6’s output may be lacking compared to its rivals, but in reality there is plenty of gusto to embarrass sports cars at stoplights and hurl the Titan down a freeway. With standard skid plates and shift-on-the fly four-wheel drive, the Nissan is more than capable of giving itself a complete mud bath without getting stuck and there are no low overhangs and fancy body moldings to get in the way of having a dirty good time. As smile inducing as the Titan is, it isn’t just pure hooliganism as this is a smartly laid out truck. Our tester may have lacked navigation (it is optional on the SL trim), but other bits like the Utili-Track bed management system and the well-placed rear step hold are proof that Nissan created their truck to be a truck. A new generation of Titan is scheduled to debut sometime in 2014 and when that happens, all we can hope for is the same endearing personality that riddles the current pickup makes a solid comeback. If it does, then Nissan will be the first to seriously challenge the Big Three as rumors are betting on the next generation to offer multiple powertrains. Until then, the 2012 Nissan Titan will have to hold down the fort with its stong power, rugged chassis, useful gear, low entry fee and most important of all, its unmatched charm.

Photos: © Copyright 2012 Ossamah Shabbir