Nissan Armada — Becoming competitive

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The first generation Nissan Armada soldiered on for 12 years, limping into its final model year in 2015 with rumors that it would be terminated. But Nissan had other plans, perhaps driven by the resurgent SUV market including the big truck end of the spectrum. It now looks like a brilliant idea — revive the Armada in the image of its popular Infiniti QX80 cousin.

We discovered after a week behind the wheel that the new 2017 Armada is a virtual clone of the higher-priced Infiniti and that is a very good thing. The Armada seems to be everything the big body-on-frame buyer wants and needs including a massive V-8 engine, stellar towing capacity, room for a large family, and most of the luxury and safety technology available in the current Nissan parts bin.

The Armada's underpinnings include a fully boxed all-steel frame with rails 1.5 inches thicker than the outgoing Armada. Maintaining its full 8-passenger utility, overall length is now 1.2 inches longer on a slightly shorter — by 2.1-inches — wheelbase. The new Armada is also 0.6-inch wider and 2.2-inches lower in height.

Towing is something many owners will do at least occasionally pulling a travel trailer or a boat to the coast. For that reason we should point out that a Class 2 hitch and trailer wiring connection is standard equipment across the line. And the 8,500-pound tow rating is applicable to both 2WD and 4WD models.

Not only does the Armada share its silhouette with the QX80, it also benefits from a lot of the same hardware including a 5.6-liter direct injection V-8 that makes 390 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque while — get this — burning regular fuel. That's definitely better than the QX80, which — although making slightly more horsepower (400) and 19 more pound feet of torque — requires premium fuel, about a 50-cents-a-gallon difference. Be forewarned that gas millage is among the worst regardless of segment, measured at 13 mpg city, 18-highway and 15 -overall.

To provide high performance and crisp response the engine combines hydraulic-controlled variable valve timing and electronically controlled variable valve lift on the intake and exhaust sides. Not only is it energetic for a big, heavy SUV, but it is remarkably quiet inside even at advanced highway speeds. The engine delivers smooth power from the outset and the seven-speed automatic provided well-timed shifts. And it handles well, a pleasure to drive with good on-center feel.

There's a sensation behind the wheel of a big, heavy truck when it surges off the line in the time it takes to go from one song to the next on Sixties on Six until you are flying at dangerous speeds. A national publication clocked the big 4,963-pound brute at 5.9 seconds from 0-to-60 and at 96 mph in 14.6 seconds in the quarter mile. And we believe the numbers.

The dashboard layout is attractive looking much like the standard Infiniti layout with a lot of buttons, and knobs for radio volume and tuning. Material quality is first-class and the overall interior ambiance is as luxurious as its Infiniti QX80 sibling. The front seats are comfortable, but the standard six-way power driver's seat lags behind the competition.  Legroom is abundant for second-row passengers and the seats are heated in the top trim level. The third row offers decent legroom but the cushions are mounted too low to the floor to offer comfort for adult passengers. Cargo space is good measured at 16.5 cubic feet behind the third row, 49.9 cubic feet behind the second row and 95.4 cubic feet with all seats folded.

Nissan has made safety a big selling point for the Armada. The top trim level comes with what Nissan calls the Safety Shield package. It includes forward collision warning, intelligent cruise control, distance control assist, forward emergency braking, lane departure prevention, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, and Nissan's well-regarded rearview monitor and around-view monitor (extremely helpful while backing). There is also a feature we find intriguing — Blind Spot Intervention. It alerts the driver of potential lane drift and detects vehicles approaching the blind spot area.

The Armada comes in three trim levels — SV, SL and Platinum — starting at $45,995 including destination charge for the rear-drive SV. Pricing tops out at $61,585 for the Platinum four-wheel drive edition. Nissan has been generous with standard features that include 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, a navigation system, and a 13-speaker Bose audio system with CD player, satellite radio and a USB media player interface. Our four-wheel drive Platinum edition with a couple of options including second-row captain's chairs carried a bottom line of $61,735.

Base price: $45,995; as driven, $61,735
Engine: 5.6-liter V8
Horsepower: 390 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 395 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Drive: four wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 121.1 inches
Length: 208.9 inches
Curb weight: 5,963 pounds
Turning circle: 41.3 feet
Luggage capacity: 16.5 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 95.4 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 8,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 26 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 13 city, 18 highway, 15 combined
0-60: 5.9 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition, Dodge Durango

The Good
• Strong, smooth running V8
• High quality cabin
• Very off-road capable

The Bad
• Third-row seat for children only

The Ugly
• Fuel economy is virtually nonexistent