Nissan’s “all-new” 2017 Armada SUV isn’t exactly all new. Let me explain.
Engine: 5.6-liter V8 with 390 hp and 394 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic.
Fuel Economy (US): 13 mpg city, 18 mpg HWY, 15 mpg combined.
Fuel Economy (CAN): TBA
Price (US): Starts at $45,960.
Price (CAN): TBA.
The first-generation Nissan Armada SUV used the same frame that was designed for the Titan half-ton pickup truck, a strategy used by many companies to help achieve good economies of scale.
But for the 2017 model year, Nissan won’t be using its new Titan frame underneath its large SUV. Instead, the brand has decided to try to save some money by importing its world-market Patrol and slapping an Armada badge on it, a decision that brings mixed results and also uses economies of scale in a different way.
If you’re worried about this big SUV losing some of its toughness though, don’t. It is still based on a fully boxed steel frame with rails that are thicker than the outgoing model by one and a half inches, helping the new Armada boost its towing capacity to 8,500 lbs.
The Patrol name carries the same weight as Land Cruiser does around the world — it’s known for being a rugged off-roader with plenty of tricks up its sleeve. But if you’re into crawling through muddy ditches and over rock piles, don’t get too excited. The version we’re getting in the U.S. won’t get many of the goodies that give the Patrol its reputation. There’s no front and rear locking differentials, no disconnecting sway bars and no Hydraulic Body Motion Control (HBMC), all options on the Patrol in other markets. We also get unique suspension tuning for the U.S. model, further watering down the terrain-hardened Patrol.
Instead, the Armada is aimed right at the large soft-roading, family-hauling SUV crowd like the Chevy Tahoe/Suburban and Toyota Sequoia. And in that regard, it does an admirable job.
To fit that bill, the Armada comes with a massive back seat, ready to fit the all kids. The standard seating setup consists of two bucket seats up front with two 60/40 split bench seats behind, providing space for eight passengers. Second row passengers are treated to a cavernous 40 inches of headroom and 41 inches of legroom, a full two inches more than the Chevy Suburban. Those looking for more rear seat comfort can opt for second-row bucket seats that come with a removable center console.
Third row occupants won’t be greeted with the same large dimensions with just 28.4 inches of legroom, a drop from the 32.2 inches offered in the previous Armada. For kids, it will do the job, but full-size adults won’t be having a great time crammed in that back seat. The Suburban also trumps it with 34.5 inches of third row legroom.
There is a trade off to be made for all that passenger space. If you’re carrying eight passengers, there is only 16.5 cubic feet of space behind the third row, hardly enough to pack enough bags for all those passengers. If you do fold down that third row, 49.9 cubic inches of space shows up.
Comfort > Capability
Knowing the customer that this SUV is going after, it’s no surprise then to find out that the Armada also drives like today’s modern crop of comfort-focused SUVs. Under the hood is a familiar 5.6-liter V8 hooked up to a seven-speed automatic transmission, also found in the new Titan and in the Infiniti QX80, a luxury SUV that is also based on the Patrol. It makes 390 horsepower and 394 lb-ft of torque with a nice flat torque curve, providing plenty of pulling power straight through the rpm range.
Plunging the accelerator brings out a pleasing exhaust tone from this V8 all while pushing this 5,822-pound beast up to speed in a hurry, with the beefy torque curve helping to mask its weight.
That delectable beefy torque curve also provides one hell of a snack for the cylinders, which guzzle gasoline in a hurry. Nissan predicts that the four-wheel drive Armada will be good for 13 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway for a combined 15 mpg, falling short of the V8-powered Tahoe by 3 mpg.
The relaxing drive provided by the Armada might be enough for you to forget about those fuel bills. Through corners, it stays surprisingly flat and easy to control, while the suspension provides a cushy ride over the road. Isolation from the outside is good, with all the driving elements coming together to provide a comfortable and predicable drive.
Steering feel is where the Armada leaves much to be desired, with a hydraulically boosted rack that is surprisingly numb and lifeless. In low-speed conditions the easy-to-turn wheel is appreciated, but at speed, the on-center feel and feedback are non-existent.
This dead steering is especially interesting considering what the steering is like in the new Titan half-ton (which we can’t discuss until Aug.15, thanks to a Nissan-imposed embargo. Stay tuned for an update). Let’s just say that Nissan already has an in-house steering rack that is better than what’s offered here.
There is one other area where the Armada falls short, and once again, it is an issue that would have been negated by basing this SUV on the Titan.
Inside, the Armada already feels dated. A black plastic insert in the middle of the center stack simply looks old, especially covered in cheap-looking small plastic buttons. The interior feels like it could be from a 2010 Nissan. Because it is. The last time the Patrol was totally refreshed was 2010, and the “new” Armada still has the same interior design. This issue seems worse when you consider that the “new” Armada will be sitting in showrooms next to actual new models like the Nissan Murano, which has a great modern interior design.
Admittedly, it is only that one piece of plastic that brings a cheap feel to this cabin, while the rest of the Armada’s interior actually feels upmarket. Nissan uses exceptionally nice wood trim and supple leather, which is ruffled nicely on the doors, giving at least some of the Armada a luxurious feel. Besides the missing Infiniti clock in the dash, there are few things that separate this Nissan model from the QX80, except the fact that the Armada will no doubt offer a better value.
Leaving the Pavement
Despite its new family-hauling direction, the Armada still offers a decent amount of off-road capability, more than any of GM’s full-size SUVs. That’s thanks to just over 9-inches of ground clearance with a respectable 20.9 degree approach angle (though that is down compared to 26.2-degree approach angle of the previous Armada), both numbers the Chevy Suburban can’t match. We ran through a short course full of steep hills and off-camber ruts, and this SUV easily crawled through all of it. While it’s not the hardcore off-roader you may be looking for, the Armada will deal with any regular off-pavement diving situations, like rutted country roads, just fine.
Detailed pricing for the 2017 Nissan Armada hasn’t been unveiled yet, though Nissan did let slip that the starting price for this SUV will be $45,395. That undercuts the Chevy Suburban’s base price of $$50,895, and slightly undercuts the Toyota Sequoia’s base price of $45,960, although destination charges might drive the price of the Nissan up to surpass the Toyota by a small margin.
The Verdict: 2017 Nissan Armada Review
While this may not be the Patrol that off-road enthusiasts were dreaming of, it is a step forward for the Armada and that’s what is important to Nissan. Some opportunities were missed by going this route, but no doubt Nissan was driven by financial gains. It may have compromised what the Armada could have been, but this strategy managed to delver a full-size SUV that remains competitive in the segment and even offers some class-leading features. Sounds like a win-win for Nissan and its customers.
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