Test Drive: Going On Patrol - The 2017 Nissan Armada

Before I begin this post on the new Nissan Armada I have to be honest about something – there may be some bias to this review. That's for two reasons. The first being that I've always been a bit of a fanboy of the Nissan Patrol that the new Armada is based on. The second...well, let's save that for later.

Because of growing up a Nissan nerd in my old home of the Philippines I've always wanted to own two legendary nameplates from my favorite car manufacturer. The GT-R is obviously the first one but the second one is the Nissan Patrol. Here in the US, the Patrol nameplate is almost unknown but it's just as much of a legend in many overseas markets as the GT-R. The name's been around since 1951 and has long been associated with tough, very-capable off-roaders. People who know their off-road vehicles hold the Patrol in the same regard as names like Jeep, Land Rover, Land Cruiser, and Equus africanus asinus (that'd be a donkey to you city-slickers). White Nissan Patrols are as synonymous with UN peacekeeping forces in overseas conflict areas as Hummers over here are synonymous with Army grunts and people needing to compensate for something. Venture onto YouTube and you'll find endless evidence of the Middle East's love for the Patrol with some insane, souped-up custom versions that wouldn't look out of place being driven by Immortan Joe and his posse. Several class wins have been racked up by Nissan in the Paris-Dakar Rally as well in the Patrol. And for the longest time in my old home country the Patrol was the ride of choice for anyone who'd made it big, whether he was a politico, movie star, or crime lord (and back there it wasn't a surprise for someone to be all three).
The Y62 Nissan Patrol doing what Patrols do. Image credit: Nissan Australia
Donkeys are great for off-roading..when used properly.

Like the GT-R, the Patrol has been forbidden fruit here in the good old US of A for a long time. Except for a short period from 1962 to 1969 when the very basic second-gen Patrol was sold through Datsun dealerships America has been deprived of both the on-road and off-road Nissan flagship vehicles all through their lifetimes. In 2010 though we finally got a version of the same Patrol that the rest of the world could buy in the form of the Infiniti QX56 (later renamed the QX80). It wasn't quite the same as the sixth-generation overseas Patrol however since it lost some of the important off-road features like locking diffs and sway bar disconnects in the journey stateside. With an $80K price point for a fully-loaded example it wasn't exactly cheap either. Thanks to a friendly Nissan engineer I got to test drive one when they first came out and the awkward front-end styling and high price were both seizure-inducing but boy, was it ever a baller ride inside!
It ate that poor man! Image credit: Infiniti

Not so baller has been the poor first-gen Nissan Armada. Introduced in 2003 at the same time as the Titan pickup it shared a chassis with, it's been around so long now that the earliest examples have to be carbon-dated when they go to the DMV to renew their registration. Since a brand-new Titan was finally introduced last year it was expected that the Armada would migrate to the new chassis but instead Nissan threw a curveball and announced their biggest SUV would be joining Infiniti in using the Y62 Patrol platform.

Which brings us to the 2017 Armada. Is this the equivalent of the R35 GT-R in finally bringing to the US the same Patrol the rest of the world gets to enjoy? Well, the answer is a very definite and resounding...kind of.

Unfortunately, just like the QX80 the new Armada is missing some of the equipment the Patrol has so it won't have the off-road prowess of its overseas brother. However, it still retains the Patrol's copious ground clearance, high approach and departure angles, and automatic 4WD with low-range so it'll still easily tackle the occasional backwoods trail that is most likely to be the heftiest challenge most owners will take it on. Lets face it, most of these trucks are destined to see nothing more challenging than a tight Starbucks drivethru lane - and not trackless desert or scorching Outback expeditions.

Helping it manage those occasional challenges is the revised 5.6 liter Endurance V8 that comes with direct injection and a healthy power boost over the old Armada. With 390hp instead of the 317 of the outgoing model plus a seven-speed gearbox replacing the old five-speed the Armada now can scoot to sixty mph in only 6 seconds or so. Not bad for a gigantic SUV that weighs just under 6000 pounds. Flip the transmission into tow mode and you've got a class-leading 8500 pound towing capacity – perfect for hauling a car to your next trackday or a loaded Airstream to your next "accounting" job.

Unfortunately that performance comes at a price in gas mileage with the Armada having an unimpressive EPA rating of 14 city and 19 highway. At least it only asks for regular gas instead of premium.
Disclaimer: Not an Infiniti.

Hop inside the new Armada and you may find your worries about gas mileage go away once you bask in the luxurious interior. The QX56 had a very nice interior when it first debuted with lovely stitched leather everywhere, soft-touch materials in the important spots, and tasteful looking (even if it was fake) wood trim. Amazingly the Armada's interior is almost indistinguishable from the Infiniti's (at least in the higher SL and Platinum trims since the base SV makes do with cloth seats). Apart from not having wood trim on the steering wheel (a positive in my opinion since it means the whole rim is now soft leather) and missing the trademark Infiniti clock (and logos of course) the Armada looks exactly the same inside as its luxury cousin.
For several extra grand Infiniti will give you wood...well, at least more of it...and a clock. Image credit: Infiniti

Interior room is the same as the QX80 of course, which means the front two rows get plenty of room and the second row passengers can get coddled even more by getting the optional captain's chairs. In return though for the comfort of the captain's chairs you get a big center console that gets in the way if you want to carry long cargo since it's removable only with tools. The standard bench seat is still very comfy without the decline in convenience. The third row is easy to access but a low bottom cushion and fairly tight legroom mean it's only for kids, short trips for adults, or long ones for people you hate. At least they fold down easily with the power folding system so you can expand the ample cargo room.

Spring for the fully-loaded Platinum trim and you get everything you'd expect from an Infiniti: heated and cooled power-adjustable front seats, heated middle seats, keyless entry and push-button start, Bluetooth phone and audio, rear entertainment screens for your kids or dogs, standard navi, Nissan's excellent around-view cameras, moonroof, power liftgate, power third-row seats, adaptive cruise control, 13-speaker Bose stereo, and all the latest safety nannies short of a fully automated car. Sadly the infotainment system and dash cluster display isn't Nissan's latest system since it basically reuses the QX80's units but it covers the important basics and is easy to navigate.

To help you luxuriate even more the new Armada has acoustic glass and driving it around town the engine is audible just enough to remind you that you've got a huge V8 in front without being intrusive. Surprisingly for such a big vehicle the ride is excellent and driving it is about as pleasing as you can possibly expect for such a huge, body-on-frame SUV. Acceleration is quick as I mentioned before, braking is good from the big 13.8 inch rotors, and it takes corners pretty well for such a top-heavy beast. One QX80 feature the Armada doesn't have is the fancy hydraulic anti-roll system so lean is a bit more pronounced than I'd like but not excessive. Another downside is that the steering is distractingly overboosted so it takes some getting used to, but overall the new Armada feels like a smaller vehicle than it really is – no mean feat when you're wheeling around something that looks as massive as an Iowa-class battleship.

One thing I wanted to praise Nissan's engineers for is the improved calibration of the adaptive cruise control in the Armada. Whereas the system in the 2015 Murano I test drove before was so annoyingly conservative no matter the setting that it would start hitting the brakes even if the car in front was in another time zone, the one in the Armada will happily sit a couple of car lengths behind someone else and scare the bejeezus out of them with its bulk. Good times.

Speaking of scaring the bejeezus out of cars in front, we should talk about the styling revisions made in the translation from Patrol to Armada. Rather than just use the existing Patrol front end Nissan opted for a new design for the Armada that better incorporates their latest design language. When you compare it to the bloated looks of the QX80, Nissan made a great choice by doing that. The new Armada sports a much handsomer front end that looks like a proper purposeful SUV rather than the weird nose of the Infiniti that looks like an angry vacuum cleaner with a bad case of mumps. It's even an improvement over the Patrol's front end which looked fairly generic. New LED headlights with integrated DRLs bring the front end up to date with current tastes. The huge side vents are still there but at least they seem to flow better now with the new nose and the driver's side vent is at least functional as an air intake (to which you can add a snorkel just in case you need to ford a river on your way to JCPenney). From the side the styling retains the upscale look of the QX80 while the rear sports an incongruously large bumper – no doubt necessitated by the integrated trailer hitch that's hidden behind a large cover.

The best part of the new Armada though isn't part of the vehicle itself – it's the price. Starting at just $44,900 the base 4x2 SV model already has a bucketload of standard features including that burly V8 engine and standard navi. The top-of-the-line 4x4 Platinum seems pretty expensive at $60,490 but that still undercuts its competition when comparing fully-loaded variants. And that's a whopping 20 grand cheaper than a loaded Infiniti QX80 meaning the Armada basically gives you a huge discount over its upscale counterpart without much sacrifice. The GM siblings like the Tahoe and Yukon may rule the roost in sales and offer a touch more room but their interior is far less luxurious unless you pay a ton more for a range-topping model and add options. And if you want to go off-roading they're not as suitable as the Armada even minus the Patrol's trick features. The Toyota Seqoia is also less capable and its interior and tech are a generation behind the Armada. If you want something more akin to the Armada you could get a Land Cruiser – and pay $20K more. Until the new model debuts later this year or next the Ford Expedition is also a step behind the Armada.

So, in the end what you have in the new Armada is a Nissan Patrol that's been tweaked to suit American needs. We're not going to be bombing through sand dunes like Arabian oil barons or venturing hours from civilization in the Outback like the Aussies. Instead the Armada will mostly be used for the daily humdrum of life in modern America with some owners occasionally taking them camping or using them to tow stuff. The same sort of activities I use my trusty 2005 Pathfinder for...or I should say USED to use my trusty Pathfinder for because now I think I should mention the second reason this review may have some bias: the 2017 Armada in the pictures is my own, freshly acquired from my local Nissan dealer. 
Good bye faithful Pathfinder...hello bigger guy...

I told you at the start I always wanted a GT-R and a Patrol...now I've fulfilled that dream. Well, kind of...

Special thanks to Sonora Nissan for giving me a good deal on my new Armada and for not making me want to shoot myself like buying from car dealers usually makes me want to do.



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