2016 Nissan Titan XD: Detroit to LA
by Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor on February 23, 2017
Originally, the 2016 Nissan Titan XD in this production was going to be our 2016 Tesla Model X. But having already crossed the country, twice, in our 2013 Tesla Model S, and also finding the looks, ride and paltry range of the X disagreeable, I buried an ax in the head of that idea as swiftly as I could.
I liked the road-trip part, though. Like Magrath, I'm a sucker for a good one. So once the Model X gave way to #kingbanana, I was eager to finish what Travis started. When you get a chance to see your country, take it.
Fast-forward to a January morning in Detroit. We'd wrapped up our auto show coverage the day before. There's valet parking directly outside the hotel, but for some reason the valet had stashed the Titan in a garage across the street, so it was out of sight and out of mind the whole time. I didn't start thinking about my route back until the unmistakable rattle of that Cummins engine was brought to the door, accentuated by that unmistakable yellow paint.
I wasn't in a particular hurry, but I didn't want this trip to take five days either. Complicating matters, Winter Storm Jupiter had already thrashed parts of the West Coast and was headed for the Plains. Cold air? No problem. Snow? People can deal. Ice? Not a chance. So I charted a northerly course, above the storm and into clearer weather, incidentally bypassing the Rockies and their ski-resort nonsense.
It felt like a bold move. Hopefully it would pay off.
What Do We Have Here?
Freezing mist is never a good way to begin your trip, but I had 4WD, road-crushing weight and a long wheelbase at my disposal. I eased out of the icy hotel parking lot without issue and was on my way. Some quirks were already apparent, like how the heated steering wheel is really only heated around the outer edge. This leaves the stitching on the inside as cold as the outside of the truck, which on this day was coated with a thin layer of ice. The seat heaters were also not the roaring fire I had anticipated, but more about those later.
As big and brash as the Titan is on the outside, much of its interior looks to be lifted straight from a crossover SUV. The only signs of ruggedness are the huge headlight switch and the column shifter's slotted handle. The shift lever itself is a relief — rotary knobs in a truck should be used for audio and climate adjustments, not gear selection. But the rest of the interior is very Murano and downright friendly. Those carpeted floor mats though!
Western Michigan is pretty. Gary, Indiana, looks like the underside of an old car. The roads were sloppy but fine, and the Titan continued to seem like massive yellow overkill as I bombed through the middle of the country. A stop for lunch and diesel in Iowa City, which is even more remote than I remembered it from my first stint in college, told me that the rest of America might be more ready for this truck than I am. Fellow drivers were waiting with compliments as I dropped out of the truck. It became a pattern as the trip went on.
While in town, I paid a visit to the Record Collector, the store where I bought all my music and posters. It's still around. I replaced my long-lost copy of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and moved on.
My next hotel was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but I had to stop to diesel again before I got there. I wouldn't say I was annoyed, but I was starting to wonder what I'd have to do to break 400 miles on a tank. It was legitimately cold — minus 1 Fahrenheit, to be exact — and the window-washer squeegee broke off in the bucket. So much for cleaning the headlights.
I pressed on to Sioux Falls and called it a night.
A Dakota, Some Snow and No Range
It was still really cold when I woke up. The water park attached to the hotel continued to amuse me. The Cummins fired up into a high idle as I loaded my bags and sat in the cabin to warm up with the truck. I'd say the seat heaters are California-spec. They provide a nice, gentle warmth through a single layer, but they couldn't penetrate my modest coat-and-sweatshirt getup.
That said, the cabin is apparently very well-insulated. The three-quarters-empty bottle of water that I'd left in the cab overnight wasn't even chilly.
Back on the highway, South Dakota looked like it was covered with one of those fake snow blankets you put under a Christmas tree. Everything was smooth and it shimmered in the sun. The road was clear and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, so it was an easy decision to drop the hammer and do the posted 80-mph speed limit.
The question, again, was how long I could keep that up before the relatively modest fuel tank would ask for more.
Although King Banana is shaped like the broadside of a barn, its stability in crosswinds is commendable. But it's roughly the size of a barn, too, which makes its mandatory 26-gallon fuel tank a bit puzzling. I've got to believe there's room for a bigger one. As things stand, the truck generally struggles to clear 375 miles between fills. Sure, I'd like to see better fuel economy from the Cummins V8, but I wouldn't mind that so much if I could carry enough fuel to make up for it.
It's as if Nissan thought this truck would be more fuel-efficient than it is. Otherwise, why skimp on the size of the tank?
In happier news, I dig the M+S tires that come with the Pro-4X package. They gave me the confidence to pull off the interstate and slither along some unplowed backcountry roads. I found some small towns, ate at some diners and discovered some bars that I wish I had time to visit. I don't think the all-seasons that come standard on the similarly equipped Platinum trim level would have allowed me the same freedom in these conditions.
I used Highway 212 to bridge the gap between South Dakota and Montana. It looked more direct and easier on fuel, but I wasn't prepared for how it would look. As dusk approached, the landscape that had been a bright crystalline shimmer suddenly became otherworldly. Sometimes the scenery runs together on a long trip. This stretch was distinctly unforgettable.
Driving through the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations, death was cheated and time was made. The headlights are commendable for their spread, and even though the high beams could be a little bit brighter, I never found myself unable to see, unlike in our old Jaguar XF on similarly desolate roads. The truck said was minus 6 degrees outside, and I believed it when I got out at one point to add 2.5 gallons of DEF. Dinner was in Billings, bed in Big Timber.
The light of day brought the shock of beauty that is Montana. It's rugged, serene, and I'm coming back for seconds someday. But I wouldn't mind a little salt on the pavement at this time of year. I'm guessing that since nearly everyone has 4WD/AWD and experience with these conditions, it'd simply be a waste of time to salt and plow everything, but I lost track of how many times I nearly broke myself walking to and from the truck. Also, every on/off-ramp was taken in 4WD High. I can't imagine life in these parts without switch-on-the-fly 4WD.
Idaho and Beyond
Idaho Falls was where I finally turned south. Having cleared nearly every chance for bad weather, I reflected on what I'd learned about the Titan's capabilities. With its long wheelbase, Pro-4X package and Cummins diesel, it had come to remind me of the Dodge Power Wagon. I trusted it. And when I was pushing subzero air for hours at a time, driving over compacted snow and flirting with icy shoulders, I trusted it with my life.
On a not-so-serious note, I understand that you can drift a Titan through a remote and icy rest-stop parking lot like a champ. 2WD + ESC off = winter hero mode.
I've got road-trip history in Idaho, so I took some time to retrace my steps. From the Jaglaska drive, I found Beef Trail Road. And in a nod to the Yugo drive, I went through Twin Falls before staying the night in Ely, Nevada. Idaho — The Nexus of Adventure. That should be on the license plate, not The Gem State. C'mon.
I just made it to the free continental breakfast in Ely, though I would later wish I hadn't. The descent from there marked the end of the snowy part of this journey. As the altitude dropped, water bottles crushed and bare ground faded in. Thankfully, the speed limits stayed high, but the limited range of the Titan and the remoteness of the region were giving me a bit of anxiety. So I stopped for diesel in Lund, Nevada.
I hate Lund, Nevada.
North of Lund (that needs to be a book title), there's a "service center." It's got an island of pumps, a motel and what appears to be a coffee shop. Nothing in the complex is branded, so I kept going, but after puttering through the speed trap that is the town center and finding no other services, I grudgingly turned around and went back.
There should be a sign above these pumps that reads: "WORLD'S SLOWEST PUMPS!" Because 18-and-something gallons later, over 30 minutes had passed. And then I had to drive back through Lund. Thanks, Lund.
Nevada and the Rest of It
In search of my sanity and a bit of fun, I detoured onto a muddy campground access road and promptly added about 90 pounds of dirt and muck to the Titan. In 4WD High, with the stability control still on, the Titan muscled its way through slop that recalled the regrettable oatmeal I'd had for breakfast. The stability control was just about right in this mess — it gave me enough wheelspin to have fun and only stepped in a few times.
Seriously, if you've got a truck, some time and some space ... make the most of it.
Hours later Las Vegas appeared, and as far as I was concerned, the adventure was done. Coming from three days of open highways and beautiful scenery into this glitter hole was depressing. Traffic, bad drivers and terrible architecture encroached from all sides. And L.A., the mecca of such things, was still four hours away. Did I already say depressing? It was depressing.
My last fill-up was just east of San Bernardino, California, on the fringe of L.A.'s inland sprawl. I lost the rural speed limits and about 5,000 feet of elevation on that tank, so it's no wonder I got the best range and fuel economy of the trip: 434.3 miles and 18.3 mpg.
Back in the city, the still-muddy Titan spent the night outside of my house. It was the truck's first night above freezing in nearly two weeks.
The thing looked like a monument to the open road in all its filthy yellow glory, but work rules (and mechanical sympathy) required that I clean it up. Forty minutes at a nearby pay-'n-spray and the Titan was ready to resume its urban routine of taking up two parking spots at strip malls.
But we all like conclusions, so here are some of mine.
This is a viable option if you're in the market for full-sizey truck. It's real. It's capable. I do wish it had a bigger fuel tank, and I think it's going to need one in order to find its place in the market. But the interior works, mostly. There's storage where you want it and room for you and your winter coat when you need it, which is something us LAliens don't get straightaway.
Nissan's got to get cracking on a next-gen multimedia interface, though. This one is too small and too old for a Versa Note, let alone a brand-new truck that costs about 3.5 Versa Notes. Oh yeah, and I had the audio system "overheat" on me just like Travis did. For 30 seconds it's a minor inconvenience, but it clearly shouldn't be happening at all.
As for the ride, I was pretty amazed by how well the Titan handled the highway. It's stiffly sprung, for sure, but I found this to be a nonissue for 90 percent of the drive. Add the fact that you can power through mud and snow with some abandon, not to mention tow and haul a lot of poundage, and it ends up feeling like a nice balance for such a versatile rig. Good job, Nissan.
I got to see some of the greatest scenery in the United States from behind King Banana's wheel. What has been seen cannot be unseen, et cetera. I also had the fortune to bond with another vehicle. For people like us, that matters. I need to do it again. Soon.
Road-Trip Fuel Log (L.A. to Detroit and back)
Total miles driven: 6,172
Fuel used: 388.6 gallons
Average mpg: 15.9
Best mpg: 18.3 (me)
Worst mpg: 13.5 (Travis)
Best range: 434.5 miles (me)
DEF used: approximately 7 gallons
Overall Fuel Log
Average lifetime mpg: 15.3 mpg
Best fill mpg: 18.7 mpg
Best range: 434.5 miles
Current odometer: 17,156 miles