Debuting in 2004, Nissan's first full-size SUV shares direct kinship with the Titan pickup and the Infiniti QX56. The former provides bold styling cues, a rugged framework, and first-rate powertrain elements. The latter donates exceptional functionality, an impressive array of features, and ride-enhancing independent rear suspension. Less opulent than the Infiniti, the Armada does boast a spacious, well-finished interior with room for eight, a class-leading 9100-lb maximum tow rating, and a base price that undercuts the QX56 by about $14,000. Both the SE and upline LE come in rear- and four-wheel-drive configurations, and the SE 4WD also offers a dedicated Off-Road Package. We tested a generously optioned LE 4WD.
Even larger than its key rivals, the Chevy Suburban, Ford Expedition, and Toyota Sequoia, the Armada employs a long wheelbase with short overhangs and a wide stance to enhance its appearance and help stability. A bounty of Titan-like brightwork, prominent fender flares, 18-inch alloy wheels with 265/70 (or 17-inch 285/70s with the Off-Road package) tires, and privacy glass add to this purposeful character, while standard running boards help facilitate the entry/exit procedure.
The Armada's tastefully understated cabin shows a strong Titan influence throughout. Key controls are well positioned, and white-on-black gauges afford good legibility, day or night. Included in its full complement of power assists are adjustments for both the driver's seat and pedal set. Dual-zone front/rear air conditioning is standard on all Armada variants. LE models swap cloth upholstery for leather and upgrade the AM/FM/CD with changer audio package to a 10-speaker Bose system.
The Armada's spacious nature is most evident in the first two rows of seats, where head and leg room are scaled to accommodate six-foot-plus occupants. Its well-formed front buckets are the most comfortable perches in the house. Both the captain's chairs and optional (at no charge in LE) second-row split bench flip and fold forward to ease third-tier access. However, despite "theatre style" elevation, relatively thin cushion padding and smaller key dimensions make the one-piece third-row bench a kid-only zone. Flat folding the bench is a snap--a lever pull actually--but raising it takes palpably more effort. With all seats up, the Armada can swallow 20.0 cu ft of payload through a large, two-piece power (standard LE, optional SE) liftgate. That figure maxes out at 97.1 cu ft with rows two and three down. Storage areas for personal effects include a non-locking glovebox and a center console with both open and covered bins. The utility of the latter is somewhat compromised by the optional DVD entertainment system, but there are plenty of other cubbies and pockets (plus a removable rear console in any Armada with captain's chairs) for lesser items plus a full-length overhead console. Also on hand: four cupholders, eight bottle holders, and four 12V powerpoints.