2008 Nissan Armada LE 4×4 Review
Nissan wants you to buy the Armada LE 4×4 to "Live Big." Someone needs to tell these guys that conspicuous consumption is dead– at least for those car buyers who can no longer afford it. While the high and low ends of the SUV market are still relatively robust, big-ass trucks in the former "sweet spot" are giving potential buyers a toothache. It may have something to do with the price of gas. Or ruinous depreciation. Which is a shame. The Nissan Armada is a damn Skippy good truck; you know, if you used to like that kind of thing.
The Armada is a paid-up subscriber to the Japanese school of design. Small details rule. The rounded arches over the Armada's doors look cool. Hidden rear door handles get props. Now, take a step back… Another one… NOW you can see that those bulging fenders are more Mitsubishi Starion shazzam than Audi Quattro cool. Who the Hell would be fooled into thinking the Armada only has two doors? And yes, that Nissan emblem on the grill really IS the size of a dinner plate.
Taken as a whole, the Armada is a mish-mash of bulky truck clichés. I'm not saying it's derivative, but the Honda Pilot, Land Rover Discovery and Chevrolet Tahoe called. They want their everything back.
Climbing into the Armada's cabin, I got lost. Tom Tom says turn left at the center arm rest, another left at the climate control, and you will arrive at the steering wheel. Nissan has upgraded the SUV's cavernous interior to great effect. Acres of dash are covered in sensually squidgy plastics in pleasant desert hues. Buttons still litter the center stack layout like scattered Lego, but a cool aluminum iDrive-like twist knob below an LCD screen makes access to ancillary systems easy.
The strip of ersatz timber separating the upper and lower dash and the silver plastic surrounding the Armada's shifter are about as convincingly upmarket as $10 Prada sunglasses. Escaping the aesthetic affront presents its own set of challenges; access to the way back requires agility, persistence, experience and a ready supply of Shrek Band-Aids.
For the 2007 model year, Nissan upgraded the SUV's 300bhp 5.6-liter V8 to a more robust 315bhp (or 317, depending on which promotional materials you read). This launches the Black Pearl-sized vessel from no-wake to an ocean-going 60mph in about 7.5 seconds. Unlike the Tundra-based Sequoia, the Titan-based Armada is in no hurry to prove the point. The big Nissan's tip-in is leisurely, and the five-speed slushbox likes any gear as long as it's the one that delivers the best fuel economy.
Speaking of which, the Armada's V8 is touted as the world's most efficient 5.6-liter V8! AND the gigantic FlexFuel badges proclaim the truck's E85 ability. Yes, well, you'd have to be a well-heeled corn grower to put up with 25 percent to 30 percent less fuel efficiency than the Armada's "normal" 15mpg EPA combined cycle.
How Nissan made the Armada handle as well as the smaller XTerra amazes me. With nearly three tons of mass pushing at marginally adequate tires, the Armada rolls only slightly, hangs on, and never loses its composure. Broken pavement causes the front end to skip to the side, but control quickly returns.
Obviously, no one takes an Armada around a corner. But if you did, understeer rules the day. Still, you never feel as though the Nissan really WANTS to plow straight ahead into the nearest guard rail. The options list included speed-sensitive steering. The only change I felt was a gentle transition from finger-twirling light, to not-quite-a-zombie on center helmsmanship. To feel the road in an Armada means pulling over and getting out. Which, in a beast weighing 5675lbs, might take a while.
Off-road, the Armada reveals its true purpose: the school run. Dial the switch to 4×4 High, wait ‘til the light goes out and then… fuhgeddaboutit. The standard running boards snag everything taller than forest squirrels. Grinning slightly at the amused salesman when we got high centered at the Land Rover off-road demo course, I engaged 4×4 Low, felt a shimmy and a crunch. And then the body quivered as the Armada scraped its belly off the obstacle. Not exactly safari material.
Who cares? There are very few full-size SUVs that shouldn't be something else. For the most part, these days, they are. Only their ancestors still roam the earth, sucking gas, threatening to squish all those funny-looking CUVs and the, what do they call them? Cars. Still, if you're one of those people who doesn't know when to leave a party, the Armada is a solid choice. It's comfy, safe (at least for you), tows stuff and, uh, that's it.
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My 2 cents ... For the money the Armada is a pretty good vehicle. We have 3 small kids and going the large SUV route was the only way to conveniently place 3 car seats in the 2nd row. For now the 3rd row isn't used but will be when the kids get older AND can buckle themselves. The 3rd row is a pain to use if the parent has to go back there to buckle up a kid. We also have a fully loaded Sienna, great car but not enough towing capacity. Towing anything near the limit + passengers + gear will surely ruin the transmission. Even though tent trailers are lightweight the more useful and comfortable ones are near enough to the Sienna's 3500lbs tow limit. Our Sienna has 2nd row captain's chairs, we cannot put 3 car seats across. The Armada rules and can tow just about anything I want + kids + stuff. We looked at a Honda Pilot. Better towing capacity but to the best of my knowledge no factory option to replace the donut spare with a full size spare. The last thing you want to have happen on a family vacation towing a tent trailer is to have a flat and only have a donut for a spare. The Armada has a full size spare. My Sienna carries a full size tire and wheel behind the 3rd row seat. We also looked at the new Sequoia. Its mostly similar to the Armada but we couldn't touch one with Platinum trim for less than $55K. Our loaded Armada LE cost less than $40K. We ruled the Chevy Tahoe off the list because of the ancient 4speed transmission. This tranny has been around almost forever and GM won't put in something more modern or dependable. Replacing a GM tranny should not be part of your maintainence schedule. I would've bought a Tahoe if I could get an Allison tranny. Not having fold flat 3rd row seats doesn't help either as well as the really ancient problem prone 10-bolt rear end. We ruled the Ford Expedition out because on the redesign they moved the peak torque UP a 1000 rpms, exactly where you don't want it to be when you're an SUV. The new Saturn/GMC/Buick crossovers all have donuts for spares and again not enough towing capacity. Manufacturer's tow ratings aside, you have to wonder how much power you really have when these things weigh 5000lbs and only have 250 ft-lbs of torque. The Mercedes GL-class simply cost too much. It too has a donut for a spare. The smaller ML-class doesn't have a 3rd row and isn't big enough to hold all our stuff. Placing 3 car seats in the 2nd row is a really really tight fit and almost impossible to buckle in. We know because we had one.