Mountain Wheels: Updated Nissan Armada takes big to a new level
What might be considered the “regular” version of Infiniti’s QX80, the 2021 Nissan Armada is anything but. In many ways, it’s a more practical and more enjoyable rendition of the shared, 400-horsepower, eight-passenger package, although the 4×4 Platinum trim level of the Armada I drove did check in at a total price of $71,250 — considerably higher than the $48,600 base model that’s out there somewhere.
Maybe that’s because with just a little less gloss — or maybe just a whole lot of its own gloss — the Armada was a lot more fun and stable to drive, even with gargantuan 22-inch wheels as its standard issue. Here, those monster-sized glossy wheels got Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires, and there was absolutely no squirming or lane-sucking (or square-edged turns), as was my recent experience with a QX80.
I was out in those odd snowmelt glaze ice conditions on a Saturday morning in Breckenridge, and while I totally forgot to spin the Armada’s slightly old-school 4×4 knob out of its automatic setting and hit the “snow” switch, we still managed to maintain traction all the way up Ski Hill Road and get it into an inclined parking spot near the Peaks Trailhead, where we watched other smaller SUVs spin around like they were in a Texas ice storm.
The considerably updated 2021 Armada takes on a moderately overwhelming central stack of infotainment and other controls, but it’s still more manageable and user-friendly than Infiniti. We even had a pair of behind-the-front-headrest video screens as part of this model’s seven-passenger layout: two large captain’s chairs with a massive console between them, each of them flipping and flopping out of the way to gain access to a reasonably sizeable third row, which itself power-slides up and out of the floor when needed. Those third-row seats actually move back quite a bit in the process, revealing decent foot room.
The laundry list of 2021 updates is significant, largely as I haven’t been in an Armada since close to the debut of its 2017 model redux, when production for the ultra-massive vehicle was, surprisingly, shifted to Japan from Mississippi.
The biggest news is a largely redesigned exterior, new ultra-bright LED headlamps and tail lights and a standard 12.3-inch color infotainment display way up on top of that center stack.
Armada’s use of chrome is pretty tasteful, minus maybe the giant mirror caps and the 1950s-style ports on the flanks — grille surrounds, trim around the city bus-sized windows and just a single strip in the rear.
The vehicle’s redesigned hood still came up to my neck, and trying to sweep snow off the roof required an inelegant perch on the Armada’s plastic-topped running boards (my passengers complained that they got slippery when coated with ice — maybe I just hung on better).
Small it is not, in any way. The Armada is 208.9 inches overall, 79.9 inches wide and 75.8 inches high, maybe even taller on those big 22s. The 5.6-liter V-8 and a seven-speed transmission helps cart around the 6,037 pounds of metal my top-end model weighed; that power, plus 413 pound-feet of torque, means it’s good to haul up to 8,500 pounds of trailer, with trailer brake controls built into the bottom of the console.
You will not find that power insufficient, or the engine particularly meek in its exhaust note. This is old-school muscle at work, and I got a passable 16.9 combined mpg during travels that included trips over to Vail and back to the Front Range.
Armada’s raw bigness certainly presents itself when parking and maneuvering, like a piece of industrial equipment, I had to remember to turn the wheel an extra crank to center myself in lane when taking corners in town. But parking was actually better than in other fuller-than-full-sized SUVs, with backing cameras and some very noisy proximity alarms that made it pretty simple. Maybe even the odd, squarish side mirrors help there, too.
On the road, it was smooth and simple and surprisingly capable even on Loveland Pass curves. I was reminded pretty quickly of the pure physics and mass involved here while coming back down Ski Hill Road later that day; remember that this is not a small vehicle, especially when you’ve got a load of passengers and gear.
Armada’s rendition of a leathery, glossy interior is quite tasteful, with large, quilted leather seating, draped leather on the doors and some nice glossy wood highlights, including bits that curve from the doors into the dash.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at email@example.com.
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