Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All-new full-size SUV starts at the front of the class.
The 2004 Nissan Armada is an all-new full-size sport-utility vehicle that's every bit as big as a Ford Expedition. Based on the new Nissan Titan full-size pickup, the Armada is actually a little larger than the Toyota Sequoia, Chevrolet Tahoe, and GMC Yukon.
Armada seats seven or eight people. The interior is comfortable, convenient and luxurious. Three rows of seats are provided, with limo-like roominess in the second row. Nissan claims best-in-class rear legroom and we believe it. The back seat looks and feels much roomier than the Expedition, which isn't exactly cramped. Both rear rows fold flat giving the Armada enormous cargo capacity.
Equipped with a powerful V8, the Armada is impressive underway. Nissan's new 5.6-liter engine delivers strong torque for quick acceleration and the ability to pull trailers of up to 9,100 pounds. A smooth five-speed automatic transmission adds to the responsiveness of the 32-valve double overhead-cam V8.
Handling is impressive as well. The four-wheel independent suspension and rack-and-pinion steering give the Armada a direct and steady feel, whether cruising down the highway, hustling through the hills or parking in a crowded lot. Armada was designed in California and is built at Nissan's brand-new $1.43 billion factory in Canton, Mississippi.
About that name: Initially called the Pathfinder Armada, it's now simply called simply Armada. That's good, but this full-size SUV has absolutely nothing to do with the Nissan Pathfinder, a mid-size SUV. (Nissan will be introducing an all-new Pathfinder for 2005.) Whatever you call it, Nissan's new full-size SUV is superb.
Nissan Pathfinder Armada comes in one size, extra-large. It's available in SE and LE trim, both of which are well-equipped models. Armada comes standard with three rows of seats and all models come with the V8 engine. Each can be equipped with rear-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD).
SE ($33,300 or $36,100 with 4WD) comes with adjustable lumbar support for the front seats and eight-way power adjustment for the driver, second- and third-row bench seats, an in-dash six CD changer, cruise control, power windows, power mirrors, power locks with keyless entry, air conditioning, auto-dimming interior rear-view mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio control buttons, running boards, privacy glass, flip-out rear quarter windows, a roof rack, and five-spoke wheels with 18-inch tires. The SE can be equipped with the Bose package ($750); a leather package ($2,350); a Sunroof package ($3,350) that includes leather seats; a Journey Package ($3,950) that includes a sunroof and second-row bucket seats with a removable center console; and a Tow package ($650).
LE ($36,100 or $40,600 with 4WD) comes with leather upholstery, a heated driver's seat, a memory system for the seat, mirrors, and adjustable pedals, second-row captain's seats, Bose audio, puddle lamps, power rear quarter windows, and 18-inch tires on six-spoke wheels. Options for the LE include an Upgrade package ($600) with power rear lift gate and power front passenger’s seat; a sunroof ($1600); a second-row bench seat (no charge); and a Technology package ($3,900) with a navigation system and dual-zone climate controls.
A DVD-based overhead entertainment system ($1,500) is available for any Bose-equipped Armada. Also available is a choice of XM or Sirius satellite radio ($400). Available accessories include a grille guard ($590) and cargo tray ($70).
The SE Off-Road model ($36,450 for 2WD, $39,250 for 4WD) features Rancho shock absorbers, a lower final drive ratio, heavy-duty cooling system, skid plates to protect the underside of the vehicle from damage while venturing off road, and seven-spoke wheels with 17-inch off-road tires designed to help absorb the travails of off-pavement travel. Off-Road versions also add Seton leather seating surfaces, side-impact airbags for the front seats, six-way power adjustment for the front-seat passenger, Bose audio, and fog lamps. A sunroof and second-row captain's chairs are also available.
Standard safety equipment includes roof-mounted side-impact curtain airbags for all three rows, shoulder harnesses for all seating positions, Vehicle Dynamic Control (an electronic stability control system), and tire-pressure monitors. All models have power adjustable pedals and sonar-based rear proximity (park-assist) sensors. Armada comes standard with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake Assist.
One of the first things you notice about the Nissan Armada is its gargantuan proportions. Nearly 207 inches long, Armada is a foot longer than the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon. It's 3 inches longer than the Toyota Sequoia and an inch longer than the Ford Expedition.
The very first thing you notice about the Armada is its bold looks. Part of that is its size. Its wide stance and long wheelbase with short front and rear overhangs give it a look of strength. In other words, the wheels are pushed out toward the corners of the truck, making for easier maneuverability in tight quarters as well as rock-solid stability on the highway.
Adding to the Armada's bold presence are its big chrome bumpers. It's big grille is body-colored on the SE, chromed for even more visual strength on the LE. It makes for an imposing image in rear-view mirrors.
Viewed by some angles, the Armada almost looks like a cartoon drawing. The rear-door handles are mounted on the C-pillar instead of down on the door panel. Those rear doors are part of the design signature because instead of angling straight down or toward the rear of the vehicle, their rear edge is more of a dogleg that turns back toward the front of the car. The impression is to visually enhance the structure around the main passenger section and to give the Armada a distinctively strong side view. The standard running boards are a good feature because step-in height is 21 to 22.5 inches, depending on drivetrain and wheel size.
Viewed from the rear, the Armada has a wide rear window, which can be opened separately. The hatch is large, providing a big opening for loading or unloading cargo. Though large, the rear door feels light when opening or closing it. A power option allows the door to be opened or closed at the touch of a button on the key fob, useful when approaching with an armload of groceries on a rainy day. Enhancing the Armada's wide stance are narrow shoulders that frame the vertically stacked tail lamps and a tall chromed center section of the rear bumper.
As mentioned, the Armada is based on the Nissan Titan, a full-size pickup. For its part, the Titan is the first pickup from an import brand to go head-to-head against the full-size Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, and Chevrolet Silverado. (The Toyota Tundra is smaller and doesn't quite go head to head.).
The Armada interior is attractive, comfortable and convenient. There's a nice mix of materials. You won't find any fake wood-grain trim and the only chrome is the Nissan emblem at the center of the steering wheel. The Seton leather available on the Off-Road model is rich and luxurious and has a lot of texture that makes it interesting to look at.
The eight-way adjustable driver's seat is comfortable and supportive. Adjustable pedals and tilting steering wheel help ensure the proper driving position. We found the seats comfortable and liked the commanding view of the road. A two-piece sun visor keeps the sun off the eyes. The gauge package includes speedometer and tachometer, oil pressure, temperature, voltage and fuel gauges. Ordering the towing package adds a transmission temperature gauge.
There's plenty of places to put stuff. Opening the lid to the center console reveals a deep storage compartment. In front of that is a large open binnacle perfect for tossing stuff and it has an arm that swings out to secure a big water bottle. There are narrow storage channels along the sides of the center tunnel and more storage is found in the interior door panels and on top of the dashboard above the outer vents. The center console's well-designed cup holders are easy to access. Armada offers 14 cup holders and four of them are designed to hold 64-ouce beverage containers. A long, overhead console provides more storage and a pair of map lights. Three 12-volt outlets are provided, including one in the rear, and two of them provide power even when the engine is not running.
The Armada's back seats offer acres of space. Passengers in the second row enjoy a limo-like 42 inches of leg room. Families told Nissan they need more room in the second row that what's available in other full-size SUVs, so the Armada was designed with best-in-class rear legroom. The second-row seats recline so you can really stretch out. A choice of rear seats is available: a bench seat with a flip down armrest or captain's chairs with a large center console. Either way, the second-row seat feels significantly roomier than in the Ford Expedition and much roomier than in Tahoe, Yukon, and Sequoia.
The third-row seats are raised, stadium style, for better forward visibility by those sitting back there. The second-row seats easily flip down and tumble out of the way when getting in and out of the third row; the release is a little easier to operate than the Expedition's. They are reasonably comfortable for third-row seats, but are best used for children or short distances.
The Armada can carry almost as much cargo as the old Spanish armadas. With all seats in their full upright positions, the Armada provides 20 cubic feet of space behind the third row, which is similar to that of the Expedition. It's deep enough to fit a 30-gallon cooler. There's also a nice storage area hidden beneath the rear section of the cargo floor. The second- and third-row seats fold flat to the cargo floor. Folding down the third row reveals 57 cubic feet of cargo, considerably more space than what's found in the Expedition. Folding down both rows provides 97 cubic feet of space, also significantly more than Expedition (by nearly 10 cubic feet). Fold down the front passenger seat and you can fit a 10-foot ladder inside. Like the Expedition, there are gaps in the floor between the second- and third-row seats when all are folded flat.
Getting in and out is easy. The inside door handles are well designed for easy exit. The rear doors open wide. And the running boards help when climbing in or out.
The first thing we noticed when driving the Nissan Armada is its brilliant responsiveness. The Armada feels quicker and more responsive than any of the other SUVs in this class. Its new 5.6-liter V8 engine produces 305 horsepower and 385 pounds-feet of torque. The five-speed automatic transmission takes full advantage of the strong V8 performance. It's very responsive. And with five gears to choose from, it never seems to hunt for the right gear. It shifts smoothly and the close ratios mean eliminate uncomfortably abrupt downshifts. A 2WD Armada earns a 13/19 mpg City/Highway fuel economy rating from the EPA, 13/18 for 4WD.
Like the Titan, the Armada is built on a fully boxed steel ladder frame that yields a smooth ride and responsive handling. Unlike the Titan, the Armada features an independent rear suspension. This design enhances ride and handling. Indeed, the Armada makes a smooth transition as it turns into corners. Its handling feels controlled and handles emergency lane-change maneuvers well at highway speeds. The front suspension is also independent and the steering is rack and pinion.
We found this full-size SUV to be very well mannered, instilling a sense of confidence in the driver that the Armada will go and turn and stop as well if not better than its contemporary competition.
The Off-Road package rides much better than we expected after looking at its big, aggressive off-road tires and reading about its Rancho suspension. Even with the off-road suspension, the Armada seems to ride as good or better than the competition. For those who opt to go off-roading, the angle of approach (without the front spoiler) is 31.1 degrees, the angle of departure is 27.7 degrees, and the ramp-over angle is 25.0. The 4x2 SE has 9.9 inches of ground clearance while the SE 4x4 and all LEs have at least 10.6 inches of clearance.
The Pathfinder Armada is Nissan's first full-size sport-utility, but you'd never know by driving it as it's a well-designed and executed entry. We are extremely impressed with the Armada's powertrain. Few owners will push it even close to its dynamic capabilities. Its cleverly conceived interior provides both the room and the creature features that should satisfy its owners.
In short, the new Nissan Armada may be the best vehicle in its class.
Nissan Pathfinder Armada SE 2WD ($33,300); SE 4WD ($36,100); LE 2WD ($37,800); LE 4WD (40,600); SE Off-Road 2WD ($36,450); SE Off-Road 4WD ($39,250).
Options As Tested
Technology Package ($3,900) includes navigation system, automatic two-zone climate control, sunroof, power passenger seat and power lift gate; DVD Entertainment system ($1,500).
Nissan Armada LE 2WD (37,800).
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