2021 Nissan Armada First Drive Review: Tech Giant
Nissan does what it can to gain an edge in the changing large SUV market.
You could say there's some irony in the forward-thinking, all-electric Nissan Leaf hatchback getting Nissan's new redesigned badge after the undeniably less eco-friendly 2021 Nissan Armada full-size SUV, but it just goes to show you how important SUVs are to the Japanese automaker. Also, it shows the brand has a vehicle for just about any lifestyle. If you're a Nissan Armada shopper, that lifestyle is large and in charge and doesn't particularly care about efficiency.
It's a Freshly Updated Big Boy
The 2021 Nissan Armada continues to ride on the same body-on-frame SUV platform as the Infiniti QX80 sold here and the Nissan Patrol sold in other markets, which means it's quite old beneath the skin. But that skin has been heavily updated with a completely new front-end design featuring a new interpretation of Nissan's V-Motion grille, revised front bumper and hood, and a pair of new LED headlights. In general, Nissan went for a boxier, more rugged look, and that's no more apparent than in the 2021 Armada's blockier LED taillights and more upright rear bumper.
But the most meaningful changes happen on the inside of the Armada. For 2021, Nissan's full-size SUV gets a slick new 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system as standard. Also standard is an onboard Wi-Fi hot spot, wireless Apple CarPlay, onboard navigation, and other features. Android Auto integration is still standard but requires a wired connection.
The 2021 Nissan Armada continues to offer the brand's tried and true 5.6-liter Endurance V-8, but power has been bumped up slightly to 400 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque (when running premium fuel). A seven-speed automatic continues to be the only transmission option, though rumors suggest the Armada may receive the Titan pickup truck's nine-speed automatic transmission in the future. Even with the old seven-speed, though, power delivery is buttery smooth. Just as before, the Armada offers rear-wheel drive as standard, and selectable four-wheel drive is available on higher trims.
As far as we know, no changes have been made to the Armada's chassis, which helps explain why the vehicle still feels top-heavy and generally unhappy taking turns. The ride, for a big body-on-frame SUV riding on 22-inch wheels, is surprisingly good, however. On the highway the Armada's suspension soaked up bumps without resulting in too much bounce.
Maximum towing capacity stands at 8,500 pounds, which is among the highest in the class. For 2021, the Nissan Armada adds an available trailer brake controller (standard on SV trims and above) and a Trailer Sway Control feature.
It Has an Armada of Safety Tech (We'll See Ourselves Out)
The 2021 Nissan Armada gains a long list of standard safety features included in Nissan's Safety Shield 360 suite. These features include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, high-beam assist, and rear automatic braking. Additionally, the 2021 Armada receives standard full-range cruise control, blind spot warning, lane intervention, and Rear Door Alert, a feature intended to remind drivers to check their back seats for precious cargo like children and pets.
The addition of new safety features is nice, but not all advanced safety systems are created equally. For example, lane departure warning is a great feature to have in theory, but in the Armada's case it's more of an annoyance than a benefit. The system vibrates the steering wheel when you get close to or cross a lane line, and given how big the Armada is, you will trigger that alert often. There's no adjustment for the sensitivity, either, so you either get used to the constant buzzing or turn it off entirely. I chose the latter option. Similarly, there's no way to adjust the sensitivity of the lane intervention system. It does basically nothing to keep you in the center of your lane, and it also doesn't ping-pong off the lane markers. All it seems to do is jerk the car violently back toward its lane if you veer too far out. I chose to turn that feature off, as well.
The features that do work well are the Intelligent Rear View Mirror and 360-degree camera system, which come standard on the Armada Platinum we sampled. When enabled, the rearview mirror display delivers a sharp, high-resolution, wide-angle view behind your vehicle. It's especially helpful when you have passengers in the third row and their headrests are extended. The 360-degree camera is also a welcome feature, because this is a gigantic SUV and there's no understating that. You can toggle between camera views with a conveniently placed button in the center console, and given how high up you are and how long the hood is, the chances are you'll be hitting that button often to access the front camera and check clearances.
The Interior Is Much Improved
For this refresh, Nissan spent its money where it mattered most. The quilted leather seats are soft, and the contrast stitching, which extends to the dash, center console, and door panels, adds to the SUV's premium feel. But there's only so much you can do to make the cabin of a 10-year-old SUV feel new again, which is why the Armada's new central 12.3-inch touchscreen provides such an effective distraction from the parts of the interior that are less up to date. The free-standing screen is wide, matching the width of the attractively redesigned center stack. Graphics are sharp, and the screen is responsive to swipes. Menus are laid out intuitively and are easy to navigate. Speaking of navigation, onboard navigation comes standard and works well thanks to reasonably good voice recognition and a working pinch-to-zoom function many other automakers can't seem to get right.
But with wireless CarPlay now standard, you might not be using the native nav system that often. Once your phone is connected via Bluetooth, you can access CarPlay-compatible apps like Apple Maps, Waze, and Google Maps all without taking your phone out of your pocket. This feature used to be reserved for luxury makes like Audi and BMW, but we're glad to see it trickle down to mainstream brands. Our Platinum test example had a wireless charging pad, too, hidden behind a matte silver door in the center stack emblazoned with the Armada logo. That cubby (and charging pad, when equipped) allows for stowage of larger phones or those with thick cases. Back to the center stack design, there's matte silver trim around the shifter and infotainment controls to match the rest of the dash. This adds to the overall premium feel of the updated cabin, though I wish the door pulls received a similar finish instead of being bright chrome.
The Platinum trim comes standard with second-row captain's chairs and a center console cubby. Those chairs tumble forward in one motion with a pull of a lever, allowing easy access to the third row. That 60/40 split-folding third-row bench is spacious enough, but given that the Armada still uses a rear live axle, it can't compete with other big SUVs like the Ford Expedition and new Chevrolet Tahoe, which both switched to a rear-independent suspension setup to improve third-row space. Still, the Armada's rearmost row is comfortable enough for two average-sized adults or three children in a pinch. The seats recline slightly, too, which helps reduce the awkwardness of the seating angle. Regretfully, there are no USB ports in the third row.
Back to the second row. If you have small children and need to install child seats, Nissan makes that process very easy. The LATCH points are covered by removable plastic trim pieces, which we imagine most owners with kids will lose immediately. There's no digging through the fabric of the seat cushions to find the anchor points, they're just right there. The rear anchor point for forward-facing car seats is just as easy to access, but because we had two car seats installed we ended up lowering the third row and crawling to the back of the seat to fasten it. Not an inconvenience in itself, but it did make us wish for one-touch up and down switches for the power third-row seats.
The Platinum trim comes standard with a rear entertainment system with dual 8.0-inch screens installed in the backs of the front headrests. Unless you're springing for the Platinum trim and getting it for free anyway, we'd skip it. The single HDMI input on the driver-side screen is great if you have an HDMI adaptor for your phone, but otherwise good luck getting your device to connect to the screens via the Miracast and Smartstream systems built into the units. There's also no Blu-ray player, which isn't terribly surprising with the decline in popularity of physical media. To be fair, no automaker currently makes a good rear-seat entertainment system. We hope someday it'll be as easy to cast media from your phone to your car's entertainment system as it is on every modern TV, but for now the bar is pretty low.
2021 Nissan Armada Price and Verdict
Full pricing for the refreshed 2021 Nissan Armada has yet to be announced, but we expect a modest increase to maintain the gap between the Armada and the related Infiniti QX80, which starts just above $70,000 but tops out at over $85,000. Our 2021 Nissan Armada Platinum test vehicle's equipment list leads us to believe it will replace the current top-trim Platinum Reserve model, which also starts around $70,000. We imagine the 2021 Nissan Armada will continue to start just below the $50,000 mark for a rear-wheel-drive model.
With competition tightening in the mainstream large three-row SUV segment, the Armada needed to evolve in order to not be left behind by newer products like the Expedition and Tahoe. The updates Nissan has made to the 2021 Armada should just keep it in the game until a fully redesigned model arrives, which isn't likely to happen for another few years at least.
|2021 Nissan Armada 4x4 Platinum|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 7-8-pass SUV|
|ENGINE||5.6L 400 hp/413 lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||6,037 lb|
|L x W x H||208.9 x 79.9 x 75.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.3 sec (est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON, CITY/HWY/COMB||13/18/15 mpg (est)|
|ON SALE||January 2021|