2013 Nissan Armada Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 31, 2012

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.

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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.


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2013 Nissan Armada

Styling

Rugged and tough-looking, the Armada's starting to show its age.

It's massive, imposing, big and butch. There's zero left to the imagination with the Nissan Armada, the poster child for unsubtlety--and Nissan wouldn't, shouldn't have it any other way, because it's one of the few big boys with a crisp character.

That said, it's time for a substantial refresh. It's not as ubiquitous as a Tahoe or an Expedition, but the Armada still looks awfully familiar by now, though its macho flared fenders and wheel wells still stand out as some of the most exaggerated in the business. Maybe it hasn't sold as well because it stands out so much--the roofline arcs over passengers where the domestic SUVs cut a straight and narrow path. It's almost over the top, right up to the rear door handles that don't live on the door panels, but take up space on the pillars themselves.

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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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2013 Nissan Armada

Performance

Ride and handling are typical of big body-on-frame SUVs, but the Armada's rorty V-8 is a fine asset.

Nissan's Armada is based on its full-size Titan pickup, and like the truck, the SUV has a lusty-sounding drivetrain that still makes all the right noises. It's the steering and suspension, and ultimately, the drivetrain too, that haven't kept up with the pace.

The V-8 in question is a 5.6-liter engine, with 317 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque in this application. It sounds like pure muscle, with a NASCAR-style ripple in its exhaust note. Like the racing series, the engine may have seen its peak--over the past eight years, all the Armada's competitors have been improved, and the strong V-8s and even V-6s that are now offered in some full-size trucks outpoint the Nissan "Endurance" V-8 by a good margin. Ford's EcoBoost V-6, for example, churns out 360 hp from just 3.5 turbocharged liters of displacement.

Combine it with a five-speed automatic, and the Armada's engine feels energetic from stoplight launches, and power is impressively smooth and eager in passing. Acceleration runs to 60 mph in under seven seconds are excellent for a vehicle of its size, though the most powerful GM SUVs can outrun it. And when equipped with a towing package and four-wheel drive, the Armada can tow up to 9,000 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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2013 Nissan Armada

Comfort & Quality

The interior doesn't always feel top-quality, but it's vast, with excellent head and leg room.

Few vehicles deliver the kind of outsized capability that full-size SUVs specialize in. The Nissan Armada fits the big bill. It's within reach of the space of a Chevrolet Tahoe or a Ford Expedition, and has the same dominating stance, too. It also has some of the same compromises of packaging and fit and finish.

Space isn't a luxury in the Armada, it's a luxury. Once you clamber into the front seats--it's no crossover, so it does take some effort--you'll find wide, plush seats with a little bit more firmness and support than you'd find in the Ford or Chevy utes. The Armada's adjustable steering column and pedals make it easier for smaller drivers to find an agreeable driving position, and the very height of the chairs gives the commanding view of the road that's still prized by anyone even considering a vehicle this large.

One row back, adults will still find a good amount of head and leg room. Nissan will switch the Armada's second-row bench seat for a pair of bucket seats if you want: that cuts down overall seating to seven passengers from eight, but gives those in the second row a more chauffeured feel.

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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2013 Nissan Armada

Safety

No crash-test scores are available for the big Armada, and haven't been under the latest testing regimens.

Crash safety is normally seen as a given with big vehicles, but in the absence of data, we're giving the Armada a moderate score.

The Armada just hasn't been ranked properly since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shifted its ratings system in the 2011 model year. Before that change, the NHTSA had given the big Nissan SUV a mix of five- and four-star ratings, though it did not rank or test the Armada for side-impact protection.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), meanwhile, has not tested the Armada.

The Armada can't use crash-test scores as a selling point, and in safety technology, it's now running behind some of its full-size competition. Dual front, side, and curtain airbags, are standard, and the curtain bags protect all three rows of occupants. The Armada also has standard electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, all mandatory features.

On the added-value side of the equation, the Armada gets standard rear parking sensors, while a rearview camera is available or standard. Advanced features such as blind-spot monitors and lane-keeping assistants are not available, but Bluetooth is now included on all models.

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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2013 Nissan Armada

Features

With few cutting-edge options, the Armada's features list doesn't go overboard with electronics.

With only minor trim changes for the 2013 model year, the Nissan Armada breaks no new ground in entertainment, infotainment, or luxury features in its seven-passenger cabin. To its credit, it doesn't come in a bare-bones version, like some domestic-brand SUVs that pitch their wares to fleets and utilities.

The Armada comes in a choice of three models, and any of them can be optioned up from rear-wheel to four-wheel drive. The base version, the SV, offers power windows, locks and mirrors; dual-zone climate control; an AM/FM/CD player with USB port; power front seats; Bluetooth keyless entry; a flip/fold third-row seat; and rear parking sensors. The Armada SL picks up some more comprehensive feature content, including Bose audio; an auto-leveling rear suspension; a rearview camera; leather seating; and a power-folding third-row seat.

The Platinum edition, at the top of the range, gets a full bundle of luxury add-ons including a power tailgate; heated first- and second-row seating; a heated steering wheel; a sunroof; a navigation system with real-time traffic; and a DVD entertainment system for the rear two rows of passengers. 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. A special Reserve edition for the 2013 model year wears 20-inch dark chrome wheels and matching exterior trim, with two-tone leather seating.

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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2013 Nissan Armada

Fuel Economy

Some of the worst gas mileage ratings of the SUV class can be found in the single-drivetrain Armada.

Though the EPA hasn't confirmed its 2013 fuel-economy ratings as of yet, the Nissan Armada doesn't receive any powertrain changes for the year, and it's likely that its low, low gas mileage numbers carry over in unspectacular form.

Aside from the most exotic sportscars, few modern vehicles are rated as poorly in gas mileage as today's biggest SUVs. Escalades and Range Rovers--and Armadas--hardly push past into the double digits for their city fuel economy ratings.

In its most recent calculations, the EPA gave the V-8 Armada a peak rating of 13 miles per gallon city, 19 miles per gallon highway. That's for the rear-drive version; putting heavier four-wheel drive mechanicals on the body-on-frame chassis 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.

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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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