LAGUNA SECA, California–The philosophy, name and engine size haven’t changed, but virtually everything else on the 2017 Armada is new.
You might mistake it for an Infiniti QX80, or perhaps the international version, the Nissan Patrol—it’s very similar to both, marrying Nissan styling and packaging with proven components in this do-anything SUV, with all the positive and negative connotations that conveys.
While Nissan went to some measure to leave the Infiniti QX80 out of any Armada comparisons, it’s impossible not to notice they are the same basic box.
And “box” is a good theme for SUVs, contributing to plenty of shoulder and head room, useful cargo area behind an upright hatch, and relatively easy to see bodywork corners. And if you can’t see them, the all-around camera system is a handy substitute.
The assembled demonstration Armada armada comprised only top-trim Platinum 4WD models. Styling is of course subjective, and with their dark grilles and 20-inch wheels, I found the Pathfinder more attractive than the QX80, but that’s hardly saying much from me.
I’d not select an SUV based on styling – even if Jaguar or Maserati drew it – since u-tility is my deciding element.
Bonus points for the fender vents being functional; and for the neatly integrated side steps big enough for sleigh riders and small enough my trousers didn’t get muddied.
Loss of said points for a rear bumper scuff plate that doesn’t reach the edge most vulnerable to scuffing; and halogen main beams almost redundant against the LED low-beam headlamps.
Like any proper full-size ute it’s big in here, with generous room in front row and middle. A simple one-lever tug and I even got my 191-cm self into the third row, but I ran out of knee and toe room trying to return the middle row to seated position—if the middle row slid fore-and-aft it might have worked, at least until that seat was reclined.
Cargo volume rounds off to about 475 litres behind the third row (and a very shallow bin under it); 1,400 behind the second; and 2,700 with all seats down. The seats do fold flat (power available for the third row) but are not quite horizontal, and with second-row captain’s chairs, the removable center console lid otherwise carries the wide load.
True, you can get more interior room in a van, but those don’t offer low-range four-wheel drive, a 3,855-kg tow rating, or a real full-size alloy spare wheel and tire.
In this Platinum guise the cabin’s awash in leather, stitched soft-touch panels, high-gloss wood and no shortage of chrome dipping. A glance at the piped seats and gathered upper door inserts suggests a good argument for this being a better buy than the QX80.
Certainly I could forgo the QX80’s aniline leather, two extra speakers and analog clock for a five-digit sum, but that’s an assumption the Armada will cover the price range of competitors (only the entry price was floated) and not reach the QX80 upper spectrum, near $95,000.
Seats and wheel offer good adjustment and you sit high in the Armada—if it’s not the royal perch of a Range Rover, it’s close enough for the admiral overlooking the fleet.
Even with big mirrors and pillars there’s a decent view out, and the stubby shifter and drive mode control (there’s no 2WD choice) are well-placed. Cabin stowage is decent, and that center console lid conveniently opens from the front or rear so they can plug in their own entertainment connections back there.
With working truck background, the Armada offers six real analog gauges—RPM and speed are size XL, and the monochrome trip computer display seems a generation lower-resolution than many current systems.
Like it or not, control of trip data and dash lights is by tabs on the outer edge of the instrument nacelle. Clear, ample climate and audio controls are supplemented by the nav screen’s three-axis control wheel.
Only Platinum offers the choice of captain’s chairs in the second row, and while they’re comfortable enough, why potentially leave the eighth person behind?
Either way the last two rows have six overhead vents among them and good glass area to prevent claustrophobia. Logic prevailed in keeping the wider section of both aft rows on the driver’s side—easier curb-side loading and room for a brood with four kids and their skis or wakeboards inside.
The adventurers amongst you should know how to read a compass and topo map, but in case you don’t the Armada comes with navigation, and a 13-speaker Bose sound system to soothe the ride, standard.
It also has Bluetooth and all-around cameras and parking sensors, but it won’t park itself, nor is there any mention of NissanConnect services. Few of those are useful in the outback the parent Patrol was designed for, though a Class IV hitch and trailer harness, now standard, sure are.
Most versions have or offer adaptive cruise control with collision warning and auto emergency braking, blind-spot warning and backup collision intervention. Only the top trim offers lane departure warning/prevention and blind spot intervention.
The Armada is aptly named, a juggernaut more than 5.3 metres long with plenty of power, yet one that keeps the admiral suitably coddled. Newton’s third law and the Armada’s 2,700-kg mass came to mind when you push it on pavement or off.
Smooth, linear and full of thrust, the 5.6-litre engine is luxury-ute suitable; the main difference between this 390-horsepower/394 lb-ft unit and the QX80’s 400/413 is that the Armada runs on regular gas.
Given Pathfinder’s lighter rotating mass and perhaps a few fewer kg, you’d have to drive them back-to-back to see how much power you’re not giving up. We didn’t get to tow anything but unless you’re above 3,000 metres altitude in short passing zones, the big V8 and seamless seven-speed automatic are more than sufficient; there is neither a sport mode nor paddles and none are needed.
Expect fuel consumption in the teens; my observed average over rolling two-lane and a bit of stop-and-go was 15.6 L/100 km.
Armada runs “all-mode” 4WD—it fully automatically runs rear-drive when slip isn’t detected, and can be locked in high or low range. That low-range gearing gives a crawl ratio about 40:1, approaching a Range Rover’s and better than any non-Rubicon Wrangler, so Armada doesn’t mind exploring anywhere it fits.
It does have hill descent control, though the crawl ratio and brake modulation made that a non-issue, anyway; it feels like suspension articulation or tire tread will be the limiting factors. Armada has a real frame underneath too, so scraping something doesn’t draw gasps as it might in some others.
The frame makes it quite rigid, and as with most body-on-frame vehicles there is the slightest of shudder over some road surfaces, yet it doesn’t feel as rubbery as a Sequoia. Get it stuck on opposite corners and you can still open and close the doors to consider extraction options.
Steering is by hydraulic assist rack-and-pinion, with a turning circle you’d expect at this size. There’s a modicum of feel—remember this is a 4WD truck, though steering doesn’t feel as light and precise as an Expedition.
Road, wind and driveline noise are well-controlled: Nissan calls it “library quiet” (asterisk: at idle, probably without the ventilation system working hard) and it is indeed a quiet ride.
You’ll hear the engine when oomph is called for, more reassuring hum than “noise,” and only one road surface managed to get through enough to force me to adjust radio volume.
The 2017 Armada is a wholesale improvement on its predecessor; I’d expect nothing less given the years they’ve had to work with it.
By price and thirst it has an admittedly small audience, one best served by occasional trailer towing or a remote cabin up north, yet one that should be satisfied by power, comfort and foundation strength.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.