By Keith Burton
Choosing a new SUV for pulling your boat is no easy task. With more than 85 different models from manufacturers and variations of each type within a particular model, you could spend weeks sorting it all out. So hereís a quick solution. How about an SUV that can do it all?
That was the thinking for Nissan when they began designing their first full size SUV, the Armada, which was introduced in 2004.
Long famous for their swift and efficient cars with excellent engines, Nissanís engineers and designers carefully examined the American full-size truck market and realized that to compete against the likes of Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge, they had to come up with an SUV that would appeal to a wide cross section of SUV owners.
The Armada does just that. Hereís a very large SUV that has outstanding room, power and interior space designed with an aggressive big-truck look that stands out. The Armada has style and a real presence on the road. It is also a terrific tow vehicle with the power and towing capacity near the top of its class.
If you havenít shopped lately at your nearby Nissan dealer, you will be pleasantly surprised at how well Nissan has researched and built this new truck. Nissanís research found that SUV owners wanted a vehicle with a fresh look, something extraordinary over the current crop of SUVs.
A BOLD LOOK
Manufactured at Nissanís new state-of-the-art $1.5-billion assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi, the Armada picks up on the bold look of their highly rated Titan pickup truck in styling, but with a unique appearance that is both pleasing to the eye and towers over many other SUVís on the road.
From the muscular fenders to the two-piece roof rack to the standard 18-inch wheels and tires, you get a strong sense of quality, style and individuality in this truck.
All that size means there is plenty of space inside for passengers and cargo. The first impression upon getting inside is ďlook at all the room.Ē The cabin is wide and airy feeling with excellent visibility all around. Front seat passengers will enjoy the 65.1-inches of shoulder room and a tall ceiling. And space in the second and standard third row seating is also generous with room for the largest of passengers, even in the third row seating area.
Cargo space for all of your boating gear is also ample, even with the third row seating in place. There is 20 cubic feet of space behind the third seats. But if more space for cargo is needed, the Armada really delivers. Fold the third row seating down and you get 56.7 cubic feet of space. And with the third and second row seats folded, there is 97.1 cubic feet of space on hand. And with the front seatback folded down, Nissan says the Armada can carry a 10-foot board with the tailgate closed.
Hey, if you canít get your gear into the Armada, buy a trailer. The space seems so generous that one driver suggested an interior GPS system could be needed to find all the stuff you can put inside.
The Armada is not short on creature comforts either. The full-size SUV market is among the most competitive segments in the automotive world. And while Nissan knows that it wonít be selling as many SUVís as Chevy and Ford, that doesnít mean they donít want too.
A luxurious leather interior is available as well has a high performance CD stereo system. Also available is a built-in satellite navigation system. The rear passengers can also enjoy an optional DVD video system with integrated wireless sound. The second row seating can either be a full bench seat or two captainís chairs. All in all, the interior is a great place to spend time on the road, and none of your passengers should complain on the way to the lake.
But what also sets the Armada a part from the crowd is the engine and transmission.
The standard engine is a powerful 5.6-liter DOHC 32-valve V8 engine producing 305 horsepower and 385 ft-lb. of torque. This engine is the same found the Titan pickup and along with its standard 5-speed automatic transmission, the Armada can tow up to 9,100 pounds when properly equipped. This is more than the two class sales leaders, the Ĺ-ton Chevy Suburban (8,400 pounds) and Ford Expedition (8,900 pounds).
Armada models equipped with the towing package receive a higher axle ratio and a transmission temperature gauge. Other tow package equipment includes a receiver hitch, heavy-duty radiator, additional 7-pin wiring harness plug, trailer brake pre-wiring, heavy-duty battery and rear suspension air levelizer.
The Armada also has more standard power than the Ford Expedition (300 hp, 365 ft-lb. torque) and Chevy Suburban (295 hp, 330 ft-lb. torque).
Nissan seems to have a special skill with engines. The engine in the Armada is called the Endurance V8 and is the largest and most powerful engine ever produced for an SUV by Nissan. It revs freely to its redline without any dramatics. But you may rarely go there as 90 percent of the engineís torque is available at a low 2,500 rpm. This translates into excellent pulling power for yanking a boat up a steep ramp and for highway towing.
Combined with the low first gear of the 5-speed automatic transmission, the Armada is a quick SUV for its size. You will have no trouble accelerating onto Interstates or pulling a trailer uphill as the transmission comes standard with a tow-haul selection, which automatically optimizes the engine and transmission for towing.
OFF ROAD PERFORMANCE
The Armada is also a capable off-roader. Nissanís designers made sure the truck has short front and rear overhangs, so traversing steep grades, or ditches will not hang up the Armada. Though we wonít say here what that would do to your boat trailer.
The Armada's off-road credentials are equally impressive, with 4-wheel drive models featuring an advanced full-time automatic control system. Nissan used the all-wheel drive technology derived from their world-class Skyline GT-R sports coupe instead of less sophisticated truck-based systems. The Armada 4WD system is designed to instantly distribute torque to all four wheels whenever road conditions warrant (up to 50 percent can go to the front wheels on demand.
A two-speed electronic transfer case allows the driver to select between auto, full-time 4-wheel drive and 4LO and is easily selected by turning a knob. Under normal driving conditions, 4WD Armadas operate in two-wheel drive mode.
There is also a high ground clearance (9.9 inches for 2WD models, 10.6 for 4WD models). Heavy-duty skid plates to protect the oil pan, fuel tank and transfer case are available as part of the Off-Road grade package. The Off-Road grade package also includes high-performance Rancho off-road shocks.
SAFETY COME STANDARD
Now with all of this performance and off road ability, you may be wondering is the Armada safe? Nissan has wisely chosen to make front and side-curtain airbags standard, and that is for all three rows of seats. There are also seatbelt pretensioners and an active head restraint system for the driver and front passenger. ABS and a vehicle dynamic stability control system are also included as standard equipment as well as a tire pressure monitoring system.
On the road the Nissan Armada has a smooth but firm ride with very little pitching or sway. The feeling provides a lot of confidence in turns and sudden direction changes to avoid an accident. The high seating position and lots of windows provides excellent visibility and along with the large side mirrors, it is easy to position yourself on the road.
An option are rear sonar sensors to help when backing and to avoid obstructions. The tall stance of the Armada makes this particularly good as visibility immediately behind the truck is limited.
The instrument panel is well laid out and somewhat similar to a Ford F-150 with the main cluster in an arching binnacle and a large center stack for the heating, air and radio controls. There are some 14 cupholders scattered throughout the interior with a few capable of holding a 64-ounce cup.
Steering wheel controls for the radio and cruise control are easy to use and have a unique toggle-type of switch to control volume level.
The Armada is available in SE, SE Off-Road and LE models in either 4x4 or 4x2 drive configurations.
Overall, the Nissan Armada is a roomy SUV with plenty of power and amenities that qualify it as a luxury SUV. A long list of standard features makes it a good value when compared to its competitors. And its towing capability is outstanding, at the top of its class. Plus you get three rows of seating for taking your whole family along to the lake. Truly an SUV that can do it all. We like the aggressive look of the design, which makes it stand out in a crowd of SUVs. Now this design may be a bit too much for some people, but hey, just invite them inside to enjoy the spacious interior.
Vehicle type: Five-door, seven-passenger SUV
Length: 224.2 in.
Height: 76.6 in.
Width: 78.8 in.
Wheelbase: 139.8 in.
Weight: 5,287 lbs.
Fuel capacity: 28 gals.
Towing capacity: 9,100 lbs. (boat and trailer)
Tongue capacity: 910 lbs
Ground Clearance: 10.6Ē (4x4) without Off Road Package
EPA mileage estimates (city/highway): 14/18 mpg
Base price (MSRP): 4x2 SE 5.6 Liter V8 A/T $33,800
4x2 LE 5.6 Liter V8 A/T $38,900
4x4 SE 5.6 Liter V8 A/T $36,600
4x4 LE 5.6 Liter V8 A/T $41,700
4x4 SE Off-Road 5.6 Liter V8 A/T $39,750
DOHC 5.6 Liter V-8
Horsepower: 305 hp @ 4,900 rpm
Torque: 379 @ 3,600