When King Philip II of Spain, decided to invade England in 1588, to depose Elizabeth I, he elected to do it with a fleet of ships 130 strong – the Spanish Armada. While lying at anchor of the coast of Flanders, it was attacked by the British fleet. Demoralized and exhausted the Armada planned a long route for home, around Britain and into the Atlantic, chased by the British. Poor navigation and heavy storms, drew many ships onto the rocks and little more than half of the original invasion force made it back to Spain.
|1. Power for the Armada comes from a 5.6L V8 making 317-hp and 385 ft-lbs of torque – an E85 flex fuel engine is available
2. 2WD models can tow 6,500 lbs, with 4WD trim levels offering a 9,000 lb tow rating.
3. For those Armadas not ordered with a tow package, Nissan offers a frame mounted &-pin connector for either Class III or IV hitches.
4. The third row bench seat splits 60/40 and can be stowed flat in the cargo floor.
5. Titanium and Platinum models incorporate load leveling rear suspension as standard equipment.
A different kind of Armada, a four-wheeled leviathan built by Nissan, has arguably been more successful. In a decade that has seen many go from riches to rags, financial markets almost collapse and the auto industry rocked by economic problems, this Armada has perhaps weathered the storm better than the Spanish galleons of old, though it is now living on borrowed time. Nevertheless, before it does hit the rocks of history, we felt this aging warrior deserved one last spin.
When launched in 2003, as a ’04 model, the Armada stood out by a mile. The Ford Excursion might have been bigger, but it didn’t look anywhere near as aggressive. A bold, prominent grille, bulging fenders and a very wide stance, declared ‘get out of my way’ in a very un-Japanese fashion. The new Armada was a shot across the bows of the Detroit three, who at that time were selling all the Expeditions, Tahoes and Yukons they could.
Built on a rugged boxed section frame, with seating capacity for eight and a large 5.6-liter V8 engine up front, the newcomer appeared to have the right ingredients to lock horns in this profitable segment. Initial sales were fairly strong by Nissan’s expectations, but reliability problems soon surfaced, namely concerning the brakes and transmission. Nissan was fairly quick to correct those issues and gave its monster SUV a revamp for the 2008 model year. Here we are, two seasons later and this huge rig is little changed – not that it’s necessarily a bad thing.
In terms of looks, despite a mild facelift, the huge Armada remains just as imposing now as it was at launch. No matter which angle you view it from, this is one truck that exudes a menacing kind of presence, dwarfing much in its path. The C-pillar mounted rear door handles, which give this four-door the appearance of just having two, still lend a rugged outdoors type of vibe, much like big Blazers and Broncos of old. Our Platinum edition (base SE and mid-range Titanium models are offered for 2010), with its chrome 20-inch wheels, mirrors and other embellishments, had an aura of quality about it. Examination revealed nice, linear panel gaps, good trim fit and decent (but not outstanding) paint quality.
Inside the Armada could be described as spacious, although vast would be more accurate. Like its Titan relative; the front part of the cabin is dominated by a massive center console with ample storage space. On Platinum models like our tester, equipped with second row folding captain’s chairs, there’s also an additional removable console (a 40/20/40 split folding bench is standard).
The second row seats are straightforward to move and adjust, allowing fairly easy access to the third row bench seat. With the second and third row seats stowed, cargo space opens up to a whopping 97.1 cubic feet, this in relation to a total interior volume of 127.3 cubic feet.
At the rear, six cargo tie downs are also standard, helping secure bulky or unusually shaped objects. All Armadas are very well equipped. Standard features on all three trim levels include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power adjustable foot pedals, tilt column, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear passenger controls, full length overhead storage bins and no fewer than 10 cup holders.
In terms of driving position, a fairly tall perch and large windows lend good outward visibility and all controls are straightforward and relatively easy to use. Platinum models are offered with a hard drive Navigation system and XM Nav traffic feature that includes a 7-inch touch screen in the center stack. The Nav system takes a little getting used to, but is generally a positive asset, though sometimes it will get a little confused, especially in more remote areas.
Compared to some of the flash now seen in luxury and entry-level luxury SUVs, parts of the Armada’s interior, noticeably the instrument cluster and center stack controls, are looking a bit dated – but having said that, there’s still something to be said for a little simplicity. In terms of fit and finish, even though much of the basic interior is shared with Titan, we felt that quality was a notch above in the Armada.
POWER AND STRENGTH
Because it is based on a brawny, full-size pickup, the Armada is highly capable in many respects once in motion. The big ‘Endurance’ 5.6-liter dual overhead cam V8 feels willing, pulling this barge along with aplomb. Packing 317-hp at 5200 revs and a substantial 385 ft-lbs at just 3400 rpm, it’s got the grunt needed to get the job done. For an overhead cam engine, we found it had very strong mid-range torque. Sudden bursts of acceleration were no problem, neither were hills.
The sole transmission available is a variation of the same five-speed automatic as found in the Titan. Although older versions have a reputation for being somewhat fragile and poor shifting, we found the gears were generally well matched to the engine’s torque curve, though on a couple of occasions, when both accelerating hard and slowing down, we found the five-speeder a bit lazy in swapping cogs.
Even though we didn’t actually get to tow with our Platinum, the Armada is known for its excellent pulling ability. According to Nissan’s official stats, 2WD SE models are rated at 6,500 lbs, while Titanium and Platinum models can tow a staggering 9,000 lbs of weight behind them. So combined with the cavernous interior, if you wanted a cross-country express to carry and haul all your worldly possessions, perhaps on an extended summer vacation, look no further. However, all this power and torque does have a drawback, namely, fuel economy. The Armada tends to guzzle a gallon of premium gas every 12 miles in town and about 16.5 on the open road.
Because of its considerable mass, it’s fair to say the Armada hugs the road rather than carves it. The lightest of all, the 2WD SE, tips the scales at 5,732 lbs, while a 4×4 Platinum model, like our tester, weighs in at a whopping 5,841. Yet for all that girth, the Armada is more agile through the corners than you might think – a wide 67.5 inch track and fairly direct steering proving good allies, whether on curved freeway on ramps or winding two-laners.
FULLY-INDEPENDENT FOR A COMFORTABLE RIDE
Body roll is quite noticeable at higher speeds and during abrupt swerve maneuvers, but then again the steering does allow you to turn fairly quickly, thus avoiding any would-be obstacles lying in your path. Ride quality is fairly exemplary – probably because of the weight and also the fully independent suspension that’s bolted to the F-Alpha boxed frame. Even rough sections of pavement (and we found plenty), didn’t feel as bad as they looked and over longer distances, we found the Armada supremely comfortable and relaxing to drive (self leveling at the rear on Titanium and Platinum models also helps).
With huge disc brakes all-around (13.8-inch vented rotors up front, 12.6-inch rotors out back, along with electronic braking distribution), stopping is remarkably good for such a heavy vehicle. Front-end dive is fairly noticeable under panic stops (as all that mass shifts forward) but in general, the Armada comes to a halt in linear and progressive fashion. We also found few issues of fade, even after repeated 60 mph to 0 stops.
All 2010 Armadas come in a choice of two or four-wheel drive; both feature limited slip differentials with an active brake feature to control wheel spin on tarmac, but considering the weight of the vehicle, traction on paved roads is rarely a problem. On rougher surfaces, the 4WD model, which uses a two-speed electronically controlled transfer case, engages with easy and going from high to low range and back again is a doddle. Armada’s standard tires are 265/70/18s, though Titanium and Platinum versions get bigger 20-inch wheels and 275/60/20 rubber, which is not really the best for off-roading. Having said that, as long as you avoid seriously rocky terrain – large boulders and tree stumps – you should be fine. Ground clearance can be a bit of an issue, especially with the standard running boards (they’re optional on the Titan pickup), plus with even more weight you really need to take things slowly. But there’s ample traction and torque at your disposal, and even fairly steep grades aren’t likely to pose too much of a problem, as long as you maintain enough momentum when climbing.
As large SUVs go, the Armada is one of the most enjoyable we’ve experienced. It offers a good blend of power, refinement, space and towing capacity, with a bit of character that some modern Goliaths seem to be lacking.
Since it’s introduction, it has also gained a bit of a following. In view of its size and overall capability, it’s fairly well priced – SE starts at $37,210, while the Titanium and Platinum models (which Nissan strangely refers to as special editions), begin at $42,140 and a somewhat steep $49,390. Mind you, a fully loaded V8 Pathfinder isn’t that much less. However, as stated at the top of this article, the big Armada’s days are likely numbered. The Japanese automaker has said it will deliver a second generation Armada but depending on the market, that might not even see-out a full production cycle. So if you want one, best get it now while you still can.