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2004 New Car Review: Nissan Pathfinder Armada LE 4x4

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With the recent introduction of its first full-sized SUV, the Pathfinder Armada, Nissan now has a comprehensive sport-utility lineup. But, other than part of its name and high-mounted rear door handles, the Nissan Pathfinder Armada has nothing in common with the familiar Nissan Pathfinder. Why the ``Pathfinder'' in its name when it shares more with the recently-introduced Titan full-sized pickup truck?

That just seems to be the Nissan way - when a new vehicle debuts, Nissan leverages the name of an existing one. The first Altima, over a decade ago, was officially the Stanza Altima, replacing the previous Stanza. The ``Stanza'' part of the name was quickly discontinued.

Expect the same of the (Pathfinder) Armada - but the smaller Pathfinder lives, with the next generation debuting for 2005, and based on the Armada platform. And the ``Armada'' name? While it sounds menacing and macho, in keeping with the image of a large SUV, it is a plural word. Webster defines it as ``1: a fleet of warships 2: a large force of moving things (as vehicles).'' ``Armada'' means ``Navy'' in Spanish-speaking countries, but the word is most familiar to Americans from European history as the Spanish Armada, soundly defeated by the British in 1588. Presumably, if the Armada is sold in the United Kingdom it will be under another name.... So, to say ``The full-sized sport-utility class has just been attacked by an armada of Nissan Armadas'' is perfectly correct.

Nissan was late to the full-size SUV market, but did its homework when designing the Armada. It has the power, comfort, and features demanded by today's SUV buyers. While the Armada is based on the Titan platform and uses the same 5.6-liter V8 engine and five-speed automatic transmission, it is not merely a pickup with a full-length body. The Titan's leaf-sprung solid rear axle is replaced by a coil-sprung independent rear suspension, for improved ride and handling characteristics and more interior space. Both trim levels, SE and LE, are very well-equipped, with the LE adding luxury appointments. A fold-flat third-row seat is standard, with a second-row bench or captain's chairs available. Both rear- and four-wheel drive versions are offered, with a heavy-duty off-road package available.

I've just finished a week with an almost fully-equipped 4x4 Armada LE. I can easily forgive Nissan for the strange naming, for the Armada is an exceptionally comfortable and capable truck. Nissan's stated goal was to build something that was ``not just another generic SUV,'' and the Armada is definitely not generic.

APPEARANCE: SUVs are squarish, boring, two-box designs, right? Perhaps a bit of flash and filigree is added, but boxes are boxes. Except if the SUV is a Nissan Armada. While it broadly fits the two-box mold, the boxes are modified with a well-raked windshield and a prominent arch over the doors. The effect is high-tech stagecoach. Add the bold front and hood styling, shared with the Titan, and the Titan's blistered fender flares, and this is a vehicle that stands out from the crowd.

COMFORT: Space, style, and versatility are reasons to buy a sport-utility, and the Armada scores well in those categories. If its interior is not the absolute largest in its class, it is big enough to hold seven or eight people in comfort, with convenience for all. The front buckets provide good support and comfort. The driver's seat is power-adjustable in all models, with a power passenger seat available. The driving environment is very good, with a tilt-adjustable steering wheel and power-adjustable pedals to allow the perfect driving position. Instrument panel design, while ultramodern, with more in common with an upscale sedan than a truck, does not sacrifice function to style. Storage spaces abound, with a large glove box and door pockets complemented by a huge center console with open and locking closed storage. Second-row captain's chairs are standard in the LE and optional in the SE, with a bench available in the LE. Second-row is not second class, with best in class legroom. Headroom is good, too. The Armada is wide enough that three adults should be able to fit in the bench. My test vehicle had the reclining captain's chairs - which come with a large console, almost a twin to the one in front. It can be removed, and each second-row seat has flip and fold or full tumble functions for third-row access or cargo ability. The third row will hold three medium-sized people. It easily folds flat into the floor when not needed, and so does not have to be removed by a weightlifter. Second- and third-row passengers have storage spaces and cupholders; a DVD entertainment system is optional. Luggage capacity with the third row up is tight, but no worse than in other short-wheelbase full-size SUVs. An optional remote-control tailgate adds convenience.

SAFETY: Three-point safety belts are provided for all seating positions, and the Nissan Advanced Airbag system includes front-row side protection bags and supplemental roof-mounted curtain airbags that provide side-impact and rollover protection for all three rows. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are enhanced by a standard vehicle dynamic control system.

ROADABILITY: Like many a modern car or crossover SUV, the Armada's wheels are pushed toward the corners for better space utilization. But it's no lightweight (in all meanings of that word) wannbe urban poseur vehicle. With body-on-frame construction featuring a rigid, fully-boxed frame and fully-independent suspension, it's a very capable, very serious truck. Its relatively long wheelbase and wide track enhance stability and comfort. The independent rear suspension is not the most unusual specification - the available four-wheel drive system, while of the off-road serious dual-range variety, is not your basic truck fare. Featuring rear, automatic all-wheel drive, four-high, and four-low ranges, it is based on the sophisticated, high-performance system used in the Nissan Skyline GT-R. I kept my test truck in ``4-auto'' most of the time, and with that and a good suspension calibration aided by the damping effect of huge P265-70 SR18 tires, it was as maneuverable and sure-footed as could be expected from a 5300-lb truck. Chassis and body rigidity not only help the ride and handling, they also help decrease noise levels. And the Armada LE is a luxuriously quiet and comfortable vehicle.

PERFORMANCE: Nissan's muscular twincam aluminum alloy 32-valve 5.6-liter V8 makes 302 horsepower at 4900 rpm and 385 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm. It pulls strongly from a standstill, which should please the towing crowd, as should the Armada's 9100-lb towing capacity. A smooth, quiet, and quick-shifting five-speed automatic transmission gives it a near-luxury ambiance, although the engine note is more muscle car. Acceleration, at seven seconds to sixty mph, is muscle car, too. I found fuel economy, at between 14 and 15 mpg average, to be typical for a vehicle of this mass and power.

CONCLUSIONS: Nissan Armada invades full-size SUV class. Details at 11.

2004 Nissan Pathfinder Armada LE 4x4

Base Price $ 40,600
Price As Tested $ 45,150
Engine Type dual overhead cam 32-valve aluminum alloy V8
Engine Size 5.6 liters / 341 cu. in.
Horsepower 305 @ 4900 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 385 @ 3600 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 123.2 in. / 206.9 in.
Curb Weight 5327 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 17.5
Fuel Capacity 28.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires P265/70 SR18 Goodyear Wrangler SR-A
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock, brake assist, electronic distribution standard
Suspension, front/rear four-wheel independent by double wishbones and coil springs
Ground Clearance 10.69 in.
Drivetrain front engine, full- or part-time four-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 13 / 18 / 14
0 to 60 mph 7 sec
Towing capacity 9100 lbs.
Payload 1693 lbs.

Technology Package - includes: Navigation system, dual-zone automatic air conditioning with microfiltration, sunroof, power liftgate, power 6-way passenger seat $ 3,900
Destination charge $ 650