Armada on Patrol in a Sea of Tahoes
It might be hard to imagine now, in a day and age where there’s such a thing as an electric sport-utility vehicle, but big V-8-powered body-on-frame SUVs like the Nissan Armada used to be among the most popular vehicles on the road. A product of the early 2000s when Americans were literally buying Hummer H2s and Ford Excursions en masse, Nissan built the original Armada and its Infiniti twin, the QX56, on the bones of its full-size Titan pickup truck.
A lot has changed since then. Hummer is gone, and so are huge gas guzzlers like the Excursion. But other things have stayed the same, chiefly the strong demand from large families and fleets for big, tough SUVs with plenty of power and capability to haul the family, tow a boat, and put up with rural two-track roads. There’s still money to be made here, but Nissan had to be smart about it. Given the dominance of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban in the space, it didn’t make sense to develop another SUV on the new Titan’s platform. Instead, when building the 2017 Nissan Armada, the automaker looked overseas at the other body-on-frame brute in its portfolio: the Patrol.
Never sold in America before the launch of the second-gen Infiniti QX56 (now QX80) in 2011, the Nissan Patrol has long been a favorite of militaries and non-governmental organizations alike. The original Patrol went into production back in the ’50s as a cheap, rugged off-road vehicle. Like the rival Toyota Land Cruiser, it’s grown bigger, more luxurious, and more technologically advanced over the years. The current-generation Nissan Patrol even sports locking differentials and a hydraulic body control system that’s capable of essentially disconnecting the rig’s anti-roll bars for better off-road articulation like the Lexus LX 570.
The Nissan Armada has none of that stuff.
If you’ll allow me to editorialize for a moment, I think that’s rather disappointing. Despite the fact that the Patrol has never before been sold in the States, Nissan is still pretty well known here for its off-road heritage. It even offers off-road-ready Pro-4X packages on vehicles such as the Titan and Frontier pickups. Not to do so on the Armada seems like a huge missed opportunity.
On the other hand, it makes all the sense in the world. Taken on its own and compared directly to a vehicle such as the Chevy Tahoe (which long ago gave up any pretense of real off-road ability), the new Armada is quite competitive. Its Tennessee-built “Endurance” 5.6-liter V-8 is a stout one. Making 390 hp and 394 lb-ft of torque and mated to a seven-speed automatic and a four-wheel-drive system in our loaded Armada Platinum tester, the V-8 is brutish in the best-possible way. Under-stressed and over-powered, the engine sounds excellent when you get deep into the throttle, the (almost) three-ton Nissan’s rear end squatting down as it launches forward. The seven-speed gearbox shifts quickly and smartly, and it helps quiet the Armada down at highway speeds by keeping the engine lugging along at about 1,500 rpm. Despite its massive 20-inch wheels, the Nissan rides rather well, although those same wheels hurt handling performance. Throw a couple turns its way, and the Armada flops around like a fish out of water, with little to no feedback from the tires or steering wheel and excessive body roll. It’s been a long time since the Tahoe or Ford Expedition handled like that.
The poor handling performance was reflected in our instrumented testing. In our figure-eight testing, the Armada’s best lap was 28.4 seconds at 0.59 g average, a tenth of a second and 0.3 g shy of a comparably equipped four-wheel-drive Tahoe LTZ. But hey, at least the Nissan’s quick in a straight line. Lined up for a drag race, the Armada hits 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and completes the quarter mile in 14.9 seconds at 94.0 mph (151.3 km/h). That’s pretty quick for the segment. The very same Tahoe, which has a 5.3-liter V-8 with 355 hp and a six-speed automatic, needed 7.0 seconds to hit 60 mph and 15.4 seconds to finish the quarter mile at 90.6 mph (145.8 km/h). The only other vehicle in the segment we’ve tested that comes close to the Armada is the 2015 Ford Expedition EL. Although we’ve yet to test the shorter version of EcoBoost-powered Expedition, the 365-hp Ford with its twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 does 0–60 mph in 6.5 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.1 seconds at 90.3 mph (145.3 km/h). The Nissan’s braking performance is average for the class, coming to a stop from 60 mph in 128 feet.
The Armada’s powertrain may be a strong selling point to those who might’ve only been considering Chevys or Fords, there’s an additional buyer who may also want to take a gander over to their local Nissan dealership: Infiniti QX80 customers. As far as we can tell, the interior on our loaded $61,435 USD Armada Platinum was virtually identical to that of a loaded $89,845 USD Infiniti QX80. The Armada’s interior features rich, high-quality leather, fancy wood trim, and ritzy white-contrast stitching throughout the cabin. The front two rows of seats are comfortable and spacious, and second row passengers get their own entertainment screens and a non-removable center console via an optional $450 USD package that’s best skipped. The third row, which in theory seats three, is probably best left folded down to boost cargo room. When up the rear seats are uncomfortable at best and probably spacious enough for one very small teenager or a couple toddlers. Regardless, that’s a similar problem the equivalent QX80 has, which, to reiterate, costs $28,410 USD more than this Armada.
Although car enthusiasts may lament the missed opportunity the 2017 Nissan Armada represents, ultimately the vehicle Nissan brought to market makes all the sense in the world. With gas cheap for now and sales of SUVs booming, there are bound to be shoppers looking for a big, capable family-hauler that’s different than what everyone else in the neighborhood seems to have. For those buyers, the new Armada is a credible alternative in a sea of Tahoes and Suburbans.
|2017 Nissan Armada Platinum V8|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$61,435|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||5.6L/390-hp/394-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||5,879 lb (52/48%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||208.9 x 79.9 x 75.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.9 sec @ 94.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||128 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.71 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.4 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||13/18/15 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||259/187 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.31 lb/mile|