First Drive: Patrolling For Alternative Routes In The 2017 Nissan Armada

If you can’t beat them, join them. And if that doesn’t work, go back to what you were doing well before.

That’s a pretty long tagline, but it sums up the 2017 Nissan Armada and its mission. As family movers for the well-heeled or boating enthusiasts, full-size SUVs have ceded much ground to three-row crossovers. Yet Nissan wants at least some slice of the market and its digging into its global toy box for this Armada, rather than creating some ground-up, American-grown solution. The 2017 Armada embraces its differences.

And no need to adjust your monitor. We drove the Armada and some other Nissans in Carmel, California last week when the area a few miles south was ablaze. This is what we call a California summer.

Diplomat’s son

If the 2017 Armada looks familiar, that’s because it is, even if you aren’t up to date on modern Japanese cars. The Armada takes lots of pieces from the home-market Nissan Patrol, which has been transformed since 2011 as the Infiniti QX80.

For its second transformation back into a Nissan, the Armada gets some bits and pieces grafted on from the new Titan pickup (which I also drove and can report on in a couple of weeks), with a shiny grille and enormous faux vents on the front fenders. Despite it being slightly longer than the previous Armada, the new truck actually looks shorter, probably due to the few inches of height it picked up.

It also looks shorter and taller than its main rivals in the full-size segment, the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon from General Motors. This makes the Armada look more stately and regal, sort of in the vein of a Land Rover LR4 or Toyota Land Cruiser.

Sort of like the kind of vehicle that’s usually painted white and says “UN” on the side of it.

The spirit of American luxury

In keeping with the luxury-oriented roots of the Patrol, the Armada boasts some interesting touches inside, even though it’s not the most family-friendly full-size SUV there ever was.

Huge slabs of wood of dubious origin dominate stare you in the face from the two front seats. Buttons are large, there is shiny chromed plastic everywhere and there’s a sense of warmth and welcome in the cabin, far removed from the Fisher-Price-grade stuff and workman aura you got in the old Armada.

Those front seats, and the second row ones for that matter, are insanely flat, like in a Lincoln Town Car kind of way. There’s zero lateral support and comfort fades on long trips, but they look accommodating. In fact, the whole interior is the sort of ’70s ersatz luxury that I thought went away with the last of the Ford Panther platform.

Like many SUVs of this type, the third row is comfortable only for kids because you sit pretty much on the floor and your knees precariously rest near your chin. At least the seats fold into the floor as they still don’t on the GM trucks, and upmarket versions like the Platinum I spent most of my time in get buttons to electrically fold them. Weirdly, these buttons are also found next to the third-row passengers themselves, in theory so they can recline the seats, too.

Don’t look for the latest in-car technology here, however. The Armada is decidedly behind the times when it comes to connecting your phone and life with the dashboard of a car. That may not matter for the buyers who will get this thing for its seating capacity, towing capacity and outright utility. But consider the newer domestic offerings are up-to-date in this department and your children and technophile passengers are going to wish you went mainstream.

Well, he’s got guts

The Armada has brawn a certain paper towel would be jealous of.

A 5.6-liter V8 has been the staple of Nissan’s full-size truck lineup since it ever got in the game, but it’s been beefed up and massaged to be one sweet powerplant. Here, it turns out 390 horsepower and gets routed through a seven-speed automatic. Aside from some fuel economy-minded programming, there’s a good team powering the Armada. Using all of its claimed 8,500-pound towing capacity doesn’t seem like it would pressure the Nissan too much.

Set it to two-wheel drive mode and it’s possible to have fun with the rear tires. The laws of physics and this tall box tell your brain to hold back, however.

UnpluggedA photo posted by Zac Estrada (@zacestrada)” style=”font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px;”>Jul 8, 2015 at 12:49pm PDT

Whereas other full-size SUVs in this class are significantly oriented towards on-road performance and highway jaunts, the Armada’s Patrol lineage means it’s also a competent off-roader. On a short course, the Armada can prove its articulation and crawl chops. It’s a match for some of the other large off-roaders like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Jeep Grand Cherokee, and all while just using the 4-Low setting on the drive control wheel on the center console.

Because of these skills, however, it’s unsurprising the Armada also has video game-like steering and inspires little confidence on roads that aren’t entirely straight. There’s a certain float to the ride, too, that will inevitably provoke car sickness out of kids in the back seats. None of this is unheard of in vehicles like the Armada, though. Oh, and don’t expect much more than 16 mpg in daily driving.

Like any of this is going to bother full-size SUV intenders.

Prepared for battle

Along with gallons of fuel, full-size SUVs are driven by loyalty. Which is why the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon – the favorites of not only upper middle class families in the Midwest but also government and rental fleets – suck up most of the sales. And as a bonus, there is little they fail to match rivaling SUVs on.

Where does this leave the Armada? Well, to start, the most basic Armada, which still gets the stellar powertrain, will cost a little less than $46,000. That’s a lot of SUV for the price and right below where vehicles like the Tahoe and Yukon land. Nissan hasn’t announced prices for the full Armada line, but if a fully loaded Platinum 4×4 ends up in the $65,000 range, it would be a definite steal over a QX80 or Land Cruiser.

No, the Armada doesn’t set a new standard for big SUVs that go around like there is no looming energy crisis. But its different take on the concept should earn it buyers who like its off-road credentials and strong V8.

Photos: Zac Estrada/Carscoops

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