When we think about trail rigs, we often think of Jeeps, 4Runners and other SUVs, but what if we were looking for something with increased capacity for passengers? Having that third-row seating option sounds pretty appealing, but quite often, when you expand the interior, you’re decreasing the off-road ability of the machine. When it comes to full-size SUVs, there are only a few options on the market, but one that is flying under the radar is the 2021 Nissan Armada. This is one rig that should be in your mind the next time you think about getting a new SUV. It’ll surprise you as much as it did me.
It’s NOT a Titan
The Nissan Titan is the brand’s full-size truck and the older Armada used to be based on the Titan design. That’s not the case anymore. The Armada is now based on Nissan’s Patrol platform, a vehicle that exists outside the North American market to compete with Range Rover and other SUVs.
My first experiences with the new Nissan Armada came while on an adventure with Nissan to test out the new Titan in Colorado. Nissan used an Armada as a support vehicle. We did some pretty gnarly off-road sections with the trucks, and the Armada came right along with us. I talked to the guy driving it and he was saying how impressed he was with the capabilities of the rig. I went for a ride with him and noticed right away that it did not ride at all like the Titan, but was very smooth, comfortable and, yes, capable.
When Nissan asked me if I’d be interested in testing out a vehicle or two for some adventures, I was happy to say yes. I was even happier when an Armada showed up. Quite often, vehicle manufacturers will want to showcase the best models available, so I wasn’t surprised when the Armada turned out to be the Platinum Reserve version, with all of the bells and whistles. This made things a little interesting, as the luxury versions are generally not the models people that are part of our lifestyle would go for. Just know I made the sacrifice of all those added features for you, my readers.
I decided to take a road trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with the Armada, and tackle some of the back roads and logging trails that are found there in abundance. Nissan’s only ask when I explained my plan was that I try to not get too many scratches on the paint when going down the two-tracks. I tried my best, but I had to test the machine, right?
Under the hood of the 2021 Nissan Armada is a 5.6-liter DOHC 32-valve V8 engine that produces 390HP at 5,800 rpm and 394 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. I enjoyed the motor immensely and found it to be a great mix of oomph at just the right moments. Some engines have that issue of lurching when you give it a little gas when doing things like trying to clear an obstacle. This engine was silky smooth, and allowed for very precise driving when the trails got a little congested with rocks and logs. Nissan has a sweet camera system mounted around the Armada that gives you some great views of what you’re driving around, which comes in handy when you need to know when to apply pressure with the right foot.
On the road, the Armada’s engine was super smooth and quiet, too, for a V8. The real interesting part was fuel economy. Some manufacturers have taken to cutting back the cylinders that operate while at certain speeds, in order to bump up the fuel economy. Nissan doesn’t do that. However, the fuel economy was great for the size of the vehicle. I even experienced some 20-MPG moments, and averaged 17 for my usage. I was pretty happy with that.
When I first learned that the Armada was no longer Titan-based, my first thought was that it would be a unibody construction. Nope, it’s still a body-on frame, which gives the Armada rigidity when you need it. Towing is rated at 8,500 pounds, although I didn’t come close when towing my boat or my ATVs.
My only gripe with the chassis setup on the Armada is the suspension, which was too soft for off-road usage. It also led to a little body roll effect when shifting lanes at speed. It wasn’t bad, but you could feel it. It’s kind of expected with the setup being fully independent wishbones on all four corners. The Platinum Reserve model is built for luxury and a smooth ride, which may be why it was so soft. I’d love for Nissan to come out with a PRO-4X model of the Armada. All it would need would be some stiffer shocks set up for off-road use, and the PRO-4X seats out of the Titan, because they are AMAZING. Maybe add a roof rack, too. That would make the 2021 Nissan Armada very appealing to the off-road crowd. The interior could also use some better floor mats…at least for my uses. I’d add some Husky floor liners to keep things neater and less muddy.
Of course, if we were going to make this a trail rig, the stock street tires have got to go. The Platinum Reserve comes with 275/50/22 all-season tires. I’d rather see some smaller diameter rims so we get a little more sidewall, and, of course, some REAL tires with some meaty tread. The stock rim size for the base-model Armada is an 18-inch, and that would allow for some good sidewall with a bigger tire, especially my new favorite, the Toyo Open Country A/T III. If I were buying one, and I am seriously considering it for my “wife’s” car, I’d take it to the tire shop right away for a set of the Toyos and maybe some slick rims, like KMCs or Method.
More To Consider
For a full-sized SUV, the 2021 Nissan Armada feels more compact than you’d expect. Size-wise, it’s closer to a Chevy Tahoe, but feels even smaller. Luckily a friend just bought a new Tahoe for me to compare the Armada to. Whether he knew that meant we were going two-tracking or not, I’m not sure. I tried to explain that you should always try to get a couple scratches on your new vehicle right away to break the seal. I’m not sure he felt the same, but hey. It’ll buff out, or something. Anyway, the Armada has decent approach and departure angles. I’m not sure of the actual measurements, but when we were on the trail, it handled things with relative ease, including some pretty steep climbs. Upper Peninsula logging roads are always fun like that.
The 2021 Nissan Armada has comfortable seating all the way around. The third-row seats fit decent-sized people. My son is a football player and he was comfortable back there. Our test machine had second-row captain’s seating with an entertainment system built into the back of the front-seat headrests. Wireless headphones helped me keep my sanity when the kids wanted to watch Spongebob. The front seats had lots of adjustment. They also had the option for both warm and cool airflow. That definitely came in handy when the outside temperature went up. Who wants a sweaty butt?
Is It Worthy?
The simple answer is yes, the 2021 Nissan Armada really is worthy as a full-size SUV for off-road use. It is a smooth-riding machine that is based on the same platform Nissan sells in other parts of the world for the same uses as a Range Rover. That’s some interesting company. My own experiences with the Armada are enough to have me thinking this is a pretty sweet ride for its size. I would love to get my hands on one and do a serious build. I’d add some decent shocks and see about adding a bumper and Warn winch. I’d also add a Yakima LockNLoad rack with some KC HiLites lighting. Maybe I’ll get serious about talking the wife into one? Think she’d let me build it up? I’m not sure about that one. It’ll be a surprise!