Truth be told, I spend an inordinate amount of time disappointed at the task of writing about SUVs. Now, I’m not talking about true sports utility vehicles, designed for off-road badassery, but rather the neutered and domesticated family fare which has slowly been inundating lineups over the last two decades. Simply put, I’m just not a fan. Realizing that I’m probably in the minority, it’s only fair to point out the prevalence of such crossovers and SUVs as leading sellers. Among my friends and family (alone) I can think of countless examples where someone has enthusiastically sought out a make, model or trim level of SUV and crossover that reflects a perfect union of both their needs and wants. So, as someone who tends to be critical of most crossover and SUV offerings, I can only imagine that the pursuit of an ideal offering might prove difficult for some. For those jaded souls like myself who experience this sense of detachment, it becomes difficult to be excited about a segment that boasts bland and largely indistinguishable styling, and a “kitchen sink” mentality in terms of technology and amenities. In turn, when I/we discover a model that catches our attention, it becomes both immediately and genuinely enticing. And the lineup of Nissan SUVs provides a perfect example of this, in the form of the 2018 Nissan Armada.
Speaking frankly, the Armada represents a decisive reach for Nissan. With a starting MSRP of $46,090, the fifteen-year veteran boasts four trim levels which collectively aspire towards the upscale Infiniti QX60. And yet, the Armada is precariously positioned against such high-end domestic fare as the (Ford) Expedition, (Chevy) Tahoe and (GMC) Yukon which, despite their own luxury avarice, seem to fall somewhat short in terms of esteem. And, to some, this might provide the Armada with a slight advantage.
But in all fairness, the Armada doesn’t garner this esteem without the support of its stablemates. The simple fact is that, as far as crossovers go, Nissan’s lineup is well-realized, effectively-tiered and consistently-styled while maintaining a clear individual identity for each of its offerings. This begins with the more modest footprint of the modern and fun-sized Kicks, to the celebrated Rogue in both its standard and Sport variants, and the refined, yet aggressively designed Murano (admittedly, one of the first crossovers to ever catch my eye). The inclusion of the iconic Pathfinder emphasizes the strength of Nissan’s lineup and of the Pathfinder platform itself.
This makes the current, second-generation Armada more than just an upmarket variant of the Pathfinder. While it conveys an organic continuation of the Nissan aesthetic, the 2018 Armada branches off in a bold and daring direction. Impeccably styled, it makes an impactful first impression carrying the kind of visual cache one expects of luxury-inspired vehicles, even at the (base) SV trim level. And yet, it never loses that touch of reassuring visual ruggedness, required of any SUV worth considering. Even in the top-of-the-line Platinum Reserve trim level (starting at $65,090 MSRP for 4WD) these are a very clear intent of adventurous aesthetic, akin to Land Rover’s sensibility, but distinctly unique in its loyalty to Nissan design philosophy. That said (and harkening back to the title of this article) if we’re judging the Armada solely on its appearance, is it deserving of the accolades it has so widely garnered? In short, yes. As much as it behooves me to admit, it’s a damn good-looking vehicle.
Admittedly, I’m somewhat hard-pressed to justify the near $20G price jump as you journey from the SV to Platinum Reserve, but let’s not split hairs. If designer alloy wheels and badging are your thing, then who am I to criticize you? But (as we’ll discuss in a few minutes) there’s not a whole lot of difference in performance. Granted, the performance numbers help to further validate the enthusiastic buzz surrounding the Armada but, before we go under the hood, let’s take a step inside.
Three-row seating isn’t for everyone, as it’s rarely accommodating for passengers of all sizes and shapes. That said, the Armada is well designed, ideal for families and offers the options of a 2nd-row bench or captain’s chairs to ensure the best fit possible. Applauded for its ease of entrance and exit, the cabin is welcoming and well-proportioned. The bolstered seating is comfortable, and contributes to the Armada’s pleasing road manners, making it a lot of fun to drive (regardless of distance). Aligned with my personal preferences the controls are well-designed blends of analog and digital, intuitively orchestrated and easy to use. And speaking to the jump across trim levels, doing so can fetch you a luxurious, two-toned leather upholstery with contrast stitching. One of my favorite looks in any vehicles, it goes a long way to justify the price jump since (at least in my opinion) such design asserts a high-end pedigree.
But setting the cosmetics aside, performance matters, and that’s where the real scrutiny comes into play. But the simple fact is, any scrutiny is quickly thrown out the window. Beginning with the SV, the hood of the Armada shelters an Endurance 5.6-liter (32-valve) V8 engine, paired with a 7-speed automatic transmission. These specs carry upwards through each of the 4 trim levels, ensuring that every flavor of the Armada stands as a confident performer, able to go head-to-head with just about every in-class competitor. Channeling 390 hp and 394 lb-ft of torque, it’s no pushover, and with an 8500 LB towing capacity, it brings some versatile utility cred to the party. The fact that it serves up 19 mpg (highway, 14 city) might not tick the box of every demographic, but for a powerful, luxury-inspired SUV that seats 8, it’s pretty much par for the course.
At the end of the day, I find myself offering more praise to the Armada than criticism. Despite my aversion to the SUV segment, I can’t help but endorse the enthusiastic reaction that the Armada has received. It feels well-deserved. So, if you’re interested in an aspirational offering from a more accessible automaker, the 2018 Nissan Armada might be a perfect choice. The ascending price tag might sway you towards a ‘true’ luxury automaker, but the Armada certainly has a lot going for it.