When I was asked what car I was currently reviewing, I replied it was the Nissan Armada. The question that followed was “Oh, what do you think of it?” As someone who talks about cars in paragraphs, not short sentences, I paused, and replied “Well, it’s like a Chevy Tahoe, except made by Nissan.” That may upset fans of the Bowtie, or perhaps maybe even Nissan. But the reality is the Armada and Tahoe compete head to head in a shrinking market for full-size, truck-based SUVs, so the comparison is inevitable. After living with a Tahoe for a week last December and an Armada this past July, the similarities and differences became clear.
The Nissan Armada as we know it is no spring chicken. Introduced as a 2004 model, in today’s automotive arena the Armada is ancient. In its favor, the styling of full-size SUVs moves at a glacial pace, so in spite of its eight year old design, it still manages to look current. In spite of its size, the Armada is quite understated compared to the stern, serious face of the Tahoe. Chunky 20″ alloys and enough, but not excessive use of chrome trim lent just enough elegance to justify the price of admission. Our test car, finished in Galaxy Black did an excellent job of masking the Armada’s most glaring design flaw. From the side profile, the roof of the passenger cabin rises and swoops downward, where it is met by the cargo area, where the roof is flat. In brighter colors, it looks like two different design committees designed the Armada, and never met to compare notes for a cohesive design.
Inside, the Armada offers the level of quality and ease of use we’ve come to expect from Nissan. All controls are simple to use and easy to understand. Seats front and rear offered plenty of room and were quite comfortable. Our Armada was capable of seating up to eight, although the top-spec model with second row captain’s chairs drops that number to seven. What I appreciated about the Armada was the amount of interior storage and cubbies available, whereas the Tahoe seemed lacking. While some complain the Armada offers less cargo room, I’ll counter with this. If you to want access that extra cargo space in the Tahoe, you’ll have to physically remove the third row seat to get to all of it. The Armada? Press a button, and the third row seat simply folds flat. I’ll take the latter option, thank you. To sum, the cabin of the Armada seems far more family friendly.
Just as the Tahoe is based on the Silverado pick-up truck, the Armada is based upon Nissan’s top-dog truck, the Titan. All Armada’s are powered by a 5.6L V-8 pumping out 317hp, mated to a five-speed automatic. Buyers have the choice between rear wheel and all-wheel drive. Our test car was a 4×2, with EPA fuel economy estimated at 13/19 MPG city/highway. In mixed driving, our Armada’s trip computer was showing an average of 14 MPG, so she is one thirsty girl. In a 4×4 Armada, expect about a 1 MPG drop. Towing capacity in our Armada is an impressive 8,200 lbs, while a 4×4 can tow up to 9,100 lbs. Acceleration from the V-8 is strong, and makes the right sounds, and is without doubt more refined than the Tahoe’s mill. Despite its size and weight, the Armada is very easy to drive and wiggle your way through town or highway traffic. Yes, it handles like a truck, because, well, it is, but that is not to say it lacks refinement or is at all crude. If you expect the creaminess of a Nissan Murano, you’re missing the point.
The Armada is available in three trim levels: SV, SL, and Platinum. Our test car was the mid-level SL. While I was thankful for being spared the bling of the chrome 20’s on the Platinum, I was incredulous that if you want navigation on your Armada, you must choose the top-spec car. Standard on our SL was a leather interior, power, heated front seats, 11 speaker Bose audio, XM Radio, Bluetooth, rear sonar, rear view monitor, dual zone and rear auto climate controls, and power rear liftgate. Options on our Armada included a rear DVD entertainment system, replete with wireless headphones, remote control and 8″ screen, and power moonroof. Including destination, our Armada carried an MSRP of $48,965USD. Hardly cheap, but the price is on par for full-size, well equipped SUVs. Still, the lack of navigation, even at this price just seemed wrong.
So when asked about the Armada, equating it to the Tahoe was the simple answer, but as you’ve seen, it is far more complex. Appearance is subjective, but I’d have the say the Tahoe is by far more handsome. It epitomizes the look you want from an SUV of this size. On the other hand, the interior of the Armada was much more family friendly. Comparing how they drive, the Armada felt more nimble. But as always is the case in the car business, it’s the sales that matter. By the end of July, 2012, for every Armada Nissan sold, Chevy sold nearly four Tahoes. In spite of this, I would say these two trucks are evenly matched enough they merit comparison shopping. So before you drop that check off at your Chevy dealer, you may want to make a detour to Nissan first.
If you do, to quote the Rolling Stones, just ‘Paint It Black”.