In the past month, I have tested out one of the broadest range of vehicles from a single automaker, and it was actually quite interesting watching the size, luxury and performance change from vehicle to vehicle. After driving the quirky, but spacious Nissan Cube Kr?m and then the sporty, luxurious Infiniti EX35, Nissan dropped their behemoth before me, the 2010 Nissan Armada. Designed in a much simpler automotive time when gas was hovering in the mid-$1.00 per gallon range and words like hybrid, EV and fuel economy were unheard of to some, the Nissan Armada is a mammoth hauler for any combination of people, cargo and toys.
Like the Nissan Titan pickup truck, the Armada is assembled in Canton, Miss., and it competes against competitors such as the Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia. Although the Armada competes with these entry-level SUVs, the two new packages for 2010 (Titanium and Platinum replace the LE model) push the big 'ute into a more luxurious class, while the Armada SE still keeps the base model affordable with a starting MSRP of $37,210 for the SE 2WD. I was able to drive the range-topping 2010 Nissan Armada Platinum 4WD, which is little more than an Infiniti QX56 dressed up as a Nissan with a lower starting price of $52,190.
2010 Nissan Armada Platinum Exterior
The distinctive styling of the Armada, which was just refreshed last year, has always focused on the unique, camel-humped roofline that stretches from the A-pillar to the C-pillar. This design characteristic not only provides the Armada with a less boring and boxy look, but it also improves ingress and egress and it provides ample headroom for all occupants. Despite having a design that is the oldest among all of its competitors, it isn't likely that the Armada's looks will be changing anytime soon following the announcement that Chrysler and Nissan will not be collaborating on the second-generation Titan, which was going to share its underpinnings with the Dodge Ram. Compared to its sister vehicle, the Infiniti QX56, the Nissan Armada Platinum offers a much more attractive exterior design while offering similar levels of luxury.
Both the Titanium and Platinum trim levels offer a more upscale look, compared to the Armada SE, by adding standard side steps plus extensive chrome accents to the front grille, side door molding, roof rack and exhaust outlet. Besides the obvious Platinum badging on the liftgate, this top-of-the-line Armada is distinguishable by its chrome-clad 20-inch, six-spoke wheels and LED turn signal indicators incorporated into the mirror. Some colors tend to look odd on such a large SUV like the Armada, but our test model came in Nissan's Lakeshore Slate (a stylish gray-blue hue) perfectly complimenting the abundance of chrome that comes standard on the Armada Platinum.
2010 Nissan Armada Platinum Interior
I'm still not a fan of Nissan's clunky-looking, three-spoke steering wheel, but that's about the only thing I didn't like about the cabin. The Platinum trim level comes so fully loaded, that the major option from which to choose is replacing the second-row bench seat with captain's chairs (our model did not have this option). Helping to create a plush, luxurious cabin for all passengers, the Armada Platinum is swathed in soft, lightly colored leather and rich (albeit faux) wood and aluminum trim, but the driver gets an eight-way power seat, heated steering wheel, power adjustable pedals and a manually tilting and telescoping steering column. Nissan's easy-to-use hard-drive based navigation system comes standard and offers the convenience of a seven-inch touch screen display and 9.3 gigabytes of memory dedicated to music storage. There is no USB port available, but the Armada does come with an auxiliary jack, RCA jacks and, a Nissan favorite, a compact flash drive. Rear-seat passengers in the Armada Platinum get a standard DVD entertainment system with an eight-inch, flip-down screen and a pair of wireless headphones to fight over, but the DVDs must be loaded in the front center console.
Thanks to its massive size, the Armada provides comfortable seating for all seating positions which includes the adult-sized third-row seats. For access to the third-row seats, both outboard sections of the 40/20/40 split second-row bench tumble out of the way, but for a flat-load cargo floor, the seat bottoms fold forward, allowing the seat backs to fold down. The 50/50 power folding split rear seat folds flat using two pair of switches mounted either in the cargo area or on the passenger-side B-pillar trim. With all the seats folded flat, Armadas can hold up to 97.1 cubic feet of cargo, which is much less than most of its competitors but offers plenty of storage compartments and cubby holes for the ideal family road trip. The Armada's cabin is capped off with 14 cupholders, four power outlets and a power-operated rear liftgate.
2010 Nissan Armada Platinum Performance & Handling
All Armada models use the same powertrain, which includes Nissan's 5.6-liter 'Endurance' V-8 that produces 317 horsepower and 385 lb-ft of torque with a five-speed automatic transmission pulling sole shifting duties. The only drivetrain options to choose from on the 2010 Armada are choices between two- and four-wheel drive and the option to add flex fuel (E85) capabilities for the engine. Our model was equipped with four-wheel drive which is operated using a small dial mounted conveniently under the stereo volume control. With a curb weight pushing an even three tons (5,841 pounds), fuel economy obviously suffers with EPA estimates of 12 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg on the highway - which made filling up the 28-gallon fuel tank quite painful. The only people who really need to buy such large SUVs are those that require ample towing capacities in addition to passenger volume, and the Armada excels when it comes to pulling trailers. With its standard tow package that includes a tow/haul mode on the transmission, the Armada Platinum 4WD has a 9,000-pound towing capacity that ties it with the Ford Expedition for best among large SUVs. The tow package also includes a heavy duty battery, seven-pin trailer wire harness and 3.35 rear axle ratio.
The Armada's fully boxed frame may add to its towing capacity and off-road ruggedness, but the four-wheel independent suspension gives it a surprisingly smooth ride around town. Even with stylish, 20-inch wheels stuffed in the wheel wells, the Armada handled itself quite well in most conditions and road surfaces. With such a large mass, the brakes were about the only issue we had with the Armada's driveability as they felt a bit weak in sudden stops, but they are a vast improvement over the previous Nissan Armada/Titan braking system.
2010 Nissan Armada Platinum Safety
Other than the Ford Expedition, safety ratings are not the strong points of full-size SUVs, and the Armada's ratings are about average for the segment. For frontal-impact protection, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the driver's side a five-star rating while the passenger side has just four and a three-star rollover rating. The NHTSA did not test the Armada for side-impact protection, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has yet to test any crash tests on the Armada. Standard safety features include six airbags, active head restraints for the front seats and vehicle dynamic control.
While all Armada models come standard with a tire pressure monitoring system, only the Platinum trim level allows for the monitoring of each wheel individually instead of a generic light that indicates a tire is low and then makes the driver guess which one. An obvious safety feature that isn't available on any Armada model is some sort of blind spot detection system which is almost imperative on large SUVs, but front and rear park sensors and a rear view camera are standard equipment and are useful tools when parking this 17-foot long vehicle.
The days of casual SUV ownership may be over, but those who still need to the ability to cart around up to eight passengers plus cargo and towing capabilities will find the Nissan Armada Platinum an excellent option. Although the Platinum designation is used on the Toyota Sequoia, Ford F-150 and Cadillac Escalade, the 2010 Nissan Armada Platinum offers about as much luxury as any family hauler really needs.
Select photos by Jeffrey N. Ross