Like many other truck-based SUVs, the Armada was created in another time, when bigger was better, sacrifices were made to have three rows to not be in a minivan, and 20 MPG was wonderful but unnecessary. Sadly for the Armada, times have changed and it has not. Based on and developed alongside the Titan pickup, the Armada was Nissan’s attempt to cash in on the full-size SUV market that the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, and Ford Expedition had long dominated. When the Armada hit the scene in 2004, the fact that it handled like and got the fuel economy of a truck mattered little to customers. Now, it’s hard to justify the $55,000 price tag of our tester when its competition has advanced so much further. However, Nissan did get one thing right — the front seats are very comfortable and surprisingly well-bolstered giving the non-sporting demeanor of this truck.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Nissan has been building great trucks without a whole lot of fanfare for a long time. Although the Armada looks and feels dated compared to the Infiniti QX56, which used to ride on the same platform, it still performs all the tasks required of a large SUV with ease.
The 9000-pound towing capacity is pretty impressive for an SUV. It wasn’t long ago that 9000 pounds was pushing the limits of a ton pickup truck.
Everything inside the Armada feels more truck-like than the current crop of luxury SUVs, making this Platinum trim level example seem a bit overpriced. A base Armada comes in under $40k and offers the same utility without any pretenses of being a premium product. I’d opt for the more bare bones vehicle knowing it comes with the same 5.6-liter V-8 and a more than adequate 8200-pound tow rating.
While the Infiniti QX56 offers luxury shoppers a great way to move several passengers and a big trailer, the Armada extends this capability to a bigger audience. It doesn’t drive quite as well as the Infiniti and the interior certainly isn’t as sumptuous, but the Armada’s real competition is the GMC Yukon, Chevy Tahoe, and Toyota Sequoia. Only the Toyota offers a better engine, and the interiors of all of these big SUVs feel very dated because they’ve been a low priority for automakers to update. These beasts aren’t for everyone but 17,000 sales of a highly profitable vehicle is probably enough volume to keep the Armada around for a while longer.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
The “Armada” name is rather appropriate for this big truck. Until the last century, navies relied upon huge armadas of battleships to rule the seas. Britain and Germany were locked in a cold war over who could build the biggest ship with the biggest guns. Then the airplane appeared, and by World War II, the big battleships became all but obsolete since they couldn’t defend themselves against swarms of relatively cheap airplanes. In much the same fashion, automakers battled each other a decade ago to build the largest, most powerful SUV–the Chevrolet Suburban, the Ford Excursion, the Toyota Sequoia. They were automakers’ big battleships in the war over who could be the most excessive. Nowadays, gas is more expensive and better-driving crossovers have sucked up most of the SUV-buying market, leaving SUVs like the Armada to soldier on in relative obscurity.
Having said all that, for those who actually need a full-size SUV – and I fully respect that some people do – the Armada remains very worthy of consideration. It has very nicely weighted steering, a better-appointed interior than many SUV competitors, and generally drives extraordinarily well for a vehicle that can tow 9000 pounds.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The 17-foot long, 5800-pound Nissan Armada is not the ideal vehicle for a last-minute shopping trip at the mall. Not only is it a pain to maneuver the Armada past errant shopping carts, it’s tough to find a parking space that can accommodate the giant SUV. That said, the overall driving experience is actually very good. Though its truck underpinnings may be several years behind the competition, I think the Armada still has a commendable ride-and-handling mix for a vehicle with such impressive towing and payload capacities. The Platinum trim is the figurative icing on this three-row cake–the top-spec Armada is as feature-rich and nicely trimmed as the Cadillac Escalade that passed through our offices a week or so before this Nissan.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
I drove the Armada just a couple of days after driving the Escalade ESV, and while it does have many of the features as the Escalade – heated first- and second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, navigation, a DVD player, a power-folding third row – it feels much more like a workhorse. On paper, the engine isn’t overly powerful, producing a fairly modest (for a 5800-pound vehicle) 317 hp but it is capable of towing 9000 pounds, bettering the Escalade’s 7700-pound towing capacity by more than a thousand pounds. The seats are covered in leather, but the quality doesn’t match that of the leather in the Cadillac. The controls are very much of the Nissan family and don’t feel upmarket. Of course, the Armada also costs $30,000 less than the Cadillac, so the comparison isn’t all that fair. Once underway, the Armada drives and handles the way you would expect of a vehicle of its size and weight. It’s not exactly unwieldy, but the Armada takes up more than its fair share of the road and you need to adjust your driving style accordingly. As is to be expected, fuel economy is pretty dismal at 12 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway. Still, if one were in the market for a large SUV that could haul four-plus tons, the Armada is a viable choice.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I carted five passengers to downtown Detroit in the Armada. The youngest, a fifteen-year old girl, was absolutely taken by the Armada’s massive proportions, rear-view camera — “it’s so rad!” — that displays on the infotainment screen, and the fact that no one else was agile enough to reach, or small enough to sit in, the third-row seat. My adult passengers were pleased with the wide, cushy seats and spacious accommodations. I was less enthused. The Armada, though, was more than up to the job of carting around six people, and it soaked up Detroit’s pockmarked pavement with little drama. Parking this beast in the city was a challenge, but the “rad” rear-view camera made it easy to back into a spot and safely cozy up to the car behind.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
It’s hard to deny the fact the Armada is getting a bit up there in age, thanks in part to a sluggish SUV market (as Phil noted) and to Nissan’s somewhat confused plan to develop a successor to its current F-Alpha full-size truck platform. Arguably, the latter doesn’t need a whole lot of revision: the V-8 powertrain is fairly potent, and the towing capacity — especially on the 4×4 model like our tester — is almost otherworldly. It’s what’s on top of that foundation, however, that doesn’t impress me all that much. As in many competitors, the interior is dated. And apart from a heated steering wheel, navigation, DVD player, and a few other niceties, it’s hard to discern a Platinum-grade Armada from a less expensive SL. Even if a head-to-toe reinvention isn’t in the cards, perhaps borrowing a few tricks from the similar Infiniti QX — notably it’s updated V-8, seven-speed automatic, and some of its interior flair — would go a long way in keeping this big rig contemporary.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
While the Armada’s skill set may not be as valuable in today’s economy as it once was, the big, three-row SUV isn’t obsolete yet. At the 2012 Detroit auto show, the Armada’s smaller stable mate, the Pathfinder, made the leap from genuine, tough-guy truck to less-capable, car-like crossover. That’s certainly a sign of the times, but it also elevates the importance of the Armada in Nissan’s lineup. Without the familial competition, Nissan can devote its resources to a single, boat-towing, kid-toting, full-size SUV.
If Nissan is committed to putting this truck back to work, though, it’ll need to equip the Armada with new proficiencies in ride quality, interior design, and powertrain refinement. There’s no better example of a modern big SUV than the Armada’s upscale cousin, the Infiniti QX56, which proves that automakers can meet buyers’ expectations without compromising a truck’s capability. The 5.6-liter V-8 tuned for the QX is much more sonorous and more willing to rev than the Armada’s powerplant. Paired with a seven-speed automatic, it is also more responsive to passing maneuvers and off-the-line sprints. The new-for-2011 QX56 also boasts styling that maintains SUV proportions without being overtly utilitarian while the luscious interior could just as easily be found in a sedan or crossover. Most importantly though, Infiniti tamed the ride to practically eliminate head toss. If Nissan can bring these traits into the Armada and a reasonable price point, it’ll be armed with a full-size SUV that’s more civilized than the Suburban, Expedition, and Sequoia.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2012 Nissan Armada Platinum
MSRP (with destination): $53,825
PRICE AS TESTED: $55,400
5.6-liter DOHC V-8
Horsepower: 317 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 385 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm
WHEELS AND TIRES:
20-inch aluminum wheels
275/60HR-20 Michelin Latitude tires
FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway/combined):
Cargo (behind third/second/front row): 20.0/56.7/97.1 cu ft
Legroom (front/second/third): 41.8/41.9/32.2 in
Headroom (front/second/third): 41.0/40.0/35.9 in
Towing: 9000 lbs
Auto-leveling rear suspension
Trailer brake controller pre-wire
Receiver hitch w/7-pin wiring harness
Tire pressure monitoring system
Dynamic vehicle control
Fold-flat second row
Power third row 60/40 split seat
Heated front and second row seats
Heated steering wheel
Bose audio system w/11 speakers and subwoofer
Auxiliary audio jack
DVD player w/remote control
Front and rear sonar system
Rear view monitor
Automatic dual-zone climate control
Keyless entry and ignition
Front fog lights
Front tow hooks
Chrome roof rack w/cross bars
Power liftgate w/opening rear glass
Side step rails
OPTIONS ON THIS VEHICLE:
Four-wheel drive – $1100
Floor and cargo mats – $230
Rear cargo net and organizer – $245
KEY OPTIONS NOT ON THIS VEHICLE:
Second row captain’s chairs package- $450
Brilliant silver is a new paint color this model year.