Review: 2017 Nissan Armada delivers off-road capability, creature comforts

BOLD STYLING: The all-new Nissan Armada boasts LED low-beam headlights, halogen high beams, and LED daytime running lights.
BOLD STYLING: The all-new Nissan Armada boasts LED low-beam headlights, halogen high beams, and LED daytime running lights.
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The all-new 2017 Nissan Armada is set to arrive in dealer showrooms this month with new features that enhance its off-road capability and improve its safety. It also shows off a fresh style that completes a three-year effort to transform and update the entire Nissan SUV and crossover lineup.

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This is the second generation of the Armada, which is Nissan’s largest and most powerful vehicle. There are big changes this year for a car whose origins go all the way back to the Nissan Patrol. That nameplate appeared back in 1951 and has some rather impressive roots.

The Patrol served as a support vehicle for United Nations peacekeeping efforts and is a three-time class winner of the Paris-Dakar Rally. You probably won’t be putting your new Armada through that kind of rigor, but its roots give the Armada all the capability you could want in a full-size SUV.

This year, there’s a new 5.6-liter V8 engine with best-in-class 390 horsepower and 401 lb.-ft. of torque. That marks an increase of 73 horsepower and 9 lb.-ft. of torque; it also provides a noticeable improvement in how the Armada drives.

Unlike many other SUVs, the Armada sticks with a body-on-frame construction rather than going with the unibody construction of sedans. This gives it added strength and durability and helps the Armada post a towing capacity of up to 8,500 pounds.

The Armada is a big SUV and big SUVs tend to feel cumbersome. There’s a lot of bulk to move down the road, but the Armada never feels heavy behind the wheel. It is quick to get out of its own way and never makes you wait when you press on the gas.

That powerful engine is paired to a 7-speed automatic transmission with Adaptive Shift Control and Downshift Matching. What that means for you is that you won’t feel any lurching as the transmission shifts down a gear. It’s consistently smooth, even when pressed to perform on steep grades.

There’s a choice of either two-wheel- or four-wheel-drive so those who plan to head off-road or face the rigors of a New England winter will still be able to get wherever they want to go. Nissan gave us the opportunity to drive the Armada both on-road and through an off-road course to experience its capability first-hand.

The literature can say whatever it wants about what a vehicle can do, but what matters is how well it performs when put to the test. Our dirt course had steep grades that showed us nothing but sky over the nose of the Armada. The available Around View Monitor came in handy here, providing a view around the car on the display screen so we could see what our eyes missed.

The Armada climbed those grades without issue and handled smoothly coming back down the other side. That handling held true when we drove over uneven terrain designed to have one or two wheels off the ground while the Armada continued moving forward. The SUV occasionally perched on two wheels, teeter-tottering on mounds of dirt, but it felt like it was simply managing a few dips in the road.

That rugged capability is matched by an updated exterior design. It has Nissan’s V-Motion front grille along with LED low-beam headlights, halogen high beams, and LED daytime running lights. There are functioning air intakes on the front fenders and angular lines throughout the design. It’s bold and aggressive from every angle.

COMFORTABLE INTERIOR: Rugged and off-road ready on the outside, quiet and comfortable on the inside.
COMFORTABLE INTERIOR: Rugged and off-road ready on the outside, quiet and comfortable on the inside.

This SUV might look rugged and have plenty of capability, but the interior is focused on passenger comfort. There’s room for eight passengers with a 60/40 split-fold bench seat for the third row that’s easily accessible, even for adults. It’s not an afterthought, but a useable seating area that won’t have passengers counting the seconds until they can get out.

The second row is also a 60/40 split-fold bench seat, but it is also available with captain’s chairs if you don’t mind losing seating for one passenger. Again, it’s comfortable with plenty of room for even the tallest passengers.

The greatest passenger comfort comes up front with four-way power-adjustable bucket seats. They’re easy to position high enough for shorter drivers to have a clear view of the road, something that can be a challenge in SUVs of this size.

Another challenge with vehicles like this one is cabin noise. Large SUVs are notoriously noisy, but Nissan took care of that problem. They used acoustic glass in the windshield and front side windows and added more sound absorption materials. Even the design of the windshield helps with a quiet cabin by reducing wind noise.

Spend some time behind the wheel and you’ll find the automaker’s efforts were a success. Wind noise is not intrusive and you can talk in a normal voice with third-row passengers, even on the highway. It’s not as quiet as a sedan, but it’s more like being in a small crossover than a huge, eight-person SUV.

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Should you want to fill the car with a little noise, there’s a standard Bose audio system with AM/FM/SXM/MP3/CD and 13 speakers. It includes a subwoofer and digital amplifier for rich sound throughout the vehicle no matter where you sit. Navigation with real-time traffic and an 8-inch color display screen are also standard on every Armada.

Platinum models get a rear DVD entertainment system with dual 7.0-inch head restraint monitors, USB port, two VTR jacks, and two wireless headphones with a remote control. The system is easy to use and will make long drives easier for everyone to tolerate.

The Armada puts the focus on safety with advanced features available on select trims. These include blind spot warning, blind spot intervention, backup collision intervention, and lane departure warning. There is also predictive forward collision warning and forward emergency braking should the warning not be enough.

You have your choice of three trim levels with a starting price of $44,400. There’s the base SV, mid-range SL, and luxurious Platinum. Each is available in either two-wheel- or four-wheel-drive so your only decision is how much luxury you want in your SUV.

The 2017 Nissan Armada is a modern, full-size SUV with the latest technology and safety features. It nicely blends the utility and capability of a traditional SUV with the creature comforts of a sedan. Whether your adventure is off-road, to the local mall, or across the country, the Armada is a great way to make the trip.