Review update: 2021 Nissan Armada honors the strong, silent type of SUVs

May 19, 2021

The 2021 Nissan Armada has a hard time standing out despite being a whale of an SUV. American makes have long dominated the truck-based full-size SUV category, and GM’s own armada of ships were redesigned for 2021 to be even larger. 

Yet the refreshed Armada is too good a value to cast away in this sea of tony land yachts. An updated front end gives it all that broad vertical truckiness as the competitors, and, riding on 20-inch black alloy wheels, it looks as good as its upscale cousin, the 2021 Infiniti QX80. A large 12.3-inch touchscreen crowns the interior on even the base model, and the good standard feature set continues with wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless smartphone charging, heated power front seats, and a suite of standard safety tech that cost extra on rivals. 

It wasn’t all good tooling around town in the SL model. Its standard V-8 lacks cylinder deactivation, a twin-turbo V-6 option or other efficiency innovations, resulting in an EPA-rated 16 mpg combined. The third row lacks the roominess and functionality of the redesigned 2021 Chevy Tahoe and the Suburban, but that leviathan barely fits in most garages. Here’s the good and the bad on this Armada. 

Hit: The price is right, Bob

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

The SL slots below the fancy pants Platinum and with a $57,495 price, including destination, it’s about $6,000 less than a similarly equipped 2021 Chevy Tahoe Premier. The Tahoe Premier charges extra for a sunroof and adaptive cruise control, while the Armada comes with goodies such as a larger 12.3-inch touchscreen, Bose 13-speaker sound system, heated leather seats, blind-spot monitors, a surround-view camera system, and too much more to list. The Armada is cheaper than the Tahoe across the board, and considering the base Infiniti QX80 Luxe costs more than $70,000, the Armada looks that much better.

Miss: Gas hog

It could be argued that the cost of ownership gap narrows since the Tahoe Premier gets 18 mpg combined compared to the 14 mpg city, 19 highway, 16 combined of the Armada. That 2 mpg extra is a boost of 12.5%, and the Tahoe’s 28-gallon tank equates to fewer stops than the 26-gallon tank in the Armada. The EPA estimates $4,750 more in fuel costs over five years, and the Tahoe can be had with a more efficient turbodiesel engine. Gas mileage is our biggest knock against the Armada, especially since this family rig will be driven far and wide. 

Hit: The strong, silent type

The 5.6-liter V-8 gets a power bump to 400 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque, improvements of 10 and 19 respectively over the 2020 model, and it can tow more than the Tahoe at 8,500 pounds. It comes with rear-wheel drive or an available four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case for scaling more treacherous territory, but that’s a challenge with the Armada’s broad shoulders and towering sides. Its proportions make it lean into corners and plod along the road, but otherwise its independent suspension and ample sound deadening in the cabin make for a soft, quiet ride ideal for family road trips. 

Hit: Interior is the new black

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

Black has a slimming effect, even on SUVs. The Midnight Edition package ($1,990) blackened the side mirrors, grille, 20-inch wheels, and bumpers, and it cloaked the interior in dark leather and a black headliner. The dash bows out into an M shape for a cleaner space for both front riders, and the large center console meets the M in the middle. The plastic doors on the wireless smartphone garage and cupholder look like carbon fiber or metallic, and the aluminum dials provide a nice contrast. Hard buttons grace the climate controls, while tuning and volume knobs retain classic functionality below the large but not overwhelming touchscreen. 

Deep door pockets and even deeper console spaces call to mind the Titan pickup truck it’s based on, yet the Armada feels more luxurious than rugged, as intended. 

Hit: Second row

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

The tester came with captain’s chairs separated by a deep console with cupholders and storage pockets for an extra $650. Worth it, unless you need to retain the standard 8-seat configuration. Flip the latch on the seat top to fold and move the seat forward for easy entry to the third row. The chairs can recline and there’s tons of leg room for optimal comfort. Even GM’s power folding seats aren’t that easy to tumble forward, but they can slide forward and back 5.0 inches. Once in the third row, GM’s second row seats need a helper to get them back in place, whereas a rider in the third row of the Armada can pull the seat back himself. 

Miss: Third row

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

2021 Nissan Armada SL with Midnight Edition package

At 5-foot-8, I could fit fine. The floor rises about six inches from the middle row to the third row so knees ride higher and there’s scant toe room. Two average-sized adults can fit in back but it lacks the more generous proportions from GM’s lineup. 

Most problematically, the 60/40-split rear seats are a pain to restore to their upright position. From the hatch, they fold flat with a pull of the strap on the seat top, but there’s no way to get the seats back up from that same position. The straps should either be longer or in the middle of the seat so they can be reached from the hatch. The third-row seats must be raised from the side doors, and Nissan doesn’t equip them with power buttons on the SL trim.  

The 2021 Nissan Armada isn’t perfect and you pay more at the pump, but the big family hauler is a big deal in a sea awash with more expensive full-size SUVs. 

_______________________________________

2021 Nissan Armada SL Midnight Edition

Base price: $57,495, including $1,495 destination

Price as tested: $60,525

Drivetrain: 400-hp 5.6-liter V-8 with 7-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive

EPA fuel economy: 14/19/16 mpg

The hits: Value, strength, quiet cabin

The misses: Stone Age fuel economy, inconvenient third row

2021
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2021
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