Drive: 2021 Nissan Armada designed for those who 'live large'

The name Nissan settled on for its biggest, toughest sport-utility vehicle — the Armada — always seemed inconsistent with its intended purpose. The most famous armada was the Spanish Armada, which encountered bad weather and smaller, more nimble English warships in 1588, and was unable to cope with either.

Nevertheless, the Armada has been a solid performer for Nissan for almost 20 years. Before the difficult 2020 sales year, Nissan had moved more than 32,000 Armadas each year for three consecutive years, something it had not accomplished since 2004-06. Considering the level of competition - including the Toyota Sequoia, Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition and GMC Yukon - the Armada has held its own.

Our week with a 2021 Armada AWD Platinum in March was uneventful in terms of weather, though we knew this truck would get us through just about anything Mother Nature might throw our way. Among its many all-weather assets were all-wheel drive, high and low 4x4, a snow setting, and 22-inch wheels with all-season tires. Its ground clearance was a robust 9.1 inches. The 7-speed automatic transmission could be shifted to manual mode, and the three-ton truck was powered by a 5.6-liter, 400-horsepower V-8 engine.

There was room for a driver and six passengers, plus lots of the luxury features that SUV aficionados demand these days. The Platinum edition of the Armada qualifies as a luxury vehicle, with heated front and second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, 12.3-inch display, power everything, 8-inch entertainment screens serving the second-row passengers and a full suite of safety tech and infotainment features. So equipped, it was priced at $70,145.

The base Armada SV starts at $52,600. It has the same engine-transmission competition as the Platinum and other higher trims, but also has rear-wheel drive.

Behind the wheel of the Armada, the driver knows he's navigating a truck, not a conventional crossover. The Armada negotiates corners competently and rides fairly smoothly. Tall and stately, it gives a good view of the road in all directions.

2021 Nissan Armada 4X4 Platinum

Price: $70,145

Engine: 5.6-liter V-8, 400 horsepower, 413 lb.-ft. torque (with premium gasoline)

Transmission: 7-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Weight: 6,037 lb.

Suspension: independent double-wishbone front and rear, auto-leveling rear suspension

Ground clearance: 9.1 in.

Wheels: 22x8 dark-finished aluminum alloy

Tires: P275/50R22 all-season

Seating capacity: 7

Luggage capacity: 16.5 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 95.4 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 8,500 lb.

Fuel capacity: 26 gal.

Fuel economy: 13 mpg city, 18 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular or premium unleaded gasoline

Still, the Armada's road manners don't compare favorably with those of the Chevrolet Tahoe we test-drove recently. The Tahoe's independent suspension shrugs off bumps and potholes that cause the Armada to respond with an authoritative thump. The Tahoe has significantly more cargo room than the Armada (and, for that matter, more than truck-body Tahoes built before the 2021 year). The Armada enjoys a 300-pound edge in towing capacity compared with the Tahoe's 8,200.

People who live big - forging into the backcountry, towing horse or boat trailers, or placing kayaks on the roof rack - are the market Nissan is targeting with this model. Still, we're surprised that a mighty 400-horsepower engine goes into every Armada. One would think some folks would go for an Armada with less towing capacity and less raw power, but a lower price and better fuel economy.

All of these big SUV models are spectacularly inefficient. The Armada is rated at 13 mpg city, 18 highway, compared with 13/17 for the Sequoia, 16/20 for the Tahoe and 17/23 for the Expedition. With fuel prices spiking this spring, these numbers might start to matter again.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.