First Drive: 2017 Nissan Armada
The redesigned 2017 Nissan Armada is a full-size SUV large enough to fit the Brady Bunch (sans Alice). Itís a family vehicle through and through, in spite of the fact that it shares architecture with the off-road-savvy Nissan Patrol offered overseas. This is likely good news for the vast majority of you, because the lack of off-road features one would expect in a U.S. version of the Patrol (locking differentials, downhill assist control, off-road-tuned suspension) means the asking price for the new full-size Nissan SUV starts out at a reasonable $44,400, making the third-row vehicle a more affordable option than many of the SUVs it competes against in the full-size space (Tahoe, Expedition, Sequoia, Yukon).
Nissan notes the Armadaís lineage with its overseas brother the Patrol, as they are both produced in the same Japanese plant and share similar body-on-frame chassis and suspension components, much like the Infiniti QX80. Yet the Armada isnít the second coming of the Patrol in the U.S. (last offered in the Ď60s here), because while it shares components it is not designed for family comfort and space and not going head-to-head with Toyotaís Land Cruiser thatís priced considerably higher. The Armada follows Nissanís value proposition with its vehicles, where it offers a number of upgraded features but does so in an affordable package.
That said, the 2017 Armada isnít allergic to dirt either because while it will be offered in 2WD, the 4WD version does come with a transfer case and offers a selectable low range (heck, it even has a skid plate up front to offer radiator protection on approach angles). The 2017 Armada also comes to the table sporting the same new 5.6L Endurance V8 engine found in the 2017 Titan and Titan XD, which is rated to produce 390 horsepower and 394 lb.-ft. of torque. The new V8 is mated to a new seven-speed transmission, also found in the Titan, and the Armada boasts an 8,500 maximum tow rating.
Nissan invited us out to test-drive its newest 2017 product recently in Carmel, California, and we had an entire afternoon to put the Armada through its paces both on and off-road for a first impression.
The Armada is similar to its peers in that it offers body-on-frame construction, much like half-ton and 3/4-ton truck, as Nissan reserves unibody construction for its smaller SUVs like the Pathfinder (a vehicle weíll provide driving impressions of shortly). Double-wishbone suspension is featured both front and rear on the Armada, with twin-tube Hitachi shocks helping to cushion the bumps. Minimum ground clearance on the Armada is 9.1 inches on both 2WD and 4WD models, with a maximum approach angle of 20.9 degrees, a maximum departure angle of 22.3 degrees, and a breakover angle of 20.7 degrees.
When we hit the highway in the new Armada, winding through the roads of Carmel Valley Ranch and out to surrounding highways in the area, we were immediately impressed with the power of the new Endurance V8 engine. The updated engine features Variable Valve Event and Lift (VVEL) technology for added crispness and a Direct Injection Gas (DIG) system to aid in improving wide-open throttle performance. What we felt is a powerful engine that has enough low-end grunt to accelerate our hefty 5,963-pound Platinum 4WD Armada onto the highway with ease and make us forget just how massive this SUV is for a second.
Overall the seven-speed automatic transmission clicks through the gears seamlessly on the highway without feeling obtrusive with constant downshifts in an effort to save fuel. We did, however, notice a spot where the transmission seemed to hunt while cruising in traffic at slow speeds, roughly between second and third gear. Considering these are all pre-production units, itís something weíd like to revisit with the production models down the road to see if this rough patch has been ironed out.
On windy highways, the new Armadaís speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering navigated the vehicle around turns reasonably well. On tighter corners we were happy to report the Armada, in spite of its sheer size, didnít suffer from serious body roll in the corners Ė and honestly, we were prepping to expecta decent amount of body roll, so this was a pleasant surprise. Even though our Platinum test vehicle is flirting with a curb weigh near 6,000 pounds, it didnít feel overly cumbersome during our on-road driving. We also have to credit the punchy torque of the Endurance V8 and its pairing with the seven-speed transmission, which made for a mostly seamless on-road experience.
We eventually arrived at the off-road portion of our test drive, which was surprisingly at the least-off-road place in the area we could imagine - Laguna Seca Raceway. Upon entering the park and driving down into the infield, a small, fenced-in off-road course greeted us, featuring a few off-camber hills and turns, a large hill climb, and a mogul section.
Shifting the transfer case into low range, we slowly crawled around the off-road course. As we noted earlier, the Armada isnít fitted with a host of off-road features (no lockers, no downhill assist, etc.), but itís not exactly inept in the dirt. Sure, the 9 inches of ground clearance means easy going over bumps, and the moguls proved that thereís very little suspension travel even though the Armada still looks mostly composed with a wheel or two off the ground. But the Armada also offers a brake-and-clutch assisted limited slip to aid in off-road traction; itís not quite a selectable locker, but it does aid in transferring up to 50 percent of the power from the wheel losing traction to the wheel that still has grip. When allís said and done, while those off-roaders hoping for a U.S.-based version of the Patrol will be disappointed, the Armada is still capable of getting you to the cabin or trailhead if the unpaved road is less than ideal.
When it becomes available later this month, the 2017 Nissan Armada will be offered in three trim options of SV, SL and Platinum. Although we donít have complete pricing yet, we do know the starting price is $44,400, which is likely for the 2WD drive SV trim. All models will come with standard 8-inch navigation, heated front seats, and a 13-speaker Bose sound system.
We donít yet have the pricing on the loaded Platinum edition we tested, but we do know the upper trim will offer more safety and security features than offered on the previous generation Armada, such as Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW), Blind Spot Intervention (BSI), Around View Monitor (AVM) and more. The Armada took a break from Nissanís lineup in 2016, but in 2015 the pricing for the Platinum model was well under the $60,000 mark, even in the 4WD version. We are guessing that to be the case again for the 2017 model, and that gives buyers looking for a full-size SUV a well-rounded vehicle with a price tag lower than much of the competition.