Nissan has been a player in the large SUV market here in the United States for close to two decades since the introduction of the original Armada for the 2004 model year. At that time it was based on the Nissan Titan, their large pickup truck. The second generation finally arrived for 2017, at which time it changed platforms to that of the Nissan Patrol, Nissan’s highly regarded competitor to the Land Cruiser that hadn’t been sold here since the 1960s but still had a loyal following in other markets with various generations on offer. Also currently offered here as an Infiniti QX80, the Nissan Armada has long been seen as a very similar SUV at a more attractive price point with many if not most of the features and amenities of the Infiniti available for less.
For 2021 there have been a good number of changes to the package both inside and out in order to keep it competitive, after all, the market for this size of vehicle is large here and the competition is formidable. Last week Nissan sent us a loaded up Platinum top trim level with most of the available goodies to take a look at.
As a full-size SUV capable of seating up to eight passengers, this Armada is certainly large and in charge while offering a lot of what makes these so successful over here but without going overboard on the items that are used less. At first glance it would seem that the Land Cruiser would be the logical competition, but the Armada is less off-road focused, the high price and low sales of the Land Cruiser probably make that a good decision. Since moving to the Patrol platform the Armada has sold over 30,000 copies here each year with the exception of 2020 due to obvious external reasons.
Compared to the now quite outdated in regards to its interior amenities but still mechanically capable Sequoia the Armada shines, especially on the inside. Of course the Ford Expedition and GM’s Tahoe/Yukon/Suburban/Escalade are also obvious competition depending on the trim level as is the in-house Infiniti QX80 with some overlap on the high end of the Armada and the lower end of the QX80. While the same body as the Infiniti, the Nissan Armada features different front and rear styling with a very similar interior, however in some aspects the Nissan has an advantage.
For 2021 both ends have been restyled as compared to last year’s version. The picture above shows the 2021 (the red one) and a 2020 example, also in Platinum trim (the blue one). In front the grille, hood, fenders, bumper and new LED headlights are obvious changes. In the rear the tailgate, taillights and bumper have seen changes as well. The Armada is also the first vehicle in the Nissan lineup to feature the new Nissan logo which is evident in numerous places.
While available in multiple trim levels (SV, SL, Midnight, Platinum, all in either 2WD or 4WD configurations), the Platinum version doesn’t leave much that one could hope for when it comes to the interior. The Coulis Red Pearl paint coupled with the Espresso Brown interior is a color combination that sort of grows on you, but at first look the seats with their quilted leather and the gathered material on the door panels give off a bit of a cultured vibe. The smoky wood trim and dark headliner along with satin dark silver accents combine to further this impression.
The seats, while comfortable to sit in, at first seem more like captain’s chairs on a boat’s bridge. My elbows were at a higher level than the armrest and the center console lid and I felt like I was sitting more on the seat than in it, a feeling that diminished over the week’s time. Of course seating comfort is highly subjective, unless you are my heretofore unknown twin, you may very well have a different initial experience.
The seat, while heated, ventilated, and adjustable in ten different ways was a little short in the bottom cushion, an extra inch or two of base material would have been welcome and the lumbar support, while perfectly adequate (set once and leave it alone) is only adjustable in the horizontal plane, not the vertical. The passenger side features a little less adjustability but is basically the same.
Longer term comfort was very good though, I didn’t seem to want or need to move around in the seat even during longer stints at the wheel and in the end rested my left elbow on the upper door panel. A natural result of the higher seating position is an excellent view out through the large windows.
Straight ahead is the steering wheel with two cascading columns of buttons along the spokes and a clear set of instruments beyond it. The instruments consist of two large and easily decipherable dials with a large color display between them. There are, as expected, a multitude of display configurations that can be cycled through via a steering wheel button providing all manner of information.
While prior to this year the Infiniti featured pretty much the same exact dashboard as the Nissan, this year the Nissan’s biggest difference is the new center stack. While it has grown a little taller it now accommodates a 12.3″ touchscreen at the top. Curiously the Infiniti uses a similar space for a smaller screen with vents at the sides of it. The screen is a model of clarity when displaying information, however the backup camera is of a surprisingly quite low resolution.
Controlling the screen is most easily done by touch but there is also voice recognition and now a small command center knob and button set aft of the gearshifter. While it’s possible to be in Audio mode and touch the screen to get to Navigation mode, once the map is up on the screen you can’t get back to Audio without using the console button, there should be a “home” button on the screen or below it.
The screen itself is configurable in multiple different ways, for example the map can be on the left 2/3rds with the current song title on the right 1/3rd or perhaps the telephone info of whoever might be being called could be over there, or the map can be expanded to cover the entire screen, etc, there are multiple ways of displaying everything. My wish though is that this screen was simply larger and descended further down the center stack. When used in split screen format it left too much of an impression of being basically a 7″screen with a small portion to the side that displayed bare bones info of something else. It’s a large vehicle so it isn’t right in your face either, making it appear smaller.
Below the screen are a couple of large knobs for volume and tuning along with a seek/track button as well as one to adjust the lighting of the screen. Below that a couple of vents and below that the HVAC console with the seat heat/cool buttons as well. This panel was very intuitive as to usage including controlling the rear seating zone as well. Below all of that is a panel that swings up to open a shelf in which a wireless charging pad resides for a phone. It’s low enough that the phone is not visible from the driver’s seat once inside, the flip side is that it’s easy to forget to take the phone when exiting the vehicle, out of sight, out of mind.
And lastly, way at the bottom, a couple of USB ports and somewhat unexpectedly, an integrated brake controller! Nissan expects a lot of owners to want to tow with the Armada and in fact it can tow up to 8,500 pounds so comes well equipped to do so.
Looking at that center console makes it obvious that there’s a lot of extra space on it. I’m not necessarily advocating for more buttons but the screen could be larger and more useful while losing none of the other items that are there. The cover for the phone station itself takes up much more room than it needs to, although I’ll be the first to admit that it looks quite good with the wood expanse and the satin trim with ARMADA spelled out along it. Surrounding the console is beautifully stitched black soft material, in fact most of the dashboard is soft.
The lower, horizontal plane of the console is taken up by the gearshifter on the left, the infotainment control panel behind it, and on the forward right portion the controller for the AWD system (normally in Automatic Fulltime AWD) along with buttons for both tow mode as well as snow and an option to turn the stability control off. Also on the right side are two cupholders under a cover.
Under the driver’s right elbow is a large storage compartment with an interesting double hinged lid. The front seat occupants can open it as you’d expect with a rear hinge but the second row occupants can open the same lid and it then opens via a front hinge to access the exact same space underneath.
The passenger seat looks out over an expanse of cascading dashboard framed by more wood. Interestingly and perhaps as a nod to the offroad nature of the Patrol, both the front seats and in fact every outboard first and second row seat features both on overhead folding handle as well as a further fixed grab handle on the pillar and the third row also has roof mounted assist handles. If you notice your driver holding on to both of those instead of the wheel, there may be a serious impending issue.
Vents for all outboard positions in all rows similarly are mounted in the ceiling, assuring decent airflow for everyone. The Armada for some reason is not available with a panoramic sunroof though in any trim level, here making do with a conventionally sized moonroof over the front seats. It isn’t available on the Infiniti either which seems a curious omission in this class.
The second row however in this one had the optional Captain’s Chairs Package which obviously reduces passenger capacity to seven instead of eight. It also provides a seperate center console between those seats that contains another large bin and two cupholders under a folding panel.
Ahead of both of these seats (unrelated to the package, it’s this way on the bench version as well) are two 8″ screens with wireless headphones and a remote control provided along with an HDMI port and more charging/connectivity options. In total this Armada provides two USB ports, two USB-C ports, a 120V AC outlet, and three 12V power outlets.
These back seats are as comfortable as the front seats (perhaps even more) with plenty of legroom for my 6’1″ with 32″ inseam body. Getting in and out was easy with the large doors opening wide and the well placed fixed running boards. Seat heaters and HVAC controls are visible on the center console as well.
Folding these second row seats to get to the third row is simple too, a one-latch affair that sends the counterweighted seat tumbling forward easily. Once ensconced in the third row a relatively light tug pulls them back into place. No quilting on the seats back here though.
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