First Drive: 2017 Nissan Armada
Big SUV Goes on Patrol
Though absent from the U.S. for decades, the Nissan Patrol has, like the Toyota Land Cruiser, been lauded for its work in far-flung deserts and nasty jungles. It first made its return to the U.S. five years ago as the 2011 Infiniti QX56 (now QX80), and the Patrol now also serves as the base for the 2017 Nissan Armada.
The first-generation Armada was based on the platform of the Titan pickup. For the second-gen Armada, Nissan put all its big SUV eggs in one basket: the Patrol. Titan production stays in Canton, Mississippi, while all the big SUVs will be built in Kyushu, Japan.
In fact, the new Armada and QX80 have the same door skins, rear fenders, and roof. The Armada and Patrol share even more; the differences are minute enough to be bar bets at a Nissan convention.
Out front is Nissan's so-called "V-motion" grille, LED/halogen headlamps, and the rugged bits one expects at the front of a big SUV even if its biggest obstacle will be a concrete parking stop at Nordstrom. On the front fenders are vented scoops Nissan is quick to point out are functional as engine air intakes—as they are on the QX80—and aft of there you'll know the design from Infiniti. Nissan redid the rear liftgate and bumper to differentiate the two, helping make them fraternal instead of identical twins.
Take a step back, and you find the exterior shape of the Armada is about what you'd expect going head to head with the likes of Chevrolet's Tahoe, Ford's Expedition, and Toyota's Sequoia. It's nothing you're likely to fall in love with, but the Armada looks the (masculine) part of taking care of business, hauling as many as seven kids or luggage, tall potted plants, or all that stuff from Costco.
You'll also be excused for asking why anyone would buy the Armada versus the QX80. According to Nissan, the pair isn't often cross-shopped; Nissan people look at Armadas, and Infiniti people shop the QX80, a la Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon or Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator.
Just as they are twins outside, the Armada and QX80 share interior design, right down to stitch patterns and steering-wheel buttons. That is not a condemnation. The overall design is attractive, and the navi/info screen sits high, just below the sight line and reasonably well-placed against glare. There's a fair old sea of buttons below that, but they are separated by function: navi at the top, audio in the middle, heater/air below. It isn't the most intuitive of layouts, but it works once you've had a bit of time with it.
Aft of that, the seats do the things you expect in a big SUV. Second- and third-row seats are split 60/40 and can be lowered for a flat load floor. Then there are the seats-up and seats-folded permutations you expect so you could, for instance, carry three kids and that new flat-screen TV.
Optionally you can get a pair of captain's chairs for the second row flanking a center console that can, with some tools, be removed. Regardless of seat arrangements in the middle row, Nissan claims best-in-class headroom and legroom for that area.
Nissan points out the Armada has standard eight-passenger seating, and there are enough cushions for that many backsides. The step-up-and-in for the seats at the four doors is easily done, and once there you could have at least 6-footers in those five spots with comfort. Not surprisingly, the "way back" third row is best left for kids and emergencies.
While the Armadas come from Japan, their powerplants are U.S. made, shared with the Titan pickups. Called the Endurance V-8, it has 5.6 liters, 32 valves, and, among other features, direct injection and a compression-ratio increase from 9.8:1 to 11.2:1 compared to its Armada predecessor. Horsepower takes a nice jump from 317 to 390 at 5,800 rpm, torque a more modest increase from 385 lb-ft to 394 at 4,000 rpm. The V-8 drinks from a 26-gallon tank, and mileage numbers for 2WD are 14/19/16 mpg city/highway/combined, while 4WD is 1 mpg less per cycle.
Speeds for the automatic transmission climb from five to seven. Naturally there will be two- and four-wheel-drive versions, the latter with Auto/2WD/4H/4LO possibilities; as much as 50 percent of the power can be pumped forward under nasty conditions. Regardless of which drive system you choose, the Armada's towing capacity is 8,500 pounds, another best in class.
Chassis specs include double A-arm suspensions front and rear with twin-tube shocks. Steering is by rack and pinion. Nissan claims more rigidity for this body-on-frame design compared to the last Armada. Overall the two are roughly the same size, but the 2017 model weighs in at 5,576 pounds and up, at least 300 pounds heavier.
Being a modern SUV, the Armada comes with the expected standard features: navigation system, Bose sound system, Bluetooth phone, etc. Depending on the model, you can add the likes of 7-inch screens in back of the front headrests, forward emergency braking, blind-spot warning ... you know the drill.
Typical of a big SUV, you sort of clamber into the Armada's driver seat. This is a near-3-ton machine, and there's nothing delicate about it. Yet like most big SUVs these days, it is anything but a beast. You do love such features as the surround-view monitor and backup collision intervention to get a sense of your surroundings.
Steering effort belies the vehicle's size as you maneuver through traffic. Highway ride is smooth. On rougher secondary roads, the suspension doesn't so much eliminate rough patches as round them off and smooth them. Yes, it handles like the truck it is, but these days that's an acceptable condition, not the put-down it once was.
We had a chance to test the Armada's Patrol roots at, of all places, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Hard to say how many Armadas are taken off-road, and there isn't a specific option package for that. You can see in the photos that it can dramatically lift its outside wheel, like a dog at the first bush on its afternoon walk, so it can maneuver over dips and steep rises.
The tab for all this? We don't really know. Nissan has told us the starting price will be $45,395. They will flesh out pricing for two- or four-wheel drive and the SV, SL and Platinum packages in mid-August when deliveries begin.
2017 Nissan Armada Specifications
|Price:||$45,395 (base) (est)|
|Engine:||5.6L DOHC 32-valve V-8/390 hp @ 5,800 rpm, 394 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 8-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA Mileage:||13/18mpg (city/hwy) (est)|
|L x W x H:||208.9 in x 79.9 in x 75.8 in|