MONTEREY, California– Pickup trucks have long lifetimes – one reason they’re cash-cows in Detroit – and the original Nissan Titan’s 13-year run eclipsed all others this century. So this 2017 is an all-new truck beyond badges, but is it enough to take on the big boys?

Three-box layouts may have departed sedan styling, but it’s still the only way to make a pickup truck, so designers’ hands tend to focus on the ends. To that end the Titan meets the two basic requirements—it looks big and strong with plenty of area for chrome, and it looks like a Nissan.

Most externals, including the headlights, middle-box cab, 6.5-foot bed and tailgate panels are shared with Titan XD, but this half-ton Titan gets its own grille, hood and bumpers since the hood is about 40 mm lower and the roof 70 mm lower. Mirrors are smaller too, though towing mirrors are on offer, and chrome on the back looks a match for high-grade F-150, Ram—or an Escalade.

Nissan mentioned grille shutters, a tow hook cover, cab-to-bed seals, underfloor covers, and spoilers for the tailgate and roof (except regular cab) contributing to better highway consumption, but the windshield rake and leading edge of the roof look to do their part as well.

Look at a Titan in profile compared to any other full-size, especially next to a Ram or F-150, and you’ll notice the top edge of the front door has no horizontal flat surface. This is amplified on the regular cab where the passenger cell looks almost wedge-like, as does the relatively low top of the windshield: on a regular cab it appeared the windshield stopped at the top of the headrests.

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All the hardware like the Utili-track cargo retention system and 120-VAC outlet of the XD is offered here, and the (standard on many) spray-in liner appeared sufficiently stout. Our photo truck had an accessory step because step bumpers these days, even on half-tons, are about three steps off the ground.

Higher trims come with LED low-beam headlamps with vertical angle adjustment from the dash, a welcome feature if, like me, you prefer not to dazzle oncoming traffic with a load on board, nor pop the hood to manually adjust them every time that load factor changes. Alas, the main beams are standard halogen, and when engaged might not offer the extra illumination anticipated.

Apart from a few minutes in Pro-4X off the pavement, we luxuriated in Platinum Reserves, certainly plush Cowboy Cadillacs for down in the mall parking lot. Comfortable seats (front and back) surrounded by horizontally striated wood trim, square-quilted leather, contrast stitching, embossed armrest and dollops of chrome made us want for naught.

With a model-count perhaps half of what some Detroit pickups offer, one could argue it’s not as fancy as a Platinum F-150, Denali Sierra or Ram Longhorn.

Since pickups are designed to carry things, there’s plenty of indoor storage with open bins on the top and sides of the console (no shifter here); beneath the armrest; in the doors; and more stowage in the smart seatback pockets of two different depths.

The split rear seats fold backrest-down or flip cushion-up, and the space below has covers that stay open while you load. Really the only thing I miss is a center headrest for the rear seat because in a crew cab pickup that position has more adult room than virtually any other four-wheeled ride.

Only the most basic will come with standard gauges; all others get the backlit-style, crisper and easier to view, day or night. The usual suspects are analog –speed, revs, fuel, coolant – with others available on the central color screen, which is not as large as some.

The (power at this level) tilt and telescoping wheel has wipe/wash function on the left stalk and shifter on the right, with a big thumb rocker to manually select forward gears; since it’s essentially electronic you can rest your palm on it with no worries and toggle away, no need to first move the whole lever to another position (some observers said they’d rather have paddles, but as a clutch driver I’m OK with using just one hand to shift).

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Expect every Titan to come with at least one USB port, hands-free text message assistant, and Nissan Connect with mobile apps, while some will have navigation, blind-spot mirrors and all-around cameras.

The latter proved most handy on the trail because if the park sensors detect an obstacle the camera nearest comes on, so you can see what’s ahead of the right front tire without having to get out and look. A simple camera button lets you toggle through without using the touchscreen the image is displayed on.

Light check lets one person check trailer lights from behind, and where not standard, an integrated trailer brake controller is optional. Forward collision warning and mitigation braking weren’t mentioned but the dashboard design leads me to believe those, and perhaps a head-up display, were baked in from day one and will join the features list in the future.

All the trucks sampled were Pro-4X and Platinum models so they all had Bilstein shocks, and the Pro-4X may well ride best since it has 18-inch wheels and more tires sidewall than the Platinum’s 20s: the Pro-4X ride was in its trail element only, and there were no trailers or bed loads to see what effect it would have on ride and handling.

Since XD has the same cabin, you’re inclined to compare the ride with that. It’s obviously better if for no other reason than about 40-percent lower air pressure, considerably less mass, and less capacity. Compared to half-tons it’s not as soft as a Ram (air or steel sprung) or most F-150s, more like the firmness level of a GM or Tundra—and those typically carry more weight.

It’s far quieter than the old Titan with none of the occasional exhaust drone, though you’d need back-to-back drives to find if any noise that does break the silence is better than competitors. As with others, the regular cab does not include trick body mounts and likely won’t deliver the same level of cab refinement.

Titan handles like any pickup—understeer is predominant when push comes to shove, with the front antiroll bar nearly twice the thickness of the rear. Hydraulic-assist rack-and-pinion steering has decent feel, takes reasonable effort, and required little attention for directional stability on long, straight roads.

Curiously, how tight it turns was defined as a wall-to-wall measure of 14.6 metres, where most cite a curb-to-curb distance, but despite its short wheelbase relative most-similar models, Titan appears to split the difference between best and worst. And if you need to make a U-turn in a tight alley, now you know it needs to be 14.7 m wide, and you must be very good at spatial recognition.

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Brakes reliably stopped the empty trucks and the ABS noise keeps you aware, not screaming “what was that?” Pro-4X’s hill descent control isn’t any quieter, but you’ll need it only in extremes, given the crawl ratio approaching 40:1 and the relatively good engine braking.

That engine is still 5.6 litres, but it’s the newest version shared with the XD, Armada and, using premium fuel, the Infiniti QX80. With direct injection and variable valve systems that double as throttles, it generates 390 horsepower at 5,800 revs and 394 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.

Truckers will note that’s a big gain on horsepower and just a smidge more torque than the old one, at higher revs, but at virtually any engine speed this new one makes more power than the old one. And it’s a refined application.

Combine the new engine with a seven-speed automatic (two more gears than before) and the aero improvements and Nissan’s looking at a consumption improvement in the 24- to 28-percent range.

On entry our Platinum 4WD displayed a (sub-1,000-km) lifetime of 16.6 L/100 km, a figure likely skewed by lots of cold starts, short moves and idling; for a drive almost equal parts winding two-lane, mountain climbing and long traffic queues, it showed 14 L/100km.

Apart from lively throttle tip-in, it feels tuned for economy, not ready to give a lower gear until it’s really needed, and not just desired. There’s no sport mode, though tow/haul gets you partway there, and you can select any forward gear by rocker switch. It also rev-matches downshifts in tow/haul or manual modes.

Only introductory weight figures have been disseminated; the base weight is 2,500 to 2,600 kg, with maximum payload about 725 kg and maximum trailer around 4,270 kg.

There’s every reason to believe the weight increase from base to Platinum trim parallels the XD, in the 215 to 225 kg range, which means a fancy Titan will likely be rated out with its maximum trailer and driver-only on board, that given a balanced trailer with ten percent on the tongue.

Titan’s payload and towing ability should be more than adequate for most half-ton needs—the integrated trailer brake controller is not available on low trims and a standard 200-amp alternator will have no trouble powering three axles of brakes, but most GM and higher-rated F-150s exceed load and towing range.

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A Titan runs from $44,650 (Crew Cab S 2WD) to Platinum Reserve’s $65,800 and carries a new five-year/160,000-km bumper-to-bumper warranty, showing confidence it won’t break.

For comparison, today’s ranges for V8-powered Crew Cab short-bed lowest trim 2WD to highest 4WD (with no options) are: Chevrolet $37,300 to $61,000; Ford $41,700 to $61,700; Ram $40,100 to $66,500; and Tundra $43,000 to $57,000. Incentives are greater than many options so it’ll take only a week or so for you to compare specifics.

The new Titan makes Nissan’s full-size a legitimate contender (presumably) without any disclaimers like “for the price.” They might not have the niche models like Power Wagon, Raptor and TRD Pro, nor as many sub-menus as the primary triumvirate, but if you’re shopping pickup rather than luxury car or trail buggy, the range, and truck, should be more than satisfactory.

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Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.