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2017 Nissan Armada An In-depth Evaluation From Senior Editor Thom Cannell +VIDEO

2017 Nissan Armada  (select to view enlarged photo)

2017 Nissan Armada - New Competition for Bling and Bash

By Thom Cannell
With Steve Purdy
Senior Editors
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

For too long Nissan has taken a very back seat in the full sized, body-on-frame SUV set occupied by GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia, or Ford Expedition. Where once the Armada was more utilitarian and seemed to compete with Chevrolet Yukon and Expedition it now walks a thin line with its luxury sibling Infiniti QX 80, who knocks up against far pricier Escalade, Audi Q7, Mercedes GLS. So, how is this Armada different, better, worth your dollars?

We have an advantage in this evaluation...a previous generation Armada we’ve driven thousands of happy and trouble-free miles.

2017 Nissan Armada  (select to view enlarged photo)

2017 Nissan Armada  (select to view enlarged photo)

2017 is a significant and total upgrade that only makes this underrated SUV better, and it was time for this second generation as the original Titan-based Armada (2004-2017) debut in 2004 with a major restyle in 2008. Though it looks smaller, the 2017 Armada is slightly larger. Designers have done an excellent job of making a very large package appear sleek, almost svelte, delivering increased second row leg room and reclining seats while retaining big capacity behind the 60//40 power folding third row of seats. Those seats we did not try as there’s more than 9” between our knee and foot, which appears to be the seat height. Kids only!

Armada is capable of the most rugged offroading, à la Jeep or Range Rover, with sharp approach and departure angles and a frame that can be torqued hard with no complaints or deviations. That frame and suspension are shared with Infiniti’s new QX-80

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Nissan’s Platinum Reserve delivers saddle stitched, leather lined luxury and many, not all of the luxury touches demanded in that market leaving perceived needs for QX 80, pricier and more luxurious. Leather is also available in the SL mid-grade. While no pricing has been announced we’re told the entry SV trim with driver’s package prices out around $44,000 plus $995 destination. In the full sized SUV marketplace that is competitive.

Safety is addressed with many of the current must-haves, like Blind Spot detection, camera-based Predictive Collision warning, intelligent cruise control, Lane Departure Warning with brake induced lane centering, even Backup Collision Intervention to prevent those embarrassing rear enders; it will stop you. Nissan also offers front and rear sonar obstacle detection and multiple camera views including its Around View. Although there’s good navigation and a 13-speaker Bose stereo system, what’s surprisingly missing is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. That said, it has Siri Hands Free.

Powering the 2017 Armada is a new V8 engine with Direct Injection. That feature delivers more “horsepower, more torque, and a flatter torque curve” according to Nissan engineers. What it delivers to buyers is more seamless power at any speed, and a 7-speed automatic provides better fuel economy, a surprising 23 EPA combined rating.

2017 Nissan Armada  (select to view enlarged photo)

23 more horses and 9 more foot-pounds don’t seem much, but improved engine technology (mirror cylinder bores, variable valve timing in intake and exhaust, a “multi-valve” that improves engine warmup and evenness in temperature) create the best in class tow capability, 8,500 pounds in either 2WD or 4WD, up to a full ton more capability than some competitors. While a trailer hitch is standard, pre-wiring is an option.

Previous Armadas’ used a 5-speed transmission. Armada ‘17s new Jatco 7-speed has two more highway gears for economy and a lower first and second gear for acceleration. It also has a way to speedily heat its internal fluids for improved economy and performance. Seat of the pants evaluation says it takes off solidly, far more acceleration that you’d ever expect! The new 7-speed transmission always seems to have a good gear choice ready when you need power.

Considering Armada is an eight passenger vehicle, all with 60/40 folding third row (power fold for SL and Platinum grades), the center row is also 60/40 for all three models though Platinum offers center captain’s chairs with a removable center console. Front seats offer both heating and cooling, second row seats are heated, and the kids in the back are too rambunctious to care.

Driving the Platinum Reserve we were coddled by gathered leather door sides and, for the front seat passenger, wrap-around wood finish that creates a luxury cocoon.

2017 Nissan Armada  (select to view enlarged photo)

Another feature of the new vehicle is quietness. Nissan added acoustic glass to the front doors and windscreen to make the interior nearly library quiet. It’s easy to converse between front and rear, or to hear your fingers slide across the wood and leather steering wheel.

Of course you can add distractions for the rear seat passengers, built-in 7” DVD-driven screens for the latest Disney movie or games (wireless headsets of course), and the 13-speaker Bose system we found lacking imagery. Normally audio designers produce a sound stage across the entire instrument panel. This, controls set to zero, seemingly had only the large center speaker. Fiddling was definitely required.

2017 Nissan Armada  (select to view enlarged photo)

Driving the 2017 Armada is a pleasure; it drives smaller than it is. On the highway you’re aware that it is a truck with a fully boxed all-steel frame even though the ride is smooth, even on rough roads and off the road. You’ll likely not know, or care about the double wishbone front suspension and its 36 mm stabilizer bar, only care that it steers with precision and responds promptly to your wishes. Few will ever think about the double wishbone, self-leveling rear suspension, the twin-tube dampers (shock absorbers to many) or the 26.5 mm rear stabilizer bar. Those kinds of things might matter to anyone who wants or needs to go off the road, whether to hunt, fish, or to the cabin “up North”. Realistically all 99% care about is that it rides with grace and precision.

However you will care about, and feel the powerful four-wheel disc brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution which will do its best, along with Predictive Forward Collision Alert, to keep you from striking a car or pedestrian. The brakes feel strong and are easy to apply with just the stopping power you want, race car-like high energy stops or simply gliding up to the red light. Either works.

Typically more relevant to customers are styling details like the new corporate “V-Motion” front grille and standard LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights. You’ll likely be more interested in its improved headroom and second row leg room, or its ability to fold seats flat from tailgate to the back of the driver’s seat.

2017 Nissan Armada  (select to view enlarged photo)

What we found in hours of driving, riding in the right and rear seats was a comfortable vehicle, one that’s easy to drive, precise in its steering, and one that turns far tighter than you’d ever expect. It is a “truck” we’d be even happier to drive from Michigan to Florida than its predecessor. We found the chassis to be easy to live with, if a bit stiffer than a luxury sedan, and one that can be loaded laterally for very swift driving in mountainous switchback conditions. Again, it is quiet. Riding in the back seat we can tell you the room is greatly improved over the 2004 version; it’s nearly a limousine and the seats recline and are more comfortable.

2017 Nissan Armada

A surprise is that the center console top opens in both directions. From the front it’s a large arm rest and from the rear, hinged forward, it’s storage.

2017 Nissan Armada  (select to view enlarged photo)

We were given opportunity to “Off Road” on a man made course that offered very steep side angles, abrupt break-over and descent, and some torsional bumps designed to stress the chassis. Few will attempt this kind of abuse but Armada remains true to its global Nissan Patrol heritage. We never tipped over, though feeling as if the chassis was tilted more than 45°, never slid on a skid plate or axle, and on those torsional bumps—which are actually experienced offroading—never heard a squeak. In fact from inside those bumps were almost unfelt if driven smooth and slow. We truly appreciated, and used, the ability to stop and use camera views to examine the front right wheel, or to peer down a slope. The alternative is to get out and look for yourself, not fun in a bog, at the top of a hill, or when the hillside appears to be missing.