To its strong core structure, the Armada adds "smart" front airbags plus active front head restraints, seatbelt pretensioners/load limiters, full-length side curtain bags, and three-point belts for all seats. Front side airbags are SE options, LE standards. All get ABS disc brakes with Electronic Brake force Distribution and traction control, with the LE also netting a stability system.
All Armadas use Nissan's 5.6-liter Endurance V-8, an aluminum DOHC engine that churns out 305 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque while drinking (well, chugging) regular unleaded. It's backed by an electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission with manual and tow/haul modes. The optional All-Mode four-wheel-drive system is derived from the legendary Skyline GT sport coupe, but here it adds an electronically controlled transfer case with Auto/2WD/4Hi/4Lo choices. Limited-slip differentials and traction control are standard across the line, with the LE adding stability control.
Behind the Wheel
Class-leading power and torque plus a responsive, refined autoshifter put plenty of snap in the Armada's step in addition to formidable towing potential. Electronic controls make transitioning from 2WD to 4WD and into tow/haul mode a breeze. While EPA mileage numbers of 13 city and 18 (2WD)/19 (4WD) highway are just average for the category, a 28-gallon fuel tank ensures at least reasonable refueling intervals.
Unlike its primary foes that still use a solid rear axle, the Armada boasts a fully independent, and very well-sorted, suspension. Despite its formidable scale, overall control and controllability is impressive, with modest impact harshness, relatively minimal body roll, and no "floaty" feel. Save for effort that's a tad high and a bit of minor kickback on rough surfaces, the Armada's power steering performs well. Vented disc brakes with ABS proved effective stoppers, with a softish pedal but good modulation. While the Tow Package brings auto rear leveling, we found the rear parking assist (included in the LE Technology Package) to be even more useful on a daily basis.
The Armada puts the right stuff in a lot of the right places for buyers desiring a full measure of the large SUV experience. Its traditional form is matched by amenities that make it as adept at everyday commuting as it is on a weekend getaway. A good deal of that charm stems from pairing spirited performance with confident handling, traits that arguably provide a modest edge versus its primary rivals. But that said, the Armada is still a big, truck-based vehicle, and one decidedly happiest when tooling about in wide-open spaces, be they paved or not. If your parking spot says "Compact Only" and you're not particularly keen on a two-stage entry/exit process, a Pathfinder, Xterra, or 4Runner would provide a more palatable, lighter-duty alternative. While IntelliChoice rates the Armada SE as Better than Average in its Cost Value Rating, and the LE and SE Off-Road earn average marks, no Armada variant matches our 2005 Best Overall Value Winner in full-size SUVs under $36,000: the Toyota Sequoia.
Despite its daring, tough looks, the Armada is surprisingly easy to live with. If you believe that in the world of SUVs bigger really is better, this is definitely one to consider.