What's new is old
The 2018 Nissan Armada, although sturdy and comfortable, feels overpriced next to family-friendly peers
All cars look wonderful in a showroom, or in stock photos on a California highway. Get them out into some Canadian snow and salt for a few days, though, and the gloss buffs away, leaving the niggling little faults.
I've just driven the enormous Nissan Armada SUV through one of the coldest and muckiest weeks in Ontario's winter, and it's been exasperating. Don't get me wrong: The Armada is a terrific vehicle for getting you home through the storm, and it never put a Blizzak out of place in exceptional cold and unplowed slipperiness. But for $65,000, it could be so much better.
My tester was the Platinum Reserve edition, the $75,000 top of the line, which came with the option of just two comfortable seats in the second row instead of the more usual three. The third row, however, is an afterthought. Nobody's going to be happy back there unless they're small children with stubby little legs and barely any need for headspace. The new Ford Expedition has worked out how to provide adult-sized space in the very back – why can't Nissan?
So forget that third row (the kids will be happy to, because the only in-car headrest-mounted screens are in the second row, if any should look up from their phones long enough to see). Fold it flat with the power button, but be patient – it takes a very long time. I counted 20 seconds. This will create reasonable luggage room (1,404 litres, or 2,692 litres with all rows flat), but like most SUVs, the floor is very high from the ground so it's not as spacious as you might expect.
More impressive is the towing capacity, which is up to a hefty 3,856 kilograms. That falls shy of the 4,173 kg that the new Ford Expedition can pull, but it's still going to allow a pretty big boat and trailer back there. The 5.6-litre V-8 engine makes 390 hp and 394 lb-ft of torque, but with great power comes great responsibility for fuel – it's a pig on gas. I saw an average of 17.2 L/100 km over about two tankfuls of varied driving. Any engine is thirstier in cold weather, but this is really thirsty. Very few SUVs are worse with their official numbers: the Mercedes G-Wagens, the Bentley Bentayga. Even the Cadillac Escalade is more than a litre better.
The Armada's engine is, at least, tried and true. It's shared with the Titan pickup truck and sends power to all four wheels through a seven-speed automatic transmission.
Step up – way up, trying to get a foothold on the too-shallow running boards – and at first glance, the interior is gorgeous. The two-tone leather seats of the Platinum Reserve are heated, but like all Nissans and Infinitis that have three separate levels of both heated and cooled seats, they're activated with small knobs that click either to the left or right and are difficult to adjust through gloves. And only the darker centres of the seats warm up – the thick, outside rims stay cold until they're eventually warmed by your thighs.
First-world problems? Perhaps, but this is the first world and these little annoyances shouldn't exist on a vehicle at this price. The moonroof should be larger, not the same size as the sunroof on a 30-year-old Tercel. The little information screen between the gauges should have a sharper resolution, not look like an old Tandy. And the eight-inch central display screen should be larger and offer more than just a few apps – where's Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?
There is some exceedingly clever stuff in the Armada, of course. In short, though, the 2018 Armada is capable, comfortable and, ultimately, annoying. All these little foibles are easy to fix, but they haven't been. The truck feels dated, although this generation was new last year.
- Base price: $64,998
- Price as tested: $74,998
- Engine: 5.6-litre V-8
- Transmission/drive: Seven-speed automatic/four-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 17.5 city/12.8 highway
- Alternatives: Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia
A forgettable design with slab sides and few creases fails to distinguish the Armada in a parking lot. Its Infiniti QX80 sibling is more attractive, but also more expensive.
Well designed for function and with lots of storage space. Don't bother paying extra for the two separate seats in the second row – the cargo box that splits them doesn't remove and it's not worth sacrificing the potential eighth seat. In-car video screens were a passing fad, superseded by smartphones and iPads.
Strong and powerful, with plenty of capacity for towing and cruising. It's let down, however, by its thirst for fuel.
There's no available WiFi hotspot, and no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The blind-spot monitor will apply the brakes on one side to steer gently against your input. The surround camera system, helpful for parking, is available in a less-than-$30,000 Qashqai. The rear-view mirror flips up to become a video monitor with a wider view of the road behind from its camera, but this quickly obscures with road grime.
The seats all fold flat, but good luck trying to hoist the dog up into the high back. A 20-inch spare tire fills any extra cargo space beneath the rear floor.
Ten years ago, the new Armada would have been considered remarkable. Today, it feels like a five-year-old SUV.