I remember when the first Armada showed up at the dealership I worked at back in 2004. It was called the Pathfinder Armada and the long time Nissan dealer employees weren’t quite sure what to think about it. Wasn’t the Pathfinder big enough? As anyone who has 3 or more kids will tell you, no, the Pathfinder wasn’t big enough. The Armada offered more seating, more cargo space and more towing capability. It also required substantially more space in the driveway, as it was bigger than anything Nissan had ever offered. Some dealers had to have new hoists installed just to accommodate the beast. In short order, Nissan dropped the confusing double name and the truck became simply the Armada. A fitting title for a grand machine.
The exterior styling of the Armada has always been a somewhat touchy subject. The odd cut to the aft end of the cabin draws mixed reviews to this day. That said, Nissan has never been a company that conforms to the stylistic norm so the Armada’s shape shouldn’t have been a surprise. The first generation Xterra was far from conventional and has won over literally thousands of fans so it made sense for the designers to take a chance on the bigger sibling. In the past 5 years, there has been some minor face lifting, but the basic shape remains the same. That isn’t a bad thing, as the Armada still looks current and maybe even edgy in a market dominated by bland boxes.
It has been a few years since I’ve driven an Armada and I had forgotten just how big it is. Standing beside it, one looks to the sky to see the top of the Armada. Wheeling it around a parking lot, the operator is painfully aware that this is no small vehicle. Just as school buses take a wide berth when turning in tight quarters, so does the Armada driver. Arriving at home and parking it beside our old Xterra, I was amazed. The X has always been one of the taller vehicles on the road, thanks to the extended roof racks. The Armada dwarfs it by about 3 inches!
All of this exterior size contains an interior that has fantastic space. Our tester was a 7 passenger model with 2 bucket seats in the middle row. As described by the kids, all the rearward seating was comfy and spacious. We put the teenager in the back seats for a while and she said it was fine for adults. One aside to that comment is the fact that most adults aren’t likely as limber as our teenage dancer so the climb to get back there might not be so easy. Every seat for the rearward passengers is flanked by copious storage possibilities, meaning that drinks, snacks and the ever present Nintendo DS’s have their own place. During much of our 7 plus hour drive, the kids were kept occupied by the large lcd screen and a cache of dvd’s. Thankfully, an extra headphone jack augments the 2 wireless headphones, meaning that Mom & Dad were able to keep on rockin’ to First Wave on XM Satellite rather than listening to Zohan and some vampire flick. Perhaps the only failing here is the lack of a 110v outlet to power the PS2 the kids wanted to bring.
Up front, we had our share of comfort. Just like the kids, we had more than enough storage which meant that we didn’t have that usual pile of crud that invades the front seat during a road trip. The leather clad seats are comfy and very roomy. At a time when many vehicles seem to be lacking front seat arm rests, front seat passengers of the Armada can choose between seat mounted armrests or using the large center console lid. That lid has a dished, non skid top that is perfect for keeping the phone or iPod handy. Bluetooth connectivity keeps the driver’s hands on the wheel if that phone should ring. Steering wheel mounted controls for the audio system and cruise control do the same.
Keeping a vehicle of this magnitude motivating takes some serious muscle and the Armada doesn’t disappoint. A 5.6L V-8 generates 317 horsepower and 385 lb-ft of torque. These numbers, combined with a true truck chassis, give the Armada a 4,082 kg (9,000 lb) towing capacity. Without the trailer, there is more than enough oomph on the road. With a 5 speed automatic transmission, that V-8 turns at just 1,800 rpm at 120 kmh (70ish mph). The Armada is also equipped with 4 wheel drive that includes hi and low range. Somehow I suspect that the closest most Armadas will come to needing low range is when pulling the family boat up a launching ramp rather than slogging through mud or crawling rocks but its nice to know the truck is capable of doing it.
Out on the open road, the Armada feels much smaller than it actually is and actually feels fairly nimble. There is a problem with this though. One tends to get comfortable and forget that one is piloting a vehicle that tips the scales at over 5,000 pounds. When slowing to a stop, the Armada often takes more brake pedal pressure than one expects it will to bring all that mass to a stop. This is actually a minor quibble, as it is something you would get used to when driving the Armada daily.
Fuel consumption is a very real concern for some folks when they consider purchasing a full size SUV so I thought we’d compare back to a couple of other monsters we’ve tested recently. Over some 1,500 km we managed to eek out 16 l/100 km or 14.7 US mpg, with the cruise control set to roughly 120 kmh for most of the trip. Those numbers plant it squarely in between the 2009 Escalade Hybrid (12.7 l/100 km) and 2007 Chrysler Aspen (18.9 l/100) that we’ve tested over the past couple of years.
Where the Armada wins out over both of these others is in feel, which is a hard thing to describe. Both the Caddy and the Chrysler feel like Traditional Domestic products, while the Armada feels like a Traditional Import. Those who have never driven Japanese cars will not understand what I mean. Those who have, will. Pricing for the Armada begins at $55,398 Cdn while the Aspen starts at $50,495 and the Escalade at $78,535 ($94,295 for the hybrid). While the Armada is again in the middle here, it is closer to the Aspen and those fuel savings will add up awfully quickly.
For the potential buyer who needs to move a small army of people and haul some toys but wants to express their sense of style, the Armada makes a strong appeal to the senses. Not just an emotional choice though, as it holds it’s own when common sense things like dollars and cents raise their heads. Even this far along in the product cycle, the Nissan Armada remains a winner.