We Test Out the 2021 Armada’s Boatload of Updates

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  • Revised exterior design
  • Redesigned center stack features fewer buttons than before
  • New 12.3-inch touchscreen
  • New entry-level S trim
  • Part of the second Armada generation introduced for 2017

What is the Armada?

The Armada is the biggest and baddest SUV in Nissan’s lineup. Based on the same mechanical bits that underpin the Infiniti QX80, the Armada is a large three-row SUV that employs classic body-on-frame construction. These bones don’t make for the most comfortable or exciting driving, but if you have to tow or venture off-road, the Armada gets the job done.

Now roughly halfway into this generation’s lifespan, the 2021 Nissan Armada receives a few key updates that Nissan hopes will keep the Armada competitive against the likes of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition. On the outside, a new grille, redesigned bumpers, and reworked headlights and taillights differentiate the 2021 Armada from the outgoing model. Buyers looking for something a little different can now spec the Midnight Edition trim, which treats the exterior to an under-the-radar, blacked-out color scheme. The biggest changes, however, are in store once you open the door.

How does the Armada drive?

But first, the powertrain, which carries forward to the 2021 Armada. The burly 5.6-liter V8 now produces 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque, but only if you fill the tank with 93 octane fuel. Otherwise, it churns out the same 390 hp and 394 lb-ft as last year. A seven-speed automatic remains the sole transmission.

Acceleration is immediate and authoritative. In prior testing, a 2019 Armada reached 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, which is quick for this class of SUV. We expect the same result from the 2021 model.

The brakes are up to the task of getting the Armada slowed too. The pedal is on the soft side, but it feels appropriate for an SUV. Handling is typical for a big SUV. The suspension is rather soft, so you’ll feel the Armada rolling into turns, but it’s stable enough to handle drives along mountain roads. More disappointing is the Armada’s steering. It has a vague feel and lacks any appreciable feedback. As such, it’s hard to really have confidence in knowing how much grip there is when going around turns. Altogether, the Armada meets expectations but doesn’t encourage the driver to drive with any sporty intent.

How comfortable is the Armada?

The driver’s seat is spacious and well cushioned, and it should allow for hours of comfortable touring. Unfortunately, that doesn’t hold true for the second or third row seats. The second-row captain’s chairs have only an adequate amount of legroom and the seat cushions are a bit low and short, resulting in a lack of thigh support even for average-size adults. The seatbacks recline but there’s no sliding function to get more legroom. The third row should be for kids only, and even then, we don’t expect they’ll be comfortable. The seat cushion is mounted almost right on the floor, forcing passengers relegated back there into more of a knees-on-your-chest position.

On the plus side, the ride quality is smooth, especially for a body-on-frame SUV that is based on a pickup truck. Small and moderate road imperfections are glossed over with barely any notice, but larger undulations tend to cause some jostling. At highway speeds, the cabin is blissfully devoid of road or wind noise no matter how coarse the pavement is.

How’s the Armada’s interior?

The cabin of the Armada receives the lion’s share of updates. Gone is the center stack stuffed with an array of buttons and a dated dash-mounted infotainment controller. Instead, the refreshed Armada presents a center stack that is less monolithic than before. A 12.3-inch touchscreen is perched on top, with a slim but clearly labeled row of climate controls underneath. There’s also a cubby that conceals the newly available wireless charging pad.

These are all welcome additions and help improve overall impressions of the Armada. Unfortunately, plenty of drawbacks remain. Accessing the third row requires an awkward crawl over a large hump in the floor, for example, and the interior materials could also stand some improvement. As it is, there’s plenty of hard and flimsy plastics in the center, console and many of the upholstered panels look and feel like a cheaper vinyl substitute. We expect much better from a vehicle costing more than $60,000.

How’s the Armada’s tech?

The new touchscreen will go a long way toward making the Armada feel like a modern SUV. The addition of a wireless charging pad and standard wireless Apple CarPlay further cements that impression, though Android Auto remains a tethered affair.

You’ll likely be using these smartphone integration systems a lot because the native infotainment system is otherwise disappointing. It takes a while to boot up, and the graphics are dated. Voice activation is also very last-generation. It distinctly lacks natural speech recognition and requires several voice prompts to get to the function you want. We also experienced a glitch with wireless CarPlay in our test Armada — it stopped working after the first use. After that, we had to use a USB cord to make it work.

On the safety front, all 2021 Armadas will come with the Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite. That means previously optional features such as blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and rear automatic braking are now standard on every model. A blind-spot intervention system debuts this year, automatically steering the Armada back into its lane if the driver attempts a lane change and a vehicle is in its blind spot. The digital rearview mirror has a higher resolution for 2021, giving you a clearer picture of the road behind when luggage in the cargo area is stacked to the ceiling.

The advanced safety features are well tuned to eliminate false alarms, but the adaptive cruise control tends to accelerate too slowly when vehicles ahead begin to move. In order to avoid unkind sneers from fellow motorists, we added a lot more power through the pedal to get the Armada up to speed.

How’s the Armada’s storage and towing?

Like many three-row SUVs, the Armada has limited cargo capacity behind the third row, measuring just 16.5 cubic feet. That’s about what you’d expect from a midsize family sedan on paper, but in practice it’s not nearly as accommodating. That space is mostly vertical and assumes you’ll be packing it to the headliner.

Folding the rear seatbacks flat greatly increases capacity, but the lack of pull straps makes getting them back up an ordeal. Taller adults will have to wrestle them back up with a very long reach inside. And shorter people will likely have to crawl inside past the middle row to access them. Folding the second row flat is much easier, but the tall center console extends above the captain’s chairs, preventing you from sliding large items past.

Cargo limitation aside, the Armada has plenty of space for your personal items. The center armrest bin between the front seats is large and features a secondary front hinge to allow second-row passenger access. In all likelihood, they won’t need to since there’s a similarly large center bin between the captain’s chairs.

One of the Armada’s greatest advantages is its towing capability. It has a generous maximum tow rating of 8,500 pounds, which is enough to handle small to medium-size boats and travel trailers. It also comes standard with a prewired hitch receiver and integrated trailer brake controller. And trailer sway control, which can help control trailer movement if a trailer begins to sway back and forth, is included in midgrade trims and above.

How economical is the Armada?

To be blunt, it isn’t. For the money, the Armada falls short when it comes to interior quality, infotainment and cargo space. Nowadays, we expect more in all of these metrics. Fuel economy is also disappointing. Nissan estimates the Armada will get 16 mpg combined (14 city/19 highway) for the rear-wheel-drive variant. Getting 4WD drops those estimates by 1 mpg across the board.

Edmunds says

The 2021 Nissan Armada’s refreshed exterior and up-to-date tech offerings help extend this big SUV’s longevity. But even with these improvements, the Armada faces an uphill battle against the Ford Expedition and the redesigned Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon.

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