In the March '04 issue we named the '04 Nissan Titan as our Sport Truck of the Year. Part of that honor involves a long-term build of the best new platform in the sport truck market. So, in this article, we're introducing you to our Sport Truck of the Year project truck: an '04 Nissan Titan crew cab.

In our Sport Truck of the Year competition, we put all the new trucks in the '04 model year through a series of rigorous performance tests and hours of hard driving to discover the truck with the best handling, braking, and acceleration. We don't give a lot of weight in the scoring to ergonomics and conveniences, so we don't tend to talk about them much in our Sport Truck of the Year reviews. We're more interested in the raw performance of the truck, and the '04 Nissan was the best of the bunch.

We know that the dynamic performance of a truck doesn't tell the whole story of a new pickup, which is why we're completing the picture of Nissan's newest in this introduction. We'll review the truck's seat comfort, materials choice, HVAC system, mobile entertainment system, use of interior space, and other design choices that provide much of the enjoyment of owning a truck.

The Titan offers more to the performance-oriented sport truck buyer than power, even though that's the truck's strong suit. The Nissan Endurance 5.6L V-8 engine's 305 hp and 379 lb-ft of torque and the Titan's maximum towing capacity of 9,400 pounds with the optional towing package puts it right at the top of the best domestic light trucks. This highly refined engine backed with an electronically controlled five-speed Torq-King automatic is one of the best gasoline-fueled light truck power teams on the market. Add the tow/haul mode and a 28-gallon fuel tank, and you've got the performance and capability that made it our choice for Sport Truck of The Year.

INSIDE INFORMATION
The spacious and accommodating interior is one of the Titan's traits that we really appreciated but didn't have the space to expand on in the Sport Truck of the Year coverage. Our project truck is the five-passenger with center console layout, but you can get one that'll seat six with the optional front bench. Ours had the power-adjustable front seats with the driver's seat memory system and the heated seats -- great on cold winter mornings -- and the power-adjustable foot pedals with memory and transmission interlock. And with either five- or six-passenger configuration, you'll be plenty comfortable with its 126 cubic feet of interior space, including 41.8 inches of front and 40.4 inches of rear legroom.

The Titan's creative use of space and clever storage options are just about the best of any pickup we've driven. For example, our Titan crew cab features a front passenger seat that folds flat to allow extra storage, or to function as a working area if needed. The rear seat features 24 degrees of seatback angle with a 60/40 split. The seat's fold-up feature provides more usable space than fold-and-tumble designs, increasing the rear compartment's generous and efficient storage, including door storage bins and rear-door bottle holders in the armrests.

The center console is like a Swiss Army knife. It can hold just about any beverage container, including 1-liter bottles, and has a 12-volt power point ready to power cell phones or other portable electronics. The console's storage box can also accommodate hanging file folders, a cool feature for road warriors. It also has holders for maps, paper, pens, and business cards on the console lid.

All the above is cool, but the highlight of the interior for us is the rear-seat DVD mobile theater system with fold-down 7-inch monitor and 350-watt 10-speaker Rockford Fosgate-powered sound system. In addition, we like the fact that the console holds the rear audio controls and also contains storage bins for both front and rear passengers for personal items such as sunglasses, CDs, cell phone, PDA, or iPod.

BOX TALK

The smart design of storage and utility found in the passenger compartment is also present in the cargo bed. Firstly, it features a special factory-applied spray-in bedliner that uses a special high-durability hard-surface resin; it's the first offered by any original equipment manufacturer and is covered by the Nissan basic limited warranty. It seems to be working out OK so far, but after this weekend's furniture-moving foray, we'll let you know if this thin spray-on 'liner has the goods to stand up to the abuse.

The second part of the bed utility solution was the use of what Nissan calls its Utili-track tie-down channel system. This system uses five C-channel rails; two channels in the bed floor and one each on the bedside rails and the bed header panel. Removable utility cleats slide into the channels, providing a wide range of attaching points for cargo tie-down. The cleats are rated at a hefty 500 pounds, so the Utili-track system also includes 22 additional structural reinforcements to strengthen the bed to accommodate the loads associated with the channel system.

PROJECT DIRECTION

The toughest part of modifying our project Titan is making sure we improve and not detract from the appearance and performance. Appearance-wise, the changes are a little easier, but performance-wise, it's such a strong package from the factory that we're going to have to be extremely cautious with our approach. The products are starting to come on line for the truck; Gibson and several others have after-cat systems and Jim Wolf Technology is developing cams and other performance components. We may even supercharge our Titan. If we do, we're sure to reinforce the drivetrain. We don't know where the weak links are at the moment, but a boosted 5.6L Endurance V-8 would find 'em quick.

Our first mods will focus on the suspension. At this writing, we're getting ready for a body lift and then out to CST for a 7-inch suspension lift. Rolling stock will consist of BFGs and Boyd Coddingtons; size is still to be determined, but they'll be big.

From a functional point of view, it's hard to improve on the interior space and the cargo bed design. But the interior presents several styling opportunities. We'll explore and discuss those in more detail as the project evolves. But certainly bringing some more color and different textures into the interior is going to be our basic approach.

That same strategy is how we'll approach the exterior. We're working with Jason Rushforth Performance Design on the graphic treatment and color choices. We don't know what they'll be yet, but they're going to be right for this body style. Stay with us as we build one of the most exciting new trucks on the market: the Nissan Titan.

ESSENTIAL ACCESSORIES

Most of the mods to our project Titan are going to be hardware-oriented. But we found a couple of trick new accessories from Seattle Sports that fit right into the action-hero image and capability of our project.

The Titan's a pretty tall truck, even the 2WD version we're starting with, and since we're lifting the beast, we found the Seattle Sports heavy-duty Elevator Step with heavy-gauge steel mesh a great solution to window and engine bay access. This heavy-duty steel step folds easily for storage and attaches quickly to the backside of the wheel. It's available in black only and weighs about 11 pounds.

At this point in the design process, the staff is arguing over whether to install a tonneau or not. The Seattle Sports Sherpak Truck Box is a great solution until we make a decision on the tonneau. The Sherpak Truck Box is a weatherproof gearbox that uses a rigid but collapsible internal aluminum frame to make an easy-to-use, easy-to-store cargo box for pickups. It's constructed from two layers of 19-ounce vinyl with sealed seams and heavy-duty #10 self-repairing nylon coil zippers. It comes with four anchor points, allowing the unit to also be used as a hitch rack storage box, so even if we install the tonneau and need extra storage, we've got. It comes in black only. For more information, check out the company's Web site at seattlesports.com.

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