Critics of the Nissan Armada have abundant arrows in their quiver – it’s thirsty, it doesn’t handle well, its styling is somewhat ungainly, and it’s based on a platform that dates back a full decade. Armoring the company against those blows is the facelifted 2021 Nissan Armada, but unfortunately, a suite of updates does little to deflect shots away from the big SUV – the Armada is still much the same as it’s always been.
However, there are circumstances where the Armada’s weaknesses turn into strengths, and while the refreshed styling won’t keep pundits from hurling their stones, it also preserves the three-row Nissan’s best attributes. For example, the 2021 Armada is one of the cushiest, smoothest, and quietest vehicles on the market, and since it’s (still) based on the overseas-only Nissan Patrol, it features a robust chassis and four-wheel-drive system, with lots of suspension travel to traverse rocks, ruts, and rivulets. And there’s absolutely something to be said for a vehicle that excels in one or two areas, even if it neglects others.
Verdict updated in June 2021, following one-week loan. A vehicle's verdict is relative only to its own segment and not the new-vehicle market as a whole. For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.
One of my personal criticisms against the old Armada was its styling. A sloping front grille and dopey, downturned headlights gave it a pug-like appearance – charming in its own way, but ultimately kinda ugly. The 2021 Armada is different, at least, but I don’t think it’s any better. I like the higher, flatter hood and the E-shaped headlights a lot, recalling the updated 2020 Titan and establishing a strong corporate truck face. But the squared-off front end and crisp fenders are wholly at odds with the carryover vents aft of the front wheels. Ditching that body jewelry altogether would have yielded a more cohesive design.
Updates to the rear are a bit more successful. I’m not a huge fan of the chunky rear bumper, but the taillights feature a notched LED accent that cleverly recalls the headlight shape, and a new liftgate does away with the outgoing model’s bulbous heinie. Both ends of the Armada are sharper and more techno-modern, although that creates some design conflict with the still-bubbly doors and quarter panels. Also, does anyone beside me miss the two-tone fender accents?
Inside, there’s not much to complain about – which is a huge win for the Armada in and of itself. The 2017-era SUV featured thoroughly outdated electronics inside, with a comparatively tiny 8.0-inch touchscreen displaying an old infotainment system that featured neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto. However, the 2021 Armada ditches that old setup in favor of a standard 12.3-inch display with Wi-Fi, wireless CarPlay, and wired Android Auto. A newly standard 7.0-inch information screen in the instrument cluster is a nice addition as well.
The horizontal screen appears at the tippy-top of a redesigned center stack, beneath which are relocated volume and tuning knobs, as well as a few redundant audio controls. HVAC vents and a much more intuitive climate control panel appear below the infotainment system, placing the most commonly used secondary controls much higher than before. Down a bit lower are a wireless charging pad, trailer brake controller, and USB-A and USB-C ports. Otherwise, the interior looks similar, though I’m not mad. I like the twin-cowl design, and the admittedly flat front seats are still incredibly cushy for long drives.
On The Road Again
Most of the updates to the 2021 Armada are skin-deep, so it’s not surprising how familiar it feels after thumbing the push-button starter. Underhood is a direct-injected 5.6-liter V8, pumping out 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet – its base towing capacity of 8,500 pounds is best-in-class towing (though some competitors offer more with optional equipment). A carryover seven-speed automatic delivers smooth-shifting power to either the rear wheels or a full-time four-wheel-drive transfer case that splits torque front and rear via clutch packs (not a more traditional lockable center differential). Four-wheel drive models get low-range gearing as well.
That buttery powertrain is a preview of the entire on-road experience in the Armada. The engine is whisper-quiet, and it might be mounted on gimbals for how little vibration enters the cabin at idle or on full throttle. Likewise, the Armada’s double-wishbone front and rear suspenders iron out just about every pavement imperfection, even on bad roads. The softly sprung SUV does bounce around a bit on undulating pavement, but putting some starch into the suspension would degrade ride quality everywhere else. It’s an acceptable compromise in most situations.
Of course, that pillowy softness turns ugly – and possibly dangerous – when introducing the Armada to a curvy road or a quick lane change. Body motions are poorly controlled, with plenty of roll leading to unfortunate transitional responses. In spite of a four-corner independent suspension, athleticism isn’t the Nissan SUV’s forte. Then again, the same could be said of the Toyota Land Cruiser (and don’t scoff at that comparison before giving it some thought).
In other markets, both the current 200-Series Land Cruiser and the Y62 Nissan Patrol are sold in more austere forms, giving farmers, government agencies, and off-road enthusiasts a robust vehicle to work and play with. Both vehicles also play to the same strengths in the US, with smooth and comfortable interiors hiding rough-and-ready off-road components. In my brief time in the dirt, the Armada did everything I wanted it to without any complaint, and the same excellent ride quality persists even when traversing small obstacles.
Aside from the Land Cruiser’s peerless, hand-built reputation as a premium product, the only philosophical difference between the two is price – a loaded 2021 Armada Platinum Reserve 4x4 should be $20,000 cheaper than the $85,515 Cruiser, though Nissan has yet to reveal official pricing. In that vein, I think it’s fair to think of the Armada as less of a mainstream three-row SUV and more of a budget-priced Land Cruiser.
Comfort And Convenience
Helping matters further is a well-constructed interior. The SL tested here comes standard with leather and heated front seats, though even the SV model gets Prima-Tex upholstery that does a decent impression of genuine hides. The top-rung Platinum Reserve ups the comfort ante further with quilted leather, heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated second row. Across the board, the Armada has premium-feeling interior materials throughout, with hard plastics showing up only occasionally. The glossy, glittery faux-wood trim has got to go, though.
The first two rows of seats are mounted high and upright, and this tester benefits from optional second-row captain’s chairs separated by a center console storage armrest. Heated front seats are standard on the SL, as is leather upholstery. The Platinum Reserve, which we didn’t get to drive, ups the ante with lovely quilted leather with heated and ventilated front and heated rear seats. Cargo space is a bit lacking with all seats in place, but fold the cramped third row flat and there’s plenty of room for a family of four (or five, if you opt for the standard rear bench).
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A suite of driver-assist features comes standard on the Armada, though it’s not as comprehensive as one might find in competitors. Full-speed adaptive cruise control is standard, as is automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Lane departure prevention, blind spot monitoring, rear automatic braking, and front and rear parking sensors come on every Armada as well. However, there isn’t any sort of lane-centering feature, and since placing the big SUV is a bit of a trick sometimes, the driver should become accustomed to feeling the lane departure warning’s steering wheel vibration often.
The Bottom Line
Alongside the already-announced SV, SL, and Platinum Reserve models, Nissan will add a base 2021 Armada S to the lineup. Details on the new base trim are sparse, but it will likely start at about $45,000 in two-wheel-drive form or $48,000 for a four-wheeler. It will probably jettison some premium features, like the wireless charging pad, adaptive cruise control, faux leather upholstery, and trailer brake controller, and it might ride on 17-inch wheels instead of the SV’s 18-inch alloys.
Moving higher in the lineup, we doubt pricing will change much between 2020 and 2021. Currently, an SV model starts at $47,500, while the leather-lined SL demands $52,300 and the premium Platinum Reserve is $60,930 – add $3,000 if you want all-wheel drive. With a few modern additions, it might be fair to see the Armada SV start at just under $50,000 and the Platinum Reserve to top out at $65,000 or so. That roughly matches the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe, which starts at $49,000 and maxes out at $72,600. Meanwhile, the Ford Expedition asks between $52,810 and $77,085 of its new owner, while the Toyota Sequoia ranges between $50,100 and $69,375.
Price is just one element of the Armada’s ownership experience, and as with other on-road dynamic attributes, fuel economy is rather poor in the Nissan. The company claims 14 miles per gallon city, 19 highway, and 16 combined with two-wheel drive or 13 city, 18 highway, and 15 combined with four-wheel drive. Among its key competition, only the Toyota Sequoia is thirstier. The Armada is also a bit smaller outside than its three rivals, with less interior and cargo space as well – blame those global Patrol bones for the slightly tight interior and credit them for the better trail maneuverability.
Overall, the Armada’s vastly improved infotainment package and different (if not necessarily better) styling set it apart from its immediate predecessor in a few key ways. Newly standard smartphone integration makes living with the SUV on a daily basis much more pleasant, but it’s still the same hulking beast it was before. That means somewhat archaic on-road manners, offset by charming off-road capability and cushy NVH characteristics that turn just about every road surface into marzipan. Those are two Armada traits that not even the most militant critic can attack.
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Gallery: 2021 Nissan Armada First Drive
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