2012 Nissan Armada Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
February 15, 2012

It's lacking in some features and its interior is a bit cheap, but the 2012 Nissan Armada has rugged good looks and a beefy V-8 powertrain.

The 2012 Nissan Armada easily fits into the full-size SUV class. It's unmistakable, thanks to macho, rugged styling and its imposing stance, both of which give it more visual grab than some domestic utes. However, the Armada hasn't changed much over the years, and its interior space, comfort, and practicality lag some of the newer, better big SUVs we've driven.

Nothing about the Armada is subtle, particularly in its styling. It's a flared, exaggerated piece of design, even in a class alongside some Dodges and Toyotas. The roofline curves up in a jaunty--or disjointed--way, and the rear door latches at a higher point than usual, giving the Armada some truly distinct lines. It also gives it more than a little kinship with the smaller Pathfinder, long a strong seller in the Nissan lineup. The cabin isn't as attention-grabbing, and the Armada actually has one of the more softly contoured dashes of all the big SUVs. The dated design is laid out well, and feels familiar at first glance, but it does have some smaller controls and delicate buttons, and, worst of all, some textures and plastics that just seem out of place in such a big, expensive vehicle.

With 317 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque, the 5.6-liter V-8 engine in the Armada has a visceral rumble, a growl you'd normally associate with a muscle car. It's a torque monster, and it teams up well with a five-speed automatic for smooth, quick takeoffs, even when fully laden. It's no longer the most powerful vehicle of its kind, and other SUVs have upped the ante to six-speed automatics, but the Armada's still impressive in acceleration, in its impressive passing ability (thanks to quick, responsive downshifting), and in its towing capacity of 9,100 pounds. It's capable, Nissan says, of a 0-60 mph run of about seven seconds. It has strong brakes, but the Armada's handling and its in-town maneuverability are not its strong points. Quick changes in direction will make you well aware of its mammoth size and heft. Ride quality in the Armada is firm but smooth, soaking up most major bumps, but it isn't the most refined experience.

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The Armada's imposing size translates into lots of interior room, but it's a big climb into the big ute's seats. The first two rows are quite comfortable, with lots of headroom resulting from the bowed roofline. Ordering second-row captain's chairs cuts down the overall seating capacity by one, from eight to seven. The third-row seat doesn't have quite enough room for adults, and the tall floor makes it a scramble, getting in and out. It also makes loading cargo into the rear more difficult than it could be. There's not much cargo space behind the third-row seat, either, so you'll be leaving it folded down if you use the Armada regularly for family errands.

The Armada shows its age with interior materials. Nissan has dressed up the interior a bit better in recent years, but there are still too many dull plastic trim pieces inside. In multiple test vehicles over the years our editors have noted a fair amount of wind noise, and engine noise in these vehicles is cranked up to an almost ever-present level. While the V-8 sounds good, it can get wear on you on long mountain passes, or when towing.

Three different Armada trim levels are offered: SV, SL, and Platinum. Each can be had with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. The Armada has a limited list of options, compared to the Tahoe and Expedition. At the top of the line, the Platinum gets heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a moonroof, power rear liftgate, DVD entertainment, and a nav system with real-time traffic capability and hard-drive space for music storage.

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2012 Nissan Armada

Styling

Wouldn't you rather be seen in this than some egg-shaped crossover?

There's not much subtlety to the Nissan Armada. Big and butch, imposing and massive, it's the perfect counterpoint to the armada of crossover vehicles showing up at dealers and in Target parking lots everywhere.

The Armada's very size means some shoppers will count themselves out, but for those who like a little macho in their utility vehicle, the Armada satisfies. The flared wheel wells are a good case study: they have to be the biggest, most exaggerated in the SUV business. And while its direct competition (Tahoe, Expedition) stick closely to a regular, rectangular silhouette, the Armada mixes up a rounded roofline over passengers with a straightened edge atop its third-row seat and cargo hold. It's all kicked up a notch--up to the rear door handles that live on the pillars, not on the door panels themselves.

Inside the look isn't nearly as aggressive-looking—it's actually now one of the more softly-contoured designs in this competitive set—and while it's one of the more dated designs among full-size trucks it still feels well-laid out and straightforward. Smaller controls and more delicate buttons in general, though, project that it takes aim at suburban types more than the work-gloved crowd.
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2012 Nissan Armada

Performance

A strong V-8 is the Nissan Armada's best asset; its handling and ride are products of its weight and size.

The Armada's burbly V-8 engine makes all the right noises, but its suspension and steering don't always make the right moves.

The Armada was one of the first Nissans to use the "Endurance" engine, a 5.6-liter V-8 that churns out 317 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque. It's a muscular-sounding powerplant, but its ultimate output has paled over the past eight years as competitors have drilled out amazingly powerful V-8s--or even V-6s--with more power and torque. Teamed with a five-speed automatic, the big eight gives the Armada a lively feel from take-off, and it's smooth, with impressive passing ability--what the transmission gives up in number of gears, it gives back in quick response.

The Armada's been clocked from 0-60 mph in about 7.0 seconds, great numbers for a vehicle its size. And when equipped with a towing package, the Armada can tow up to 9,100 pounds.

A carlike steering wheel and shifter hint that the Armada driving experience is going to be more carlike, but it isn't. Brake feel is good, but steering, handling, and maneuverability are sore spots for this mammoth truck. Try to make any quick change in direction, and you're woefully aware of this vehicle's tremendous heft. The tall body and tall-sidewall tires don't help either, leading to a somewhat detached feel when making abrupt lane changes and the like.

Ride quality in the Armada is firm but smooth, soaking up most major bumps, but it isn't the most refined experience.

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2012 Nissan Armada

Comfort & Quality

Vast interior room defines the Nissan Armada, but its interior trim could use an upgrade.

The Armada presents itself with big-SUV authority, and you're safe to take it at its word. It's huge inside, with nearly the interior room of a Chevy Tahoe or Ford Expedition, and with some of the same compromises of trim and materials.

The Armada luxuriates in space. The front seats can be a bit tough to climb up into--we're all getting so used to crossovers--but the seats themselves are wide, with slightly more support than we've found in domestic SUVs. Adjustable pedals help create an ideal driving position, with the commanding view of the road that still makes SUVs like this one relevant. The second row's almost the equal of the front row for leg and head room, even more so if you swap the standard bench seat for a pair of captain's chairs, which also cuts down the Armada's total capacity from eight passengers to seven.

In back, the third-row bench is just passable for smaller adults, but it leaves almost no cargo space and headroom is tighter back there.

Nissan has moved to dress up the Armada's interior in recent years, but overall, there are too many dull plastics in this interior, and trims still look on the cheap side. It's fairly loud on the go, too. In multiple test vehicles over the years our editors have noted a fair amount of wind noise, and engine noise in these vehicles is cranked up to an almost ever-present level. While the V-8 sounds good, it can get wear on you on long mountain passes, or when towing.

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2012 Nissan Armada

Safety

Crash-test scores are absent, and visibility is an issue in the Nissan Armada.

Without firm crash-test scores at its side, the Nissan Armada can't trumpet safety as some of its competitors do. It's a half-step behind those others in safety options as well.

Neither of the two crash-testing agencies has tested the Armada. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) doesn't list the Armada on its Web site at all, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has yet to update the Armada's ratings since it altered its test criteria in the 2011 model year. Prior to 2011, though, the NHTSA gave the Armada a mix of five- and four-star ratings, with no test in place for side-impact protection.

The Armada has standard dual front, side, and curtain airbags, the latter of which protect all three rows of occupants. It also gets standard electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. Rear parking sensors are standard, while a rearview camera is an option--and blind-spot monitors, lane-keeping assistants, and some other new safety technologies are not available.

While there's a pretty good view out when driving, thanks to the high vantage point and ample window space, the Armada's headrests and the vehicle's excessive height can get in the way of visibility when parking.

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2012 Nissan Armada

Features

The Nissan Armada suits up with the right standard features, but the options list is thin.

Nissan offers the Armada in three trim levels, all in a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive. The SV, SL, and Platinum have the right standard features for the class, but unlike some of the domestic-brand competition, the Armada doesn't have as many options, and the ones it has aren't quite as advanced.

All versions of the Armada are fitted with standard power windows, locks and mirrors; keyless entry; dual-zone climate control; a flip-fold third-row seat; rear parking sensors; and an AM/FM/CD player. The Armada SL adds on Bluetooth; Bose audio; leather upholstery; an auto-leveling rear suspension; a power-folding third-row seat; and a rearview camera. Platinum models adds on luxury touches like a navigation system with real-time traffic data; a power tailgate; heated front and second-row seats and a heated steering wheel; a DVD entertainment system; and a moonroof. While it's plushly outfitted in Platinum trim, the Armada doesn't have the voice-activated features of Ford's big Expedition or Explorer, or HD radio.

Armada buyers can switch out the second-row bench seat for a pair of bucket seats. There's also a towing package to take advantage of its 9,100-pound towing capacity; the package adds a brake controller and 7-pin harness.

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2012 Nissan Armada

Fuel Economy

Watch your wallet: the Nissan Armada gets some of the lowest gas mileage ratings of the 2012 model year.

Ultra-performance supercars aside, sport-utility vehicles get some of the worst gas-mileage numbers of all. Vehicles like Range Rovers and Escalades post city ratings just barely nudging into the two-figure range--and the same is true for the less luxurious Nissan Armada.

The seven-passenger Armada scores very low fuel economy ratings from the EPA. At best, the rear-drive Armada is pegged at 13/19 mpg. Adding four-wheel drive to the mix drops those figures to 12/18 mpg. There's no option for diesel or hybrid power to mitigate the situation either--the Armada comes only in one form, with a big V-8 and an automatic transmission.

While we'd like to dismiss these very non-green figures as an aberration, we've seen it with out own eyes (and fuel budget) in repeat drives; Nissan's full-size trucks (and this V-8) are far from fuel-efficient—even when compared to full-size V-8 trucks from GM, Ford, or Toyota.
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Styling 8.0
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Comfort & Quality 7.0
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