The Nissan Armada is a full-size SUV, with seven-passenger seating, acres of cargo space, and a serious towing capacity. Armada is rated to tow a 9,000-pound trailer. There are no major changes for 2010.
New for 2010 are the Titanium and Platinum models, which slot roughly below and above (respectively) the now-discontinued LE. Both offer higher levels of standard and optional equipment than the base SE, and are distinguished by a fair amount of bright exterior trim plus leather upholstery with contrasting stitching.
Armada has a healthy V8 engine and five-speed automatic designed for serious work, yet tamed to smoothness and background hum; and independent suspension all around capable of delivering a good ride, accurate response, and durability off the highway. This is genuine 4WD in the vein of the Land Cruiser and Grand Cherokee, not merely an all-wheel-drive system for inclement weather. Yet you can drive it in urban settings without feeling you're piloting the QE2 down the Potomac.
Armada is a good vehicle if you need it. If you don't tow much or need the larger third-row seats, there are alternatives. With a set of four winter tires and 4WD, an Armada can go places that you never expected. Drive it and you'll discover a level of quiet strength and refinement you haven't before experienced in a Nissan truck.
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 on SE and chrome on Titanium and Platinum. 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. On models with roof racks, the rack has recessed tie-down loop at each corner for securing cargo without scratching off paint or generating wind whistles.
The new Titanium and Platinum models are distinguished not only by their chrome grille. Mirrors, roof rack (with crossbars), and exhaust tips are also chromed, and bright accents top the standard body-color door moldings. Aluminum alloy wheels are 18 inches in diameter and painted on SE; while Titanium and Platinum come with 20-inch rims, machine-finished on the former and chromed on the latter.
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 using the 9,000-pound tow rating 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 new Titanium and Platinum models features contrasting-color stitching. Interior woodgrain has been improved for 2010 as well.
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. The front passenger seat folds flat into a tray table on the SE, but (oddly) not on the up-level models.
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, drive, and (on Platinum) navigation systems, now based on a computer hard drive that also handles music and displays real-time traffic info through XM Satellite Radio. 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 with captain's chairs and a console. The latter are more comfy, the former more functional, although the center rider should be of narrow persuasion to avoid pinching from seat belts and hinges.
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.
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 really big, high car, a notable feat considering it has the strength of 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 also more maneuverable than you'd expect, on the trail or street, but pay attention to garage clearance signs.
The Titanium 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.
One thing Nissan did lift from the Titan is the drivetrain, and it is a keeper. Based on its more relevant 385 pound-feet of torque, the Armada's 317-horsepower, 5.6-liter V8 is still the strongest standard engine in its class, although competitors are catching up. Mileage will typically range in the low-to-mid teens. Although it's not the most powerful SUV on the planet, the Armada's V8 and perfectly matched five-speed automatic make it very quick for its bulk and adept at pulling a crew of wakeboarders and their 6,000-pound boat. Max towing is 9,000 pounds, but better to go with a large, longer-wheelbase pickup if that's to be routine.
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 has enough features and amenities for a sybarite, 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.