Based on the Titan full-size pickup, the Armada is as big as a Ford Expedition, and it's longer than the Toyota Sequoia or Chevy Tahoe. Armada easily accommodates seven or eight passengers in a roomy cabin that's comfortable, convenient and nicely appointed. The often-used second row offers limo-like roominess. Both rear rows fold flat giving the Armada enormous cargo capacity. The Armada is in many ways an American truck. Designed in California, the Armada is built at Nissan's recently built $1.4 billion factory in Canton, Mississippi.
Armada comes equipped with a powerful V8 that betters its competition in horsepower and torque. Stand on the gas and Nissan's 5.6-liter engine delivers immediate throttle response and quick acceleration. Rated to tow up to 9,100 pounds, Armada boasts the best towing capability in its class. A smooth five-speed automatic transmission adds to the responsiveness of the 32-valve double overhead-cam V8.
Handling is impressive for a full-size SUV. The four-wheel independent suspension and rack-and-pinion steering give the Armada a direct and steady feel, whether cruising down the highway, hustling through the hills or parking in a crowded lot.
For 2006, the Armada benefits from several enhancements, but is largely unchanged.
Nissan Pathfinder Armada SE 2WD ($34,500); SE 4WD ($37,300); LE 2WD ($39,800); LE 4WD ($42,600); SE Off-Road 4WD ($40,800)
Armada presents a bold and unmistakable appearance. It is big, but the design and styling features further emphasize its bulk and capabilities. Its wide stance and long wheelbase with short front and rear overhangs add visual strength. Pushing the wheels out toward the corners of the truck makes for easier maneuverability in tight quarters as well as rock-solid stability on the highway.
Adding to the Armada's strong presence are its big chrome bumpers and big grille. The grille is body-colored on the SE, and chromed for even more visual strength on the LE. We think the front looks best in chrome, particularly with dark colors. Chrome with black, for example, gives the Armada a handsome look when viewed from the front.
From the side or rear three-quarter view, the Armada almost looks like a cartoon drawing. Large flared front and rear fenders accentuate the substantial wheels and high-profile tires. The rear door edge, extending in a bold rearward diagonal from the running board to the roof rack, makes a strong design statement, emphasizing the high roofline over the main passenger section. The rear-door handles are mounted on the C-pillar above the fenders instead of down on the door panel. The overall design gives the Armada a distinctively strong side view, like a football tackle poised at the line.
The running boards are a good feature because step-in height is 21 to 22.5 inches, depending on drivetrain and wheel size.
Viewed from the rear, the Armada has a wide rear window, which can be opened separately. The hatch is large, providing a big opening for loading or unloading cargo. Though large, the rear door feels light when it is opened or closed. A power option allows the door to be opened or closed at the touch of a button on the key fob, useful when approaching with an armload of groceries on a rainy day. Enhancing Armada's wide stance are narrow shoulders that frame the vertically stacked tail lamps and the tall, chromed center section of the rear bumper.
The eight-way adjustable driver's seat is comfortable and supportive. Adjustable pedals and a tilting steering column help ensure the proper driving position. We found the seats comfortable and liked the commanding view of the road. A two-piece sun visor keeps the sun off the eyes. The gauge package includes speedometer and tachometer, oil pressure, temperature, voltage and fuel gauges. Ordering the towing package adds a transmission temperature gauge.
Places to stash stuff are provided. Opening the lid to the center console reveals a deep storage compartment. In front of that is a large open binnacle, perfect for tossing odds and ends, and an arm swings out to secure a big water bottle. There are narrow storage channels along the sides of the center tunnel and more storage is found in the interior door panels and on top of the dashboard above the outer vents. The center console's well-designed cup holders are easy to access. Armada offers 14 cup holders and four of them are designed to hold 64-ounce beverage containers. A long, overhead console provides more storage and a pair of map lights. Three 12-volt outlets are provided, including one in the rear, and two of them provide power even when the engine is not running.
The back seats offer acres of space. Passengers in the second row enjoy 42 inches of leg room. Families told Nissan they need more room in the second row than what's available in other full-size SUVs, so the Armada was designed with best-in-class rear legroom. The second-row seats recline so you can really stretch out. A choice of rear seats is available: a bench seat with a flip down armrest or captain's chairs with a large center console. Either way, the second-row seat feels roomier than in the Ford Expedition and much roomier than in Tahoe, Yukon, or Sequoia.
Third-row seats are raised, stadium style, for better forward visibility by those sitting back there. The second-row seats easily flip down and tumble out of the way when getting in and out of the third row; the release is a little easier to operate than the Expedition's. Once seated, we found them reasonably comfortable for third-row seats, but they are more suitable for children or short distances.
The Nissan Armada can carry almost as much cargo as a Spanish armada from the heyday of maritime explorers. With all seats in their full upright positions, the Armada provides 20 cubic feet of space behind the third row, which is similar to that of the Expedition. It's deep enough to fit a 30-gallon cooler. There's also a nice storage area hidden beneath the rear section of the cargo floor. The second- and third-row seats fold flat to the cargo floor. Folding down the third row reveals 57 cubic feet of cargo space, considerably more than what's found in the Expedition. Folding down both rows provides 97 cubic feet of space, a little less than the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition. Fold down the front passenger seat and you can fit a 10-foot ladder inside. Like the Expedition, there are gaps in the floor between the second- and third-row seats when all are folded flat. Second-row bucket seats come with a center console between them and this setup is not nearly as good as the second-row bench seat when it's time to haul cargo or dogs.
Getting in and out is easy in spite of the high step up. The inside door handles are well designed for easy exit. The rear doors open wide. And the running boards help when climbing in or out.
The five-speed automatic transmission takes full advantage of the engine's strong low-end torque. Having five gears to choose from makes the Armada very responsive and the transmission never hunts around for the right gear. It shifts smoothly and the close ratios eliminate abrupt downshifts. The substantial torque is available even at low rpm, providing confidence-inspiring power when merging into heavy highway traffic with a loaded two-horse box in tow or when maneuvering off road. A 2WD Armada earns a 13/19 mpg City/Highway EPA fuel economy rating, 13/18 for 4WD.
Like the Titan, Nissan's brawny full-size pickup, the Armada is built on a fully boxed steel ladder frame that yields a smooth ride and responsive handling. Unlike Titan, Armada features an independent rear suspension, a design that enhances ride and handling. Indeed, the Armada makes a smooth transition as it turns into corners. Its handling feels controlled and handles emergency lane-change maneuvers well at highway speeds. The front suspension is also independent with rack-and-pinion steering.
We found the Armada to be very well mannered, instilling a sense of confidence in the driver that this full-size SUV will go and turn as well if not better than its competition. The brakes don't seem to be fully up to the task of repeated hard braking, however, a consideration when towing through mountainous areas.
The Off-Road package rides much better than we expected after looking at its big, aggressive off-road tires and reading about its Rancho suspension. Out on the highway, it does not ride as well as the standard suspension, however, as road vibration is transmitted on rough freeways. For driving off road, the angle of approach (without the front spoiler) and departure are 31.1 degrees and 27.7 degrees, superior to the Toyota Sequoia and Chevy Tahoe, and the ramp-over angle is 25.0. The 4x2 SE has 9.9 inches of ground clearance while the SE 4x4 and all LEs have at least 10.6 inches of clearance.
The Nissan Armada is a well-designed full-size sport-utility. Its powerful V8 and five-speed automatic work to produce responsive performance and smooth cruising. Its cleverly conceived interior provides the room and the creature features that should satisfy its owners. Armada provides heavy-duty towing capability. And the off-road model is capable in rugged terrain. In short, the Armada ranks at or near the top of its class, particularly for those who tap into its workhorse capabilities.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Larry Edsall is based in Phoenix, Arizona.