The first-generation Nissan Titan was a bold, brash, revolutionary pickup. Back in 2003, it marched into Detroit’s stronghold with a monster 5.6-liter V8 engine — making a then-mighty 300 horsepower — and an aggressive, head-turning design. It was the first and last time Nissan set out to make a class-leading full-size pickup truck. Nearly two decades later, the current Titan hasn’t changed dramatically under the skin or under the hood.

These days, it’s Ram that’s making waves. In the famously brand-loyal segment, Ram started winning market share with the 2009 model’s unusually smooth ride. It continued its luxury focus by introducing an extra-posh interior in the current generation, which arrived as a 2019 model. Smooth, quiet, elegantly finished, and filled with advanced technology, the current Ram 1500 is a master of civility while still offering commendable capability. The 2020 model also marks the return of a capable yet fuel-efficient “EcoDiesel” engine.

But even if Nissan isn’t making headlines anymore, it never stopped making Titans. It introduced the second-generation Titan as a 2017 model, and it followed up with new features, upgraded infotainment, and some mechanical updates for 2020. We recently spent back-to-back weeks in the updated Titan and an EcoDiesel-equipped Ram 1500. Here’s what we learned about these two trucks.

EXTERIOR

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Big headlights, a big chrome grille, and bulging fenders make the 2020 Nissan Titan into a wholly conventional-looking full-size pickup. It doesn’t have divisive design cues like the Chevrolet Silverado’s pinched headlights, nor anything that will make anyone look twice. The 2020 updates include revised details to the headlights, grille, bumpers, and taillights, but nothing dramatic. Our test truck looked handsome in its $395 coat of Cardinal Red paint.

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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In a break from Ram tradition, the latest generation doesn’t try to be in-your-face aggressive. Rather than its signature bulging fenders that flowed into low headlights, the current Ram has its headlights up high on a vertically flat front end. The classic crosshair grille design is also a thing of the past. Our test truck includes a richly priced $3,995 Black Appearance Package that strips chrome from the grille, bumpers, mirrors, badges, and wheels. That black makes it look more sinister, but this is still a more cautious Ram than past models. Like the Titan, it steers clear of polarizing design cues.

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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The 2020 Titan is available in only two body styles: an extended cab with a 6-foot-7-inch bed or the tested crew cab with a 5-foot-7-inch bed. The related Titan XD — designed to split the difference between half-ton and three-quarter-ton pickups — comes only as a crew cab with a 6.5-foot bed. The Ram 1500 is offered as an extended cab with a 6-foot-4-inch bed, or a crew cab with either a 5-foot-7-inch bed or the 6-foot-4-inch bed. The Ram extended cab, which Ram calls a Quad Cab, includes four front-hinged doors; the Titan King Cab has the traditional extended-cab setup with rear doors that swing open to the rear.

Ram 1500 Nissan Titan
Wheelbase 140.5 139.8
Track, Front 68.5 67.9
Track, Rear 68.1 67.9
Overall Length 228.9 228.2
Overall Width 82.1 79.5
Overall Height 77.6 75.4

INTERIOR

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It’s the inside where the Ram steps away from the Titan and fellow competitors. Pickups have been selling at luxury-car prices for years, but only Ram has really gone whole-hog in providing luxury-car design, build quality, and amenities. A Titan or Ford F-150 has a nice interior for a truck. The Ram has a nice interior, period. Materials are gorgeous, there are acres of meticulously stitched leather, and nothing feels flimsy or rudimentary.

Our test truck included the available 12-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which turns the dashboard into a technological showpiece. It also works well, with quick responses and easy reconfiguration of the massive real estate. The 8.4-inch screen that’s standard on most models is also quite good, though, while also allowing a more conventionally attractive interior layout.

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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Inside, the Titan is no slouch, either. It just can’t match the class-leading Ram. The interior has few flourishes, but it’s attractive and contemporary. Dated-looking woodgrain trim is the main off note; we also found sharp-edged plastic under the center console and loose trim on the driver door pull. New infotainment systems arrived for 2020, and they elevate the entire dashboard. Instead of a small, dated-looking 7-inch screen looking lost in the middle of a dash, new 8- and 9-inch units look sharper and are better integrated. And all controls, infotainment and otherwise, are agreeably user-friendly. Overall, the upgraded Titan’s interior design now keeps up with the class norm — while the Ram’s exceeds it.

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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The Ram is also more comfortable than the Titan, as Nissan once again settles for an “acceptable” standard while the Ram goes above and beyond. The Nissan is comfortable and spacious, everything you expect in a big pickup. The Ram is more so, with better-shaped seats, better-configured cabin storage, and a roomier backseat. Ram also provides a true flat floor in the rear-seat area when you pivot up the seat cushion for cargo storage; in the Titan, you instead create your own flat surface by unfolding an elevated ledge atop the uneven floor.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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Much has been made of the Ram 1500’s stellar ride quality for a pickup. That’s already true of models with the standard rear coil springs, and it’s even more so on our top-of-the-line test truck with the available four-corner air suspension. This is a gentle, quiet truck. Its low-effort low-speed steering makes parking easy enough, and the truck avoids feeling too clumsy when it’s cornering. This is still a giant truck, but it’s not a difficult giant truck to drive.

The Nissan Titan also rides decently. It jiggles around a bit, but it absorbs bumps well. But while the latest Ram went on a diet, the Titan just keeps getting fatter. Nissan had to make its old bones meet new crash standards, and all that extra bracing sent the scales creaking. Our tested Titan weighed roughly 700 pounds more than our tested Ram and 900 pounds more than a comparable Chevrolet Silverado. That left the Titan feeling more ponderous to drive, though not disastrously so.

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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Under the hood, Ram isn’t packing as much firepower as the top-of-the-line engines from Chevy and Ford (at least until the 2021 TRX model borrows a stupid-fast supercharged 702-hp 6.2-liter V8 from Dodge’s fastest performance cars). But its available 5.7-liter Hemi V8, making 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque, delivers more thrust than the Nissan. The Titan’s only available engine has similar specs to the Hemi — it’s a 5.6-liter V8 with 400 hp and 413 lb-ft — but it’s burdened by all those extra pounds. There’s decent responsiveness, and this year’s new nine-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, but you won’t win a race in the Titan. The Ram also offers a base 3.6-liter V6 with 305 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, or you can upgrade the EcoDiesel like our test truck. This 3.0-liter V6 makes a healthy 260 hp and 480 lb-ft, and it has just enough diesel clatter to announce itself without being overbearing.

FUEL ECONOMY

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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The Titan gets 16 miles per gallon in the city, 22 mpg on the highway, and 18 mpg overall with rear-wheel-drive, and about one mpg less with four-wheel-drive — on pricey premium fuel. Fortunately, the 2019 Titan made nearly as much power on regular fuel, so we’re optimistic that this engine can handle regular if you can handle a little less horsepower. Our 4WD test truck averaged about 17.5 mpg at varied speeds but along mostly open roads.

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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The equivalent Ram engine, the 5.7-liter Hemi, achieves 17 city/23 highway/19 overall with its available eTorque mild-hybrid system in 2WD form, and one mpg less on the highway with 4WD. The Hemi without eTorque manages 15 city/22 highway/17 overall with 2WD and one mpg less on the highway with 4WD. The Hemi Ram uses mid-grade gasoline. Our 4WD EcoDiesel test vehicle scored ratings of 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway/24 mpg overall, while we saw 25.5 mpg in a mix of rural, highway, and suburban driving. The 2WD EcoDiesel is the mileage champ at 22 city/32 highway/26 overall — the sort of figures you’d more often see from a small crossover.

CAPABILITY

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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Weight isn’t just the enemy of acceleration and fuel economy. It’s also the enemy of towing and payload capabilities since the truck is already carrying around more weight before you start adding any cargo.

Such is the case with the 2020 Nissan Titan. It tows up to 9,370 pounds and can carry up to 1,680 pounds, which are respectable figures for a half-ton pickup — especially since Nissan doesn’t offer the stripped-down regular-cab models that most often win on the spec sheet. Our 4WD crew cab test vehicle still scored near the max limits: 9,210 lbs of towing and 1,630 lbs of payload. The related Titan XD model bumps those limits to 10,880 and 2,240 lbs.

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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Our EcoDiesel Ram beats the Nissan’s limits, but not by much: 9,550 lbs of towing capacity and 1,750 lbs of payload. The 4WD 5.7-liter crew cab, our test Titan’s closest competitor, tows 11,300 lbs — more than even the Titan XD — with the same 1,790-lb payload capacity. RWD extended-cab Rams can tow up to 11,620 lbs with the Hemi or carry a 2,100-lb payload with the base V6.

Ram also augments its functionality with clever cargo features that Nissan doesn’t offer. The optional RamBox system provides a lockable, waterproof, drainable storage bin in each outer wall of the bed. Combined, they total 8.6 cubic feet, bigger than some sports cars’ trunks. You can also get a multi-function tailgate that either folds down normally or splits 60-40 to swing to the sides, letting you access the bed without leaning across it. That doesn’t match the GMC Sierra’s seven-way MultiPro tailgate, but Nissan doesn’t offer any tricks at all.

PRICING AND VALUE

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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In recent years, the Nissan Titan was a budget option in its class, joining the Toyota Tundra in providing lower prices than the more up-to-date American trucks. But prices have crept up, partially offset by additional features. The base price is $36,190 for a 2WD King Cab in the base S trim level. But this isn’t a stripped-down base work truck. This year’s new standard features include an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration; a forward-collision warning; forward and reverse automatic braking; blind-spot monitoring with a rear cross-traffic alert; rear parking sensors; automatic high beams; a driver attention monitor; a lane-departure warning. You also get Bluetooth, a six-speaker sound system, and SiriusXM satellite radio. Its gray plastic grille, side mirrors, and door handles scream “base model,” but bargain-hunters could swap those out without much difficulty. Or just buy the SV model ($39,990), which upgrades exterior trim and the wheels while also adding adaptive cruise control.

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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Other trim levels are the off-road-focused Pro-4X ($47,450); the SL, like our test vehicle ($53,990 and up), which adds leather, heated front seats, a power-adjustable steering column, a surround-view parking camera, and power-folding mirrors; and the Platinum Reserve ($55,490 and up), which adds upgraded upholstery and cabin trim, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated rear seats. The crew cab configuration costs a little over $2,000 extra on the S, SV, and Pro-4X trims, and 4WD is about a $3,000 upcharge on all but the Pro-4X. Including the $1,490 panoramic moonroof (a newly available feature this year), a $490 tow package, a $395 paint job, and a mighty $1,595 destination charge, our tested SL 4WD crew cab came to $61,160.

Our Ram 1500 had an even more eye-popping price tag: $74,910. However, most of the price difference over the Titan comes from features the Nissan doesn’t offer: the diesel engine ($4,995), the Black Appearance Package ($3,995), and the multi-function tailgate and RamBox system ($995 each). Take that away, and this top-trim Ram 1500 Limited would sticker at $63,190. And at these prices, a $2,000 difference can vanish if one dealership is more motivated than the other to make a deal.

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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That said, the Titan does pick up an advantage among less-equipped trucks. That’s because of all the Nissan’s standard safety and infotainment technology, plus its standard V8 engine, which all cost extra on many Ram models. Even the top Limited charges extra for the Titan’s safety gear. That said, the base Ram Tradesman starts at just $32,145, significantly undercutting the base Titan S. If price is paramount, we recommend picking the Ram you want and then finding the comparable Nissan; that’s because the Titan has fewer options on each trim level, while each Ram 1500 model can cover a wide range of prices and equipment levels. This way, you can see which truck is the better deal at whatever price you’re looking at.

OVERALL

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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When we first decided to compare the 2020 Nissan Titan and 2020 Ram 1500 back to back, we were optimistic we’d have a more interesting conclusion: that although the Ram is a fantastic truck, the Titan’s updates make it an unexpectedly appealing alternative. If the Titan still costs thousands of dollars less than its competitors, it would be a bulwark against rising prices in the full-size pickup segment — perfect for buyers who don’t need the world’s prettiest interior or highest tow ratings. And its new safety, luxury, and infotainment features would make it more appealing than ever.

Instead, crunching the numbers reveals the Titan to be a decent truck that’s priced like a great one. As one of the oldest trucks in a hotly competitive class, it’s not too surprising that the Titan doesn’t dominate its segment. While it’s cushier, quieter, and more up-to-date than the similarly geriatric Toyota Tundra, that’s not enough of a selling point to challenge the Ram when it costs just as much.

2020 Ram 1500 vs. 2020 Nissan Titan
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By contrast, the Ram 1500 continues to be a remarkable truck — combining top-level comfort and luxury, competitive capability, and reasonable prices. The diesel delivers on its promise of remarkable fuel efficiency, as do competing Ford and Chevy pickups (but not the Titan, which no longer offers a diesel). When you’re looking for a truck that coddles without forgetting how to work hard, the Ram remains the class standard, even if the F-150 and Silverado offer more potent engines.

And when you’re looking for a decent truck for less money than a fantastic one, we can recommend the Chevrolet Silverado and the Ram 1500 Classic — the latter being the 2009-era previous-generation Ram that’s still in production today. Or you can save even more money and buy the 2007-era Toyota Tundra, which feels cruder and gets poor gas mileage but which delivers more up-to-date safety technology.

Brady Holt
About the author

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