Nissan Armada Fashionable, But Falls Short for Families

The 7- or 8-passenger SUV returns for ’17, now on the Patrol platform with good mechanics but dated infotainment technology.

August 9, 2016

7 Min Read
rsquo17 Nissan Armada on sale this month
’17 Nissan Armada on sale this month.

CARMEL, CA – The first Nissan Armada came out in 2003, a time when folks were debating the merits of Dean and Bush, not Clinton and Trump, and when Isis simply was a lovely, old-fashioned name for a baby girl.

Yes, it’s been a long wait for an all-new Armada. And the auto world has changed, too.

Most folks still buy large SUVs to tow boats and haul Little League teams, but a growing sub-segment is buying big SUVs to be seen in them.

Not wanting to miss out on the conspicuous-consumption crowd, Nissan has “bling-ed” up the second-gen Armada, launching this month at U.S. dealers.

Yes, the Armada is decked out in chrome, chrome, and for added measure, chrome.

But for the traditional owner base – families with two or more kids, the Armada falls short when it comes to keeping today’s moms, dads and children entertained, saddled with infotainment technology that is decidedly yesteryear.

If the new Armada looks familiar, there’s good reason for that. It has all the major lines, including the distinctive D-pillar, of its brother the Infiniti QX80 large SUV.

The QX80, like the Armada, is based on the Nissan Patrol sold overseas. The Patrol hasn’t been redesigned since 2008, which explains the frustrating lack of latest-and-greatest tech features.

The suspension and hydraulic steering of the ’17 Armada tested here in late July are modern, aligning with today’s desired SUV attributes of soft and light, an overcompensation by automakers fearing buyers may find body-on-frame models less comfortable and harder to maneuver than smaller unibody utilities.

The new Armada is 1.2 ins. (30 mm) longer than its predecessor, but its wheelbase is nearly 2 ins. (51 mm) shorter, giving the new model longer front and rear overhangs.

Ground clearance also is lessened, to 9.2 ins. (234 mm) from 9.8-10.4 ins. (249-259 mm).

Still, Nissan officials here say the Armada remains a capable off-roader, for those eager to ditch the pavement.

During a short-but-effective course at the nearby Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, we go sideways, two wheels up, in the new brute on a series of dirt hills.

Still, at $44,000 to start and likely costing another $15,000 for the high-end Platinum model we are in, most Armadas will spend more time planted on all four tires in a Costco parking lot.

Tops Tahoe in Towing

Nissan’s big SUV remains a capable hauler.

An Armada 4x2 or 4x4 equipped for towing can pull 8,500 lbs. (3,856 kg). Although that’s down a bit from the outgoing ’15 Armada’s 9,000-lb. (4,082 kg) maximum rating for a 4x4 model, it bests the Chevy Tahoe’s 8,300 lbs. (3,765 kg). The Tahoe is the No.1 seller in WardsAuto’s Large SUV segment through July, with 51,652 deliveries.

Like the outgoing ’15 model (Armada skipped the ’16 model year), the new SUV has an independent double-wishbone front and rear suspension. The front stabilizer bar sees a 0.5-in. (13-mm) increase in diameter to 1.4 ins. (36 mm) to mitigate body roll. The rear bar bulges to 1 in. (26.5 mm), a 0.2-in. (4.3-mm) hike.

We find the Armada impressively flat in corners.

The Patrol platform offers a variety of enhancements over the old Armada’s F-Alpha base. Side rails are 3.9 ins. (100 mm) in key areas, up from 2.4 ins. (60 mm), and the body is more rigid thanks to a 20% hike in twisted body stiffness.

As with the old Armada, Nissan’s All-Mode 4-wheel-drive system is available, able to send 50% of torque on-demand to the front wheels.

Nissan touts the 5.6L V-8 as new. Keen observers will remember this was the same size engine in the old model, but Nissan officials say only the block and crankshaft carry over.

Improvements include the addition of direct injection; variable valve-timing and lift technology on intake and exhaust and newly designed pistons, which help raise compression ratio from 9.8:1 to 11.2:1. Replacing the thermostat is a Multi Control Valve for better thermal management.

All these measures, plus the switch from a 5-speed automatic transmission to a 7-speed auto, help boost performance. Horsepower goes from 317 to 390 and torque from 385 lb.-ft. (522 Nm) to 394 lb.-ft. (534 Nm).

However, due to the added weight from the Patrol platform, the Armada’s city fuel economy rises just 1 mpg (0.4 km/L) in 4x2 and 4x4 models, to 14 mpg (17 L/100 km) and 13 mpg (18 L/100 km), respectively.

We tally 16.7 mpg (14 L/100 km) in a suburban route, besting the 4x4’s combined 15 mpg (16 L/100 km) EPA-estimated rating.

Acceleration is quick on flat roads, but we experience some pokey hill climbs in this ritzy enclave south of San Jose.

While torque tickles 400 lb.-ft. (542 Nm) it arrives late, at 4,000 rpm vs. 3,400 rpm in the outgoing model. Fortunately the shifter has a manumatic function, for knocking the transmission down a gear or two if needed. A stomp on the accelerator will prompt downshifts, as well.

In steady cruising, the V-8 is surprisingly quiet, aided by the noise, vibration and harshness materials specified for a conversation-quiet cabin.

Not So Tech-Tastic

In a throwback to 2008-era levels of assistance, the Armada’s voice-recognition system only can tune to a radio band, not a particular radio station.

And the navigation system doesn’t accept a spoken address.

What likely will give buyers greater pause, especially those with kids, is the Armada’s inability to keep the family entertained.

It has a rear-seat entertainment system, but the screens are tiny by today’s standards – just 7 ins. (178 mm). Kids probably will opt instead for their tablets, especially given the distance between their little heads and the screen (Nissan touts the 41 ins. (1,041 mm) of class-leading second-row legroom).

But with only one 12V outlet on the back of the center console only one tablet can be charged at a time.

On the back of the center console are the classic red, yellow and white RCA jacks, for plugging in a gaming console or portable DVD player, but the kids I know don’t own DVDs.

And forget about the little ones watching Kinder egg videos on YouTube during the trip to the lake. Unlike the Tahoe, the Armada has no available WiFi. Nor is there Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Fortunately the cabin of the Armada is a pleasant place to look around if your gadgets are unusable.

Our Platinum-grade tester has nice faux-wood trim and high-quality almond leather, including on door panels where it is attractively ruched (lower grades have cloth seating and no ruching). Chocolate piping edges the almond-leather seats.

A soft-touch dash, circular-knit headliner and rubberized grab bars add to the interior beauty.

As expected in a large SUV, comfort levels are high, even in the third row where the Platinum grade features a reclining seatback. It’s a nice touch for a space long seen as a penalty box.

A nitpick are the tall, flat head restraints in the rear intruding on shoulder room. It won’t be a problem for most kids, but adults may be uncomfortable.

Despite the lack of modern infotainment, the Armada has plenty of advanced safety technology, including adaptive cruise control, forward emergency braking, blindspot warning and lane-departure prevention and warning.

Contrary to popular belief, the fullsize-SUV segment, while not as robust as 15-20 years ago, still does respectable volume, no doubt thanks to $2-a-gallon gasoline.

The seven models in WardsAuto’s Large SUV group tallied 168,362 deliveries through July, up a strong 9.2% from like-2015.

The Armada is the lowest-volume player in the group, with 5,857 sales through July, but Nissan still likes its prospects for growth.

Phil O’Connor, director-chief marketing office for Nissan North America tells WardsAuto the segment is stable because there are no good options for those needing a big vehicle.

Given its good engine, interior roominess, tow rating and capable handling, the new Armada is worth a look. But for families requiring connectivity, the Tahoe and its GMC Yukon twin are better bets.

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'17 Nissan Armada Platinum 4x4 Specifications

Vehicle type

4-door, 8-passenger large SUV


5.6L DOHC direct-injected all-aluminum V-8

Power (SAE net)

390 hp @ 5,800 rpm


394 lb.-ft. (534 Nm) @ 4,000 rpm

Bore x stroke (mm)

98 x 92

Compression ratio



7-speed automatic


121.1 ins. (3,076 mm)

Overall length

208.9 ins. (5,306 mm)

Overall width

79.9 ins. (2,029 mm)

Overall height

75.8 ins. (1,925 mm)

Curb weight

5,963 lbs. (2,705 kg)


TBA (Base price for SV grade 4x2 $44,000)

Fuel economy

13/18 mpg (18.1-13.1 L/100 km) city/highway


Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia



Looks great front, side

Chunky like QX80 in rear

Advanced safety features

Yesteryear infotainment

Updated engine with direct injected

Minor mpg improvement


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