Nissan Goes Upscale With New Armada SUV; Aims at Chevy Tahoe

“The only thing it shares with the previous model is the Armada name,” says a Nissan representative.

Steve Finlay, Senior Editor

February 11, 2016

4 Min Read
Nissan unveils new Armada in Chicago
Nissan unveils new Armada in Chicago.

CHICAGO – Nissan introduces a ’17 Armada fullsize SUV billed as significantly different from its predecessor.

“The platform, engine, interior and body are different,” Dan Passe, Nissan North America’s senior manager-product communications, says here at an unveiling in connection with the city’s annual auto show.  “The only thing it shares with the previous model is the Armada name.”

The Japanese automaker says it has made the new one crisper-looking and more upmarket with the likes of a plusher interior and advanced safety features. Those include blind-spot detection, intelligent cruise control and an active back-up collision-avoidance braking-intervention system on high trim levels. On lower trim levels, a warning system alerts drivers, but doesn’t step in to do the braking in emergencies.  

The body-on-frame vehicle will compete in a segment with unit sales of about 300,000 a year, and one that is dominated by the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon. Armada annual sales last year were 12,593 units, according to WardsAuto data.

The fullsize SUV segment is “stable” if not huge, says Peter Luttenbacher, Nissan North America’s manager-truck and SUV product planning.

“We don’t see it as going away,” he says. “There are always going to be outdoor-adventure families that need room for a couple of kids, a couple of dogs and everything to take camping. And a vehicle with the ability to tow.” (Towing capacity for the ’17 Armada is 8,500 lbs.)

Nissan had stopped building the previous-generation Armada in preparation for moving production from Canton, MS, to Japan. That move was done, in part, to free up Canton capacity for the newly redesigned Nissan Titan pickup truck.

The new Armada and Titan share the same standard 5.6L gasoline V-8 engine that is made in Tennessee. For the Armada, Nissan ships the engine to the assembly plant in Japan where the new Armada is made along with the Patrol, a global fullsize SUV that’s more rugged in nature and sold in other international markets.

The Armada is only sold in North America.

On the surface, the engine’s back-and-forth geographical movement may seem cumbersome. But it makes sense, all things considered, Rick Miller, Nissan North America’s director-product planning, tells WardsAuto.     

“Nissan only makes one V-8, so it is more efficient to keep it in one plant,” he says.

The Titan offers a diesel engine option. The Armada won’t. In the new model, the transmission goes from 5 to 7 speeds.   

Nissan sees the U.S. fullsize SUV market as one that wants more upscale features and creature comforts. Nissan’s luxury division, Infiniti, offers those things in the QX80 fullsize SUV. But Miller says focus groups indicate the Armada appeals to inconspicuous consumers who want plenty of amenities, but not a vehicle with a premium nameplate.

He describes a Nissan customer as saying “I have enough money to buy a luxury brand, but I don’t want a luxury (nameplate). I do want luxury features though.”

In a Q&A, Luttenbacher explains Nissan’s market strategy of amping up the Armada.

WardsAuto: If General Motors dominates the segment with the Tahoe and Yukon, how do you get consumers out of those and into the Armada?

Luttenbacher: Our advantage is in the key safety features that Tahoe hasn’t adopted yet; a lot of the intervention-type features. And styling. That’s where we really hit it.

WardsAuto: The old platform was shared with the Titan pickup truck. But this one is new. What’s different about it?  

Luttenbacher: This one is kind of a hybrid between the QX 80 and the global Patrol platform. The Patrol is a vehicle very similar to this that’s sold globally in Australia, Russia, China and the Middle East. The name is based on a military heritage.

WardsAuto: So what’s different about this platform for the U.S. market?

Luttenbacher:  It’s a much- improved platform over the outgoing Armada. So you are getting better ride quality, particularly over bumps. It’s a stiffer chassis. We’re able to make a quieter, much smoother vehicle with this platform.”

WardsAuto: What did you do to make it like that?

Luttenbacher: A lot of what was done was the enhancement in design. What we learned from that previous generation we brought into this new vehicle.  

WardsAuto: The ride is different for the U.S.?

Luttenbacher: We tuned the suspension and the shocks for the U.S. market compared with the global Patrol.

WardsAuto: To make it a softer ride?

Luttenbacher: It is softer. The global Patrol is set up for much harsher environments. They’re jumping sand dunes in the Middle East, long-distance hauling in Australia. It’s set up for much higher durability with a stiffer and harsher ride. We set up the Armada’s platform much more for the U.S. market. It is a family vehicle but still needs that SUV durability.

Pricing is to be announced. The Armada goes on sale in the summer.

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