Look past its styling updates and the addition of some contemporary technology for a moment and there’s an endearing simplicity to the 2021 Nissan Armada.
It’s unapologetically big – a true body-on-frame SUV with an old-school four-wheel drive system that recalls its siblings known around the world for ruggedness and durability. There’s a softer side to this version that makes its way to the Canadian market, though, and it’s comfortable – and loveable – enough to live with every day. That is, if your fuel budget can manage it.
The Armada has undergone some plastic surgery for 2021 with the addition of the familial V-Motion grille treatment, a contemporary LED headlight design, and a reworked valance. The front looks notably refreshed, but the combination of a squared-off rear bumper and the LED taillights connected by a black-and-chrome nameplate bar across the back are also simple but highly effective updates. Shoppers put off by the Chevrolet Tahoe’s awkward new nose may find reprieve in the handsome Nissan’s look.
It’s not all new, however, and the Armada’s side profile remains essentially the same as before, with its out-of-fashion chrome fender vents, and a tall, boxy greenhouse that makes the big Nissan look like a giant, rolling top hat from some angles. The chrome V8 fender badges will attract the ire of Nissan Leaf drivers hellbent on saving the planet.
The overall shape of the Armada’s interior carries over from last year, with the dash wearing wide arcs of high-gloss plastic wood that’s also found on the centre console. The steering wheel and dashboard receive contrasting stitching, but the central dash has been significantly overhauled starting with a large, dash-top infotainment screen. Where last year’s truck still had a CD player, there’s now a flip-up door that reveals smartphone storage with wireless charging capability.
User Friendliness: 9/10
The new layout won’t earn oohs and ahhs for its look, but Nissan’s decision to avoid the trend of all-glass control panels and haptic “buttons” is a breath of fresh air as the knobs for volume, tuning, and climate controls are complemented by actual buttons for other frequently used functions (like seat heat and ventilation). It’s relatively old-school, but it’s simple and highly effective.
Nissan’s 12.3-inch touchscreen brings in the modern with wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto (wired), and slick-looking graphics, plus there’s even an on-board Wi-Fi hotspot. The display is wide enough to facilitate a split screen with both CarPlay operating as well as radio or trip data.
Nissan has thoughtfully included weather information, and the ability to receive valuable data to warn the driver about all manner of nearby trouble. One day during testing, with the threat of stormy weather, the Armada helpfully advised me roughly every three minutes that I was within an area reported to have high winds (it wasn’t actually that windy). Eventually, I dug into the notifications menu and switched off most of the several pages’ worth of wind warnings. Future drivers of this rig can thank me that they won’t be advised repeatedly of pending “Lake Wind” or “Brisk Wind,” but I did leave the “Hurricane Force Wind” as well as “Debris Flow” and the “Combined Heat and Humidity” alerts on. You can’t be too careful.
The Armada’s gauge cluster features traditional white-on-black dials with a useful digital output between them. Combined with a commanding drive position and superb outward visibility, the Armada is easy to drive.
Being a top-trim Platinum edition, this Armada tester has had plenty of features tossed in. Beyond the luxurious trim and appointments like leather and a heated steering wheel, plus heated and ventilated seats, there’s a 13-speaker audio system, and a standard rear entertainment system with screens built into the front seat headrests. It’s convoluted enough to try to stream media through the system that most kids will be happier using their own tablet or phone, sucking up the on-board Wi-Fi anyway.
There’s also remote engine starting, a power tailgate, power-folding rear seats, and adaptive cruise control that can bring the Armada to a halt. The optional second-row captain’s chairs are also heated, and there are separate climate controls for the back-seat passengers. A sunroof is standard, but it’s only a small unit over the front seats rather than a panoramic job.
Typical of big three-row SUVs, the level of comfort is directly affected by where you’re seated. The Armada’s front-seat occupants are afforded the most room and adjustability to their thrones, but the second-row captain’s chairs are nearly as good. Those nostalgic for the cushy, overstuffed chairs of luxury cars from years gone by will appreciate the Armada’s broad, comfy seats. While supportive, they aren’t overly firm the way many seats are built these days, and when combined with the Platinum trim’s soft, quilted leather, these seats feel truly decadent.
The third row is belted for three people, but its width suggests they’d better be smaller passengers, and the lack of legroom length or depth back there will force knees up uncomfortably.
Nissan has added acoustic glass up front, and plenty of sound insulation throughout making the Armada very quiet for a rig like this. More surprising is the Armada’s ride, which is very smooth and supple for a truck-based SUV. Lower SL trim trucks that don’t have the Platinum’s standard 22-inch wheels will surely ride even better.
When not spec’d with the second-row bucket seats, the Armada will seat eight people. Behind the third-row bench, there’s a reasonable 470 L of luggage space, but this figure still falls short of the competitors. With the third- and second-row seats folded flat, the cargo hold expands to nearly 2,700 L, which is better than the Ford Expedition, but well short of the Toyota Sequoia and both GM’s Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon twins. And while the captain’s chairs do easily fold flat, owners will want to be careful loading in big, heavy, or dirty items so as to not damage the plush centre console top between the two second-row seats.
The Armada offers abundant cubbies and crannies to stash personal items when on the road. In particular, second-row passengers not only have a giant console of their own, but the front console also opens up from the rear, allowing secret access to the snacks mom’s got hidden in there.
Aside from the added width of full-sized SUVs like this, the biggest benefit is their significant towing capability. The Armada is especially noteworthy on this front, being rated to haul nearly 3,900 kg (8,500 lb). Nissan fits a trailer brake controller and trailer sway control as standard equipment on the Armada Platinum to help keep trailering as safe as possible.
While many manufacturers still charge extra for advanced safety features, Nissan loads the Armada up with its complete safety kit including automated emergency braking, rear cross-traffic warning, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-departure warning. The latter buzzes when the driver gets near the lane edge, which is easily done with such a wide vehicle.
The Armada also utilizes a series of external cameras to allow a top-down view around the truck when parking, but they can also be used for off-road navigation and to substitute for the central rear-view mirror when there are passenger heads or bulky cargo blocking rearward vision.
The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn’t yet rated a 2021 Armada, however, the structurally similar 2020 model received a four out of five star rating.
Driving Feel: 7/10
For such a large vehicle, the Armada drives surprisingly well. Sure, it’s large enough to require extra vigilance when parking, especially in those tight downtown parking lots; but on the highway it’s a relaxing cruiser. The very slow steering requires a lot of cranking for tight turning, but it’s sufficiently boosted to be effortless.
When cornering, the sheer bulk and height of the Armada produces considerable body roll, and there’s lots of nose dive under heavy braking. The brakes themselves offer plenty of stopping power and the pedal offers a solid feel.
Canadian Armadas come only one way – with Nissan’s venerable 5.6L V8, a seven-speed automatic transmission, and four-wheel drive. The engine generates a class-competitive 400 hp, and 413 lb-ft of torque, both of which are up slightly from last year’s Armada. A dial on the console allows the driver to choose between high- and low-range settings for the four-wheel drive system, the former of which will make sense in most low-traction scenarios Armada drivers will find themselves in. Drivers accustomed to modern all-wheel drive systems found in cars and crossovers should note that the Armada’s four-wheel drive is meant to be used only when needed, and binds during tight turning.
400 hp is enough to motivate the big Nissan with reasonable gusto, but the Armada’s 2,742 kg (6,045 lb) is the portliest in its segment and means the big V8 is always working hard to get the Armada hustling along. Passing power is decent, too, and there’s little doubt the Armada could use its power and bulk to be a smooth and stable platform for towing. Still, it’s curious that Nissan didn’t fit the Titan’s nine-speed automatic transmission this year, which would’ve helped maximize access to the V8’s output.
Fuel Economy: 4/10
The nine-speed would’ve surely helped the Armada’s abysmal fuel inefficiency, too. Rated at 17.5 L/100 km in the city, 12.9 on the highway, and 15.4 combined, a week of mixed driving showed an average consumption rate of 15.8 L/100. Both the Ford Expedition and GM twins can better the Armada’s fuel figures by a couple of points, but the Jurassic-era Toyota Sequoia is notably worse than the Nissan.
More shocking is Nissan’s recommendation for premium unleaded for drivers looking to get the full 400 hp from their Armada. With a fuel tank nearly 100 L in size, the Armada has decent range, but fill-ups will leave your wallet feeling violated.
Shoppers in the full-sized SUV segment don’t just need deep pockets for fuel, but also for the cost of purchasing a rig like this Armada. At $76,998 for the Platinum with captain’s chairs like this tester, Nissan has priced the Armada a few thousand bucks below comparable trims of the Sequoia and Expedition (both also named Platinum). The Tahoe in its Premier trim starts a grand less than the Armada, but to get the Chevy equipped with rear seat entertainment, 22-inch wheels, and a sunroof, it’ll add more than $5,000 – and there’s yet another trim atop that called the High Country. If a buyer can forgo the ventilated front seats and second row captain’s chairs, the Armada SL features all the technology and the same drivetrain as the Platinum model, but costs a significant $8,500 less.
Nissan will likely continue to sell only a fraction as many Armadas as Ford will Expeditions or GM will the Yukon and Tahoe. This updated Armada represents a good value within the segment, and is a strong, solid, and comfortable SUV capable of devouring long highway trips and hauling big loads. It combines some of the best of the big old-school sport utility vehicles, with highly effective and easy-to-use modern technology.
|400 hp @ 5,800 rpm
|413 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
|17.5 / 12.9 / 15.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
|470 L / 2,693 L seats down
|2021 Nissan Armada Platinum
|Price as Tested
$1,300 – 2nd Row Captain’s Chairs and Centre Console, $1,000; 3-coat pearl paint, $300