The Traditional U.S. pickup truck — made by Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge — succeeded on tradition alone for a half century. A rugged chassis, powerful engine, simple cab and a bed — what else would you want or need?

Then four years ago, along came Nissan with the Titan — the first Japanese-named but U.S.-built full-sized pickup truck. Suddenly a whole new world of desired pickup truck features appeared. Consider the Titan's innovations:

  • The rear-hinged doors on the King Cab (extended cab) model open to 85°. And because of their four-axis hinge arrangement, they swing beyond it to open 168°, almost flat against the body, for easy access to the inside.

  • The bed is fully lined with a factory-installed spray-on bed liner. Smooth and thorough, it is a step above and beyond aftermarket applications and is covered by the factory warranty.

  • Slots run along both inside walls of the bed, and along the back of the cab, forming the Utili-track system. It is combined with two more channels in the floor of the bed to assure that tie-down anchors are always located exactly where the driver wants or needs them. The sliding cleats, with a proven 200-lb. capacity, can be locked in place or completely removed.

  • A small and lockable storage compartment is carved into the lower driver's side of the bed, right near the cab.

  • In both the Crew Cab and the King Cab, the rear seat has storage space underneath, and the seat cushion folds up against the backrest, for storing and hauling large items.

  • The rear seat back in the Crew Cab reclines 24°, creating a comfortable ride for passengers.

  • Open the tailgate and let it go, and it drops slo-oow-ly, completely damped for a soft-touch drop rather than a thunk.

After pickup drivers use these features, they become the kind of amenities they want, and even demand. The question is, after U.S. automakers had been building pickup trucks for 50 years, why did it take a Japanese company, making its first full-sized pickup, to create all of these innovations?

It always makes sense for a manufacturer to adopt impressive features from competitors. But rarely has the adoption of Titan's innovations been so quick and blatant. The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra twins shamelessly adopted the wide-opening rear doors on their extended cab models, the slots for tie-down anchors in the bed, and the fold-up rear seat cushions. Toyota also adopted the sliding bed tie-down system for both its Tacoma mid-size pickup and its new Tundra and added the expanded rear-seat storage concepts and the soft-damped tailgate.

Models for 2008

Nissan has expanded the Titan model line for 2008, with the Pro-4X high-performance sport model joining the base XE, upgraded SE, and top-of-the-line LE. Titans have two body styles: the extended King Cab and the full-four-door Crew Cab, each of which come with two different bed lengths. The King Cab models offer 6-ft. 6-in. or 8-ft. bed lengths, and the Crew Cab comes with a 5-ft. 6-in. or 7-ft. length. Also new for 2008, Titan now comes in a long-wheelbase model, which has a 37-gal. fuel tank. All the models benefit from enlarged four-wheel disc brakes, bolstered by electronic brake distribution and a Bosch antilock system.

The new Pro-4X has Rancho shock absorbers with a lower final-gear ratio — 3.357:1 — for better low-end takeoff, plus two additional skid plates underneath to protect the transfer case and the lower radiator, and an electronic locking rear differential.

The Titan cab has a sporty and distinctive flair, and the truck's grille looks both classy and macho.

Under the hood

Standard equipment is a 5.6-liter V8, with dual-overhead camshafts, producing 317 hp and 385 ft.-lbs. of torque.

The beefed-up automatic transmission has wide gear spacing for maximum flexibility of the high-revving power through its five gears. The new Titan has shift-on-the-fly capability for changing highway modes from 2-wd to 4-wd high speed. For rugged off-road duty, the shifter can lock the transmission into 4-wd low-speed range.

Equipped with the towing package, the Titan will tow 9,500 lbs. and haul 1,100 lbs.

Crash-test improvements come from the expanded use of air bags over the fully boxed chassis made of high-strength steel. And the double-wishbone front suspension and dual-rate leaf springs at the rear add to the sporty handling. The XE, SE and Pro-4X models all have standard 18-in. alloy wheels, while 20-in. aluminum-alloy wheels are standard on the luxury LE models.

Inside the cab

The Titan has an efficient but stylish layout inside. New touches include a new seat design, with either a full front bench seat — heated, and in leather — for six-person capability, or front buckets with the rear bench, which has a 60/40 fold-up feature.

The center control stack has been revised, and the Titan now has Bluetooth capability for hands-free cell phone use. It also has XM satellite radio and an available Rockford Fosgate audio upgrade.

Bucket seat models have a front console with dividers that can accommodate a hanging-file system. The front passenger seat folds flat to create a desk.

Maybe buyers never demanded all these amenities, but because of the Nissan Titan, they have become the norm for the well-equipped contemporary pickup.