It’s getting more and more difficult to comment about large, V-8 powered SUVs – simply because the world is moving towards EVs and hybrids, and large, heavy SUVs just seem out of place these days.
But at the same time, full-size trucks with V-8s and V-6s are scoring record sales, and people just can’t seem to have enough of trucks. So the world seems to be split into two categories of buyers: those that have evolved away from ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles and those that still love the power, torque and feel of V-6s and V-8s that no electric/hybrid cars can match.
If you are in the second camp, and you are looking for a comfortable, powerful full-size SUV, look no further than the Nissan Armada. While the Armada is a “sleeper” in a sense that most people don’t even know that it exists, it’s actually a far more practical alternative to full size trucks – mainly because it has the security and practicality of SUVs while retaining the feel of a truck.
In fact, I think that most full-sized truck buyers are actually likely to be happier with large utility vehicles like the Armada. After all, most truck buyers want the feel of a powerful and rugged truck, but they don’t really use the truck beds.
And even though there aren’t that many full-size V-8 powered SUVs around, the Armada performs better than the aging Toyota Sequoia and is a far better value than the expensive Lexus LX 570. Here in Canada, we don’t get the Toyota Land Cruiser, which would also compete with the Armada (the Lexus LX is a sort of upgraded clone of the Land Cruiser).
At one time the Nissan Armada was directly linked to the Nissan Titan, with which it shared a powertrain. Sales began strong for the first generation Armada in 2004. Over the next decade and a half, the emergence of smaller, more compact crossovers caused a shift in market demand away from conventional, large SUVs. Beating the odds, the second generation Armada produced record sales for two years between 2017 and 2018. The second generation Armada moved away from the similarities with the Titan and was based on the Nissan Patrol, which was produced and sold in Japan.
Nissan has been through a lot in the last few years, and car sales for the automaker have also taken a hit. With the company’s public scandal of the former president in 2018, buyers’ trust hit an all-time low. Fast forward to 2020 and 2021 – with the scandals in the past – and Nissan is hoping for a comeback.
The Nissan Armada is a true full-size SUV – these days considered a relic of the past. While it is a fact that compact crossovers have displaced much of the SUV market, there is still a demand for larger SUVs with excellent off-road abilities and towing capacity. The clean and straight lines on the distinctive grille of the Armada convey confidence and strength.
Seating is available for up to eight passengers but the third row is cramped for anyone larger than young adults or children. The cargo area is roughly 465 litres when all seats are up, and over 2,700 litres when all seats are folded down, but this is dampened by the large extending bumper and high lift-over height. The interior cabin features acoustic glass which makes for a quiet drive and the visibility is good due to the large window size.
One area that is lacking for the Nissan Armada is the infotainment system which is outdated and doesn’t offer either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. Nissan makes an effort to compensate for this omission in the cabin with a standard Bose Premium Audio System with 13 speakers.
Standard safety features on the Armada include all the usual items plus the modern adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. Beyond this, the top-trim Platinum comes with the further Nissan Intelligent Mobility safety features: distance control, lane intervention, blind spot intervention, back-up intervention, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and an around-view monitor.
The engine in the Armada is a 5.6-litre Endurance DOHC 32-valve V-8 engine that produces 390 horsepower and 394 foot-pounds of torque. The engine makes plenty of power and torque, and the brakes are quick to respond when needed. The drivetrain features an Intelligent 4x4 4WD system with a two-speed transfer case. Paired with this is a seven-speed automatic transmission with a Tow/Haul mode. The towing capacity for the Armada is impressive at 8,501 pounds. The independent double-wishbone suspension in the front is stabilized by an auto-levelling rear suspension system.
The Armada still uses the conventional hydraulic steering system – which is less efficient but provides more road feel – so it’s overall steering feel is actually good. The newer SUVs often have over-boosted electric-mechanical steering systems which bring little feel, so the Armada’s steering is a welcome change.
The Armada’s steering is a tad heavy in feel but provides more road feel than Toyota’s Sequoia, which offers very little road feedback. The ride is comfortable and smooth too, and the suspension seems to handle rough surfaces better than the Toyota counterpart.
Fuel economy for the 2020 Armada is 17.7/12.9/15.4 litres/100 kilometre for city, highway and combined driving.
The Nissan Armada is available in three trim levels: SL, Platinum and Platinum Reserve. The base trim, SL, is already very well stocked and offers excellent value. The Platinum trim level adds onto the SL with a windshield wiper de-icer, an additional USB port (five total), rear seat step light, heated rear seats, climate-controlled front seats, and intelligent rear view mirror and other safety features. The Platinum Reserve trim adds onto the platinum equipment and adds premium two-tone leather seats with contrasted stitching, wood-tone trim, second-row captain’s chairs with folding mechanism for easy third-row entry, dark chrome exterior trim, and a few other (mainly cosmetic) changes.
Competitors for the Nissan Armada include the Infiniti QX80 (a “clone” model from Infiniti that offers more luxury but at a much higher price point), Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, Toyota Sequoia, GMC Yukon, Lincoln Navigator, and the Lexus LX 570. The 2020 Nissan Armada starts at $66,098 for the SL trim, $72,598 for the Platinum trim, and $76,098 for the Platinum Reserve. The Nissan Armada is covered by a three-year/60,000 km comprehensive warranty with three years of roadside assistance.
And just recently, Nissan announced some welcome changes to the 2021 Armada, including an updated exterior and interior. This model hasn’t arrived yet but it will boast a large 12.3-inch infotainment system and a host of safety and technology upgrades – finally bringing the Armada in line with competitors.
Automotive journalist David Chao has been reviewing vehicles for the North Shore News since the early 1990s.