Although Japanese vehicles are among the bestsellers in almost every market segment, there’s one that the nation’s automakers have utterly failed to crack: the full-size pickup truck. There, Ford’s F Series, General Motors’ Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, and Chrysler’s Ram remain dominant on the sales charts.
Toyota, Nissan and Honda all have pickup trucks — they just haven’t resonated with buyers the same way. Toyota has had the most luck, which is ironic given that its Tundra hasn’t received a major redesign in more than a decade. The newly-overhauled Nissan Titan and Honda Ridgeline sell at a fraction of the Tundra’s pace, and the Tundra itself significantly trails pickups from the American “Big Three” automakers.
Are the current sales figures of big pickups the result of buyers’ reluctance to stray from familiar brands? Or are the Japanese trucks just not as good as their American counterparts?
Based on recent tests of the Tundra and Titan, they’re suffering from a mix of the two. And a Ridgeline tested last year was an appealing vehicle that simply plays in a relatively small niche.
On paper, today’s Titan and Tundra are pretty similar to their domestic counterparts. Heavy-duty body-on-frame architecture and powerful V8 engines support payload capacities exceeding 1,500 pounds and the ability to tow a trailer weighing more than 9,000 pounds. Meanwhile, luxury models offer outstanding passenger space and posh cabin finishes.
But both models show their age in various ways. The 2018 Tundra, for example, still uses the same 5.7-liter V8 engine and six-speed automatic transmission as the 2007 model — leaving it with worst-in-class fuel economy ratings of 15 miles per gallon in mixed driving. It’s left behind by competitors that have implemented fuel-saving turbochargers, more advanced transmissions and other advances.
And the Titan suffers most from excess mass. Nissan redesigned the Titan for 2017 by reinforcing the old 2004-era truck, driving the weight up to nearly 6,000 pounds as tested. While Nissan was able to eke out a respectable 18 mpg in EPA testing, the mass dulls the Titan’s acceleration and keeps its towing capacity behind most competitors’. Matters are worse still in the Titan XD model, which tries to bridge the gap between half-ton and three-quarter-ton pickup trucks — but which is held back by an even worse weight problem.
Buyers unaccustomed to today’s full-size pickups might recoil from the sticker prices of the tested high-trim Titan Platinum Reserve and Tundra 1794 — both of which exceeded $50,000. But equip the Nissan and Toyota comparably to the domestic competition, and they do actually pull off a slight price advantage.
Of the two, the Nissan receives the bigger discounts according to pricing site Truecar.com, making it one of the leading values in the full-size pickup segment. And Toyota added a suite of safety features — including automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping steering — as standard equipment for the 2018 model, features that are pricey options or downright unavailable on the competition.
However, you’ll likely find more advanced infotainment systems; superior ride and handling; and more clever features on one of the American trucks. They’re also sold in a wider range of body styles and options; even if you like the Tundra or Titan, it may not be available in the specific configuration you’d prefer.
Overall, these models are definitely worth considering — but you also haven’t done yourself a terrible disservice if you stuck with your longtime favorite brand.
To cycle briefly back to Honda’s entry in the pickup market: The Ridgeline, last redesigned for 2017, is the only car-based pickup on the market. It’s a variant of the Honda Pilot crossover and Odyssey minivan, though with stronger components to boost its capabilities. It can never rival a traditional full-size pickup for towing capacity or off-road capability, but it boasts a spacious and comfortable interior; pleasant driving dynamics; respectable gas mileage; and lower prices.
It’s sold only as a crew cab with a V6 engine, and its maximum towing capability is 5,000 pounds instead of around 10,000. Plus, it lacks the aggressive rumble and in-your-face style of a brawny truck. But it’s the friendlier option for everyday use without being totally useless for work tasks. If you use your truck mostly like a car, the Honda Ridgeline may suit you perfectly.