Japanese Tahoe. The full-size Nissan Armada seems to date back to the days of the Spanish Armada. For years, this gas-guzzling SUV has been anchoring the top of Nissan's lineup, returning each season with the same 5.6-liter V-8, spacious interior, and ample towing ability.
The 2021 refresh attempts to disguise its dated roots with a facelift, a revised interior, and more horsepower. The trip to the powder room comes just in the nick of time: the Chevrolet Tahoe, the segment's most popular offering, was fully redesigned this year and looks to be more competitive than ever.
The Armada doesn't have the cachet of the Tahoe, and nor does it offer a long-wheelbase model like the Tahoe. But it does handily win on price - in what's become the typical Nissan approach, the value is strong compared to the Tahoe as well as other choices like the Toyota Sequoia and Ford Expedition. The priciest Armada begins at $66,000 or so, which is thousands less than the priciest trims of the Ford, Toyota, or Chevy.
Much-needed new tech. The Armada has never been on the forefront of technology, but even by its own low bar we were disappointed the screen was just 8.0 inches across and didn't offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 2021 model finally rectifies that with a new 12.3-inch touchscreen with wireless smartphone capability. Navigation is standard as well.
The updated system is quick to react and features a fairly logical layout. It can be worked by your finger or via a rotary dial that's now mounted in the console rather than on the dashboard. Our biggest quibble is that certain instances will require you to use the rotary dial - don't think you can tap or swipe your way through every menu. We were a bit flustered by this at first, but it wasn't an issue once we got used to it.
As for the wireless smartphone connectivity, we had no issues with pairing. It was a cinch to pull up Android or Apple on the big screen and stash our phone on the new wireless charging pad that comes standard.
There are other notable standard features decorating the interior as well, including heated front seats with 10-way power adjustment, synthetic leather upholstery, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, and a WiFi hotspot. In the instrument cluster sits a 7.0-inch driver information display.
To reiterate: all that is included in the base model. A stripped-out Tahoe, by contrast, won't come with navigation or leatherette upholstery, and nor does it get wireless device charging. The features in the base Ford Expedition and Sequoia are also trailing that of the new entry-level Armada.
Farther up the trim ladder, fine leathers, heated and cooled seats, and 22-inch wheels abound. A decked-out Armada undercuts similarly-equipped competition but loaded-up Expeditions and Tahoes offer their own unique features to justify their higher MSRPs. The priciest Ford, for instance, features massaging seats and real wood trim. The priciest Chevy includes a 15-inch head-up display as well as magnet ride control and adaptive dampers. None of that is available on the Armada.
Strip out the fancy headlining features in the competition and they'd be about as posh as the Armada Platinum. All things considered, we can finally say the Armada has reached parity in tech and feature count with its rivals.
More horsepower, same plodding handling. You don't buy a big SUV for carving corners, but the Armada continues to disappoint in its sloppiness on curvy roads. It never feels quite as buttoned-down as we'd like, even for a vehicle with such inherent handling limitations. We do appreciate the surprisingly precise and tactile steering, though.
More relevant than handling is outright power. For 2021, the Armada has done some tweaking and tuning to its venerable 5.6-liter V-8 in order to dredge up 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque. That's up only marginally from last year - you'll never notice the uptick from behind the wheel - but we like seeing those numbers start with a four rather than a three.
What hasn't changed is the engine's smooth power delivery. Prod the accelerator and the V-8 easily overcomes the Armada's prodigious weight in order to get the big SUV moving. It's never fast, but the well of power that's always there lends confidence for when you need to rush up an on ramp or hook up to a trailer.
With an 8,400-pound towing capacity, the Armada handily beats the Toyota Sequoia's 7,000-pound tow rating and matches the towing capability of the Chevy Tahoe. It falls shy of the Expedition's maximum rating of 9,300 pounds, however.
Gas mileage? We wish you didn't ask. The EPA rates the Armada at 13 mpg city, 18 highway, and 15 combined. That's embarrassing even for this thirsty segment.
More safety features. The 2021 Armada hasn't yet been tested for crashworthiness, but it protects itself against the worst with an array of features. Standard driver aids include automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts. Rear automatic braking, front and rear parking sensors, and active lane control are standard as well.
Want more? A surround-view camera, as well as a rearview mirror camera, are available on the upper trims. About the only thing missing from this list is a head-up display and, notable, a lane-keep assist. The wheel will buzz if you drift but don't expect the Armada to direct itself back into its lane.
It's nice to see Nissan make so many safety features standard. This segment isn't renowned for keeping with the times, and even the new Tahoe limits standard safety gear to automatic emergency braking and forces buyers up the trim ladder for things like active lane control and adaptive cruise control. The Expedition is better but still forces buyers to shop the pricier trims for adaptive cruise control.
Final thoughts. The 2021 updates to the Armada finally addressed one of the biggest pain points we had with this SUV: technology. With a new and bigger touchscreen, smartphone compatibility (finally), and more standard safety technology, the 2021 Armada, at last, offers shoppers the sort of connectivity and equipment that they crave. It makes what was an uncompetitive SUV in the running once more.
Does this make it a better Tahoe or Expedition? Well, that depends on your priorities. The Expedition can tow significantly more, and both the Ford and Chevy get better fuel economy and feature roomier, nicer-trimmed interiors. But the Armada is a better value and has more standard safety gear.
The bigger news is that the Armada can finally be mentioned in the same breath as those segment leaders without scorn or snickering. That's a win in itself, and we're sure it should translate into a few more sales for Nissan's aging but capable SUV.
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