The 2011 Nissan Armada is a full-size SUV with seating for seven, a plethora of cargo space, and a towing capacity of up to 9,000 pounds for the top-of-the-line model. For 2011, the Armada sails on unchanged, except for name changes on two trim levels.
A healthy V8 engine and 5-speed automatic transmission equip the Armada for serious work. Yet its comfortable ride and accurate response lends the nautically named SUV a degree of refinement. This is a genuine 4WD vehicle in the vein of the Land Cruiser and Jeep Grand Cherokee, not merely an all-wheel-drive system for inclement weather. Yet you can drive it in urban settings without feeling like you're navigating the Queen Mary down the Los Angeles river.
We found the Nissan Armada drives well, cruises nicely, with a comfortable ride, responsive handling for a full-size truck and strong acceleration performance from its 5.6-liter V8 engine.
The Armada is quite large. It's an inch longer than the Ford Expedition, two inches longer than the Toyota Sequoia. Armada has a slightly longer wheelbase than that of the Sequoia, and significantly longer than that of the Expedition. A longer wheelbase can increase stability, especially when towing. The Armada is longer overall and in wheelbase than the Chevy Tahoe, shorter than the Suburban. They're all about the same width.
Cargo capacity of the Armada is slightly less than that of the competition, but the second- and third-row seats fold perfectly flat, a great feature. The interior is nice, the seats are comfortable, and everything is easy to operate.
The Nissan Armada is a handsome vehicle, better looking than the Infiniti QX56. Also, it's clearly intended for hauling. The rear bumper is flat and protected with cladding on top. Stylish, aerodynamic rear bumpers such as what's found on the Infiniti can quickly get scratched up when loading heavy cargo or dogs. For towing and for driving off pavement, we recommend the 18-inch wheels over the fancy 20-inch wheels.
These days, the average consumer is understandably shying away from ginormous spot utilities in search of alternatives that are smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient. That said, the 2011 Nissan Armada is a solid choice if you need lots of space, a high towing capacity and large third-row seats. With its quiet strength and 4WD, the Armada can take you places you never expected to go.
Nissan Armada 2WD: SV ($37,910); SL ($42,840); Platinum ($50,090); 4WD: SV ($43,510); SL ($45,640); Platinum ($52,890)
With its arching window line, semi-concealed rear door handles and Titan-esque front end, there is no mistaking the Armada for a generic sport-utility. Six-and-a-half feet tall and wide, it rides on a longer wheelbase than any full-size SUV except the Ford Expedition EL, Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon XL.
The three-part front grille conveys a strong Nissan-truck identity, its black cross-hatch texture framed by color-matched plastic or chrome, depending on the trim. The lower air opening sneers menacingly, a cartoon-character reflection of the Armada's big, bad and fun attitude.
At the rear, a heavily contoured tailgate offers glass-only or full hatch access to cargo with a relatively low lift for such a large truck; and the wiper parks off the glass to avoid interference with access or vision. The roof rack has recessed tie-down loop at each corner for securing cargo without scratching off paint or generating wind whistles.
Side steps are standard across the board, watering down the off-road image a bit but making it easier for shorter folks to climb aboard. Those who use the 2011 Nissan Armada for towing will appreciate the rear proximity sensors and optional rearview monitor for hooking up trailer, a great time saver that reduces the chance of a scratched rear bumper.
The Nissan Armada cabin looks, feels and sounds like a state-of-the-art SUV, and not like something lifted straight out of a work truck. (In fact, none of the interior pieces are shared with the Titan pickup.) The leather on the Platinum models features contrasting-color stitching.
The cabin is generously proportioned, with more middle-row legroom than the front of many cars, seating for seven or eight people, and nearly 100 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats to be split in a variety of ways. There are plenty of spaces to put smaller items and 14 beverage holders, some able to contain a half-gallon bottle.
Slide into the driver's seat and the sense of power envelopes even before anything is started. A commanding view forward is matched by the view to the back, which is relatively unobstructed, although the windshield pillars get quite wide at the base and conspire with large outside mirrors that could create blind spots for shorter drivers. With adjustments for pedals, seat and steering wheel, everyone can find a comfortable driving position.
Large captain's chairs are provided up front. A soft-touch sweeping dash encompasses complete instrumentation, woodgrain trim, a variety of colors and textures, and a comprehensive central area for control of audio, climate and drive systems. For the sheer volume of controls, everything is well-placed and fairly intuitive, although we admit some confusion over two Back buttons just two inches apart on some models. You do not need the Platinum's navigation system to have a rear-view camera.
The middle row is a 40/20/40 split bench, unless you order the Platinum trim with the optional captain's chairs and a console. The captain's chairs are more comfortable and luxurious for transporting adults in the second row. However, the bench is far more practical. Folding down the second-row bench creates a flat load floor. Conversely, the center console between the captain's chairs severely reduces its usefulness as a cargo area. So we'd vote for the bench seat, unless you transport very important people in the back seat.
Access to the third row is aided by the low floor, itself a byproduct of independent rear suspension (shared only by Ford Expedition in this class). The leather-look seat splits 60/40 for best load flexibility; a power fold third row is standard on most models. A full-length overhead console contains rear air controls and vents and reading lights for both back rows.
Cargo space expands to 97.1 cubic feet with all three rows of seats folded down. That's less than what's available in the Ford Expedition or Toyota Sequoia, but it's a big cargo space. Folding down the second- and third-row seats results in a perfectly flat cargo floor. Flaps flip down to help cover the small gaps between the seats. Folding down just the third row presents a flat 56-cubic foot cargo area with no gaps that appears safe for a dog. With all seats in place, there's 20 cubic feet of space, plenty for hauling groceries.
On Platinum models, the overhead console also houses an 8-inch screen for the DVD player. The system comes with two sets of wireless headphones, a remote control and a separate video port.
Desert testing wasn't on the program, but the combination of opening rear quarter windows (powered on Platinum) and a powerful ventilation system did keep third row occupants comfortable in an 83-degree thunderstorm gridlock in a black-on-black Armada. With 11 speakers throughout, myriad source choices, and marked reductions in road and engine noise, the sound system easily keeps a crew entertained.
The Nissan Armada is a sizable piece of equipment in which you feel the heft, yet it doesn't become an impediment. It drives like a big car, a notable feat considering it has a truck frame underneath, more than 10 inches of ground clearance and a 4WD system that will get you off the road and not just through the snow. With tight steering and defined corners, it's more maneuverable than you'd expect, on the trail or street, but pay attention to garage clearance signs.
Armada SL and Platinum models come with 20-inch wheels and Michelin lower-profile, road-biased tires. Typically a setup such as this exacts a penalty in ride comfort, road noise, isolation and so forth with nary a worthwhile gain in grip, but Nissan has paid impressive attention to noise and vibration issues. What we did notice with the 20-inch wheels is a slightly crisper response to the steering wheel.
Hundred-mile driving legs were dispatched in short order, stress-free to the point the six-foot passenger in back dozed off mid-day. Since off-road trucks are the only racing vehicles of this size and weight the Armada is a better cruiser than a sports car, though the independent rear end keeps it more stable and less influenced by bumps mid-corner than most competitors. Stability control is standard and barring driver inattention will never be felt without an outside influence.
A 5.6-liter V8 engine powers the Armada. The 32-valve, double overhead cam V8 generates 317 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque. Armada gets an EPA-estimated 12/18 mpg City/Highway.
We found the V8 perfectly matched to the 5-speed automatic, making it very quick for its bulk and adept at hauling a crew of wakeboarders and towing their 6,000-pound boat. Max towing ranges from 6,500 pounds on the base SL to an impressive 9,000 pounds on the Platinum 4WD model. Even so, we'd prefer a large, longer-wheelbase pickup for routine towing of anything heavier than 6,000 pounds. The Armada wheelbase measures 123.2 inches, about the same as that of the Toyota Sequoia and four inches longer than that of the Ford Expedition.
The brakes on all models feature the full complement of electronic assists. Two-wheel-drive models use traction control, and 4WD models offer a 4Auto setting designed for daily use regardless of weather or road conditions. With good winter tires, you could follow the National Guard through a blizzard.
The Nissan Armada is a full-size SUV capable of pulling heavy trailers and with seating for seven. It offers flexible capability for cargo and passengers, and all the mechanical stoutness of a full-size truck without the rough ride and racket, wrapped up in a burly yet polished package in which you won't see yourself coming and going or mistaken for someone else at every intersection.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reported from Minneapolis.