2016 Nissan Titan XD: L.A. to Detroit
by Travis Langness, Automotive Editor on January 26, 2017
Every year, we send a team to cover the Detroit Auto Show, but instead of sending everyone out on a plane, we've cultivated an annual tradition of sending at least one editor behind the wheel of a long-term test car. Driving from Los Angeles to Detroit is certainly less practical, it takes up quite a bit of time, and it requires navigating around weather for several days in both directions, but we absolutely love it (or at least I do).
The basic structure is that one editor drives to Detroit and then, after the show, flies home. Another editor flies there, picks up the car and drives it back to L.A. Routes and stops vary, but the idea is the same: Get the car out of California where the weather is good and the going is easy. Put it to the test with freezing temperatures and see what it's like on the open highway for a few weeks.
The first step to the trip was to find a couple volunteers. Photo Editor Kurt Niebuhr and I raised our hands first, so we got the nod. The second step was picking a long-term car from the fleet that could survive the journey. And this year we went with King Banana, our long-term 2016 Nissan Titan XD.
On the city streets of Los Angeles, this bigger-than-full-size truck hasn't made much sense during our test so far. It's hard to live with in the city because of its sheer size, so the open road meant it had a chance for redemption. Plus, four-wheel drive and all-season tires meant it was less likely to get stranded somewhere in the Snowbelt. All of this made it the clear choice for the trip, and heated seats were just icing on the cake.
Picking the Route
Being responsible for the first leg of the journey, I wanted to avoid the flat, boring stretches of road that make up most of Interstate 40. What's more, 10-hour driving days seem even longer when you're only using straight two-lane freeways. To make things interesting, I planned my route along Interstate 70 most of the way. That lead me through Bryce Canyon in Utah, Denver, Kansas City and Indianapolis until I diverted even farther east to see Niagara Falls, then finally I doubled back to Detroit through Canada.
Comfy Seats, Bumpy Ride
One of the first things I noted while driving the Titan on the open road was how hyper-comfortable the seats were. I didn't have to shuffle or adjust for comfort for nearly a week behind the wheel. Ride comfort, however, was a different story. The stiff, off-road suspension is not forgiving on the open highway, regardless of road quality. Only the smoothest surfaces meant a smooth ride. Everywhere else, the slightest bumps made their way into the cabin.
Blowing Out the Stereo
Once I got used to the ride quality of the truck, it was time to test out the stereo by playing music at full volume. I didn't intend it to be a test-to-failure of the Rockford Fosgate system. I just wanted my music to be loud enough to drown out my singing voice, and a Bluetooth or USB connection usually means you have to max out a car's volume. As a result, the stereo quit on me at least four times. After about 30 minutes of max-volume performance, sound cut out entirely.
When it first happened, I was confused, left singing to an empty cabin. I wondered if my phone had stopped working or if I had accidently hit some sort of mute button while drumming on the dashboard. I switched sources, looking for sound on FM, XM and even via the CD player. Nothing happened.
Then, the same thing happened while I was listening to satellite radio and again when my phone was connected via USB. Pretty much every time I listened to music at full volume for extended periods of time, all sound eventually cut out. My best guess is that one of the sound system components overheated, and to avoid blowing, it shut down. Each time the sound cut out, a minute or two later it would come back and full volume was readily available.
One other small tech annoyance was the haywire parking-sensor system. When covered in snow or ice, the parking cameras and sensors freak out a bit. They beep and chime at you as if you're about to hit an obstacle and they have to be turned off every time you start the truck. When they're clean, though, the parking cameras do an excellent job of giving you a 360-degree bird's-eye view around this massive truck. It's certainly a must-have option if you plan on parking it anywhere crowded.
Cold Truck, Warm Truck
On the flip side, the heated seats, heated steering wheel and remote start all worked flawlessly. In temps as low as 4 degrees, it was practically a necessity to have these extra features and they all worked quickly. The remote start cuts out after 10 minutes of operation, but you can start the truck a second time if that's not enough time to get things warm (I did this pretty much every day).
The tire-pressure monitoring system also did a good job of warning me when tire pressure got too low. When the temperature dropped from 65 degrees in Los Angeles to 15 degrees in Denver, the tire pressures dropped as well. Per the recommendation on the doorjamb, the tires were filled to 61 psi (cold) before I left L.A. and they had all dropped by at least 20 psi in the first 48 hours of the trip. I filled them up to 61 psi (cold) before I left Denver and that pressure held all the way to Detroit.
Since there aren't official EPA estimates for the Titan, it's hard to say whether the fuel economy we're getting is any good or not. What I do know is that the Titan's lifetime average after my leg of the trip was 15.1 miles per gallon. On my almost-all-highway, 3,100-mile journey, I got 16.2 mpg.
Fun fact: That's less efficient than our long-term 2014 Ram 1500 while towing 5,000 pounds for 5,000 miles. Sure, the Titan XD can tow about 5,000 pounds more than the Ram EcoDiesel and technically the Titan doesn't have to meet any of the same EPA standards, but if you aren't getting close to the XD's theoretical towing limit, then you should stick to the 1500 series trucks. (As a side note, I realize the Ram-Titan XD comparison is a bit of a moot point until Ram gets its diesel EPA issues worked out, but in my book, that's still a point against the Titan XD.)
From Los Angeles to Detroit, I filled the tank on the Titan XD 10 times. I set a new best range, making it 421 miles between fill-ups, but that definitely wasn't typical. It took low speed limits, lots of flat open highway and zero crosswind. Most tanks were in the 300-plus-mile range and fill-ups took about 20 gallons of diesel. This thing definitely needs a bigger tank.
Here are the fuel economy numbers for the first leg of the trip from L.A. to Detroit and the lifetime fuel economy of the Titan including the road trip. Expect these numbers to change a bit once Kurt adds his return trip to the books.
L.A. to Detroit
Average mpg: 16.2 mpg
Best fill mpg: 17.8 mpg
Best range: 421.1 miles
Average lifetime mpg: 15.1 mpg
Best fill mpg: 18.7 mpg
Best range: 421.1 miles
Current odometer: 14,100 miles
The bed box is a useful option. I'd definitely get it if I owned this truck. We had a tow hitch, lots of water bottles and all sorts of extra items stowed back there, locked up and away from the elements. It's also a great place for trash, ice scrapers and whatever else you need along the way.
All said, I put in about 3,100 miles in the Titan XD by the end of the trip. Going over the Vail Pass in Colorado, driving out of snow-covered Kansas City and navigating the pitch-black highways south of Erie, Pennsylvania, all felt like monumental tasks, but the Titan made it through just fine.
Going from two- to four-wheel drive took a simple flip of a switch and it got me out of several slippery scenarios. The infotainment controls were easy to use, visibility was great and the bright-yellow paint made it easy to spot in a parking lot. After it was all said and done, though, I was happy to settle down in a hotel and hand the keys off to Kurt.
Much like my trip last year in our long-term Jeep Renegade, I wasn't in love with the Titan when I got out of it. Sure, it's better on the open road than it is in the city. It feels right at home in the center of this big country alongside all its pickup-truck brethren, but I never felt quite at home in the cabin. Maybe Kurt will feel differently.
Tune in for all the info from Kurt's return journey, including how he got the truck even dirtier and how he beat pretty much all of my records.
Travis Langness, Automotive Editor @ 14,100 miles