- Strong off-the-line acceleration
- Tows 9,000 pounds
- Command driving position
- Roomy interior
- Clumsy handling
- High step-in
- Some plasticky trim inside
- Poor fuel economy
- High load floor
Rugged good looks and a beefy V-8 powertrain can only get you so far: the 2013 Nissan Armada falls behind the full-size SUV leaders in safety, features, and fuel economy.
New back in the 2004 model year, the Nissan Armada returns for the 2013 model year with only minor changes. It's still a full-size SUV in the classic mold, with rugged good looks and big interior space to go with an imposing stance. It's practical for big hauling and towing needs, but relatively poor on fuel-economy and refinement, areas where its competition has gained ground.
The macho appeal of the Armada can't be denied, and while its aging can't be denied, at least it's doing so in an interesting way. There's real distinction in its arc of a roofline over the rear passengers, in its angled grille, and in the rear door handles mounted in the pillars--it makes the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition look plain as light toast. Inside, it's less jaunty--or disjointed, if you prefer--but it's well organized. Other big SUVs have adopted larger controls, while the Armada still has some small buttons and knobs that undercut its tough-guy bravado, and leave it feeling a little fiddly and cheap for such a large, relatively pricey vehicle.
Nissan's "Endurance" V-8 still takes up every nook and cranny in the engine bay, and though it sounds richly powerful and unabashedly an American-at-heart, its 317 horsepower is now down against the competition. The rumbly 5.6-liter eight kicks out strong acceleration off the line--Nissan claims 0-60 mph times of about seven seconds--thanks to a five-speed automatic that's a gear behind some other utes. The combination pairs up with either rear- or four-wheel drive. Passing ability is impressive, and the Armada 4WD tows up to 9,000 pounds.
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.
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.