cars

Can Nissan Armada match the Yukon XL?

Scott Sturgis, Auto Columnist

Updated: Friday, December 15, 2017, 3:01 AM

The 2018 Nissan Armada, priced at $63,545, has a 5.6-liter V-8 engine that cranks out 390 horses — only slightly less than the Yukon XL’s 420 — but the power was difficult to harness.

2018 Nissan Armada: A challenger for the Yukon XL?

Price: $63,545 as tested (including $450 for the Captain’s Chairs Package and $310 for floor mats).

Marketer’s pitch: “2018 Armada is the fastest-growing SUV in its class.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “potent 390-hp V-8, plush interior, 8,500-pound towing capacity” but not the “overboosted steering, smallish cargo hold, tight third row.”

Reality: Challenge accepted.

What’s new: After I tried the 2017 Nissan Armada for a week, Nissan later offered a 2018 model so I could experience the rear-view camera. It uses a camera on the rear-view mirror instead of the mirror itself, providing a clear view of what’s going on rearward without seats and heads in the way. (A mirror setting remains available.)

While a Cadillac version I tested was plug and play, the Armada’s needs frequent attention — set it too high and cars disappear in heavy traffic; set it too low and they disappear on the highway.

A new Nissan Armada feature for 2018 is a rearview camera, which offers a better look behind than a standard rearview mirror.

From on high: People who love feeling like king of the hill will appreciate the Armada. In one parking garage, the 6-foot-8 clearance sign gave me pause, but no roofs were scraped in the making of this review. In another, I noticed the window line sat even with the roof of an older Saturn.

Not surprisingly, the driver’s seat perches one higher than necessary. Anyone who likes driving with their legs in a horizontal stretch will hate the Armada. I sat up so high from the pedals, I felt like I was operating a loader. (Hmmm. Review idea: Caterpillar.)

On the road: The big SUV lumbers along, bouncing on country lanes, meandering when I had the audacity to take one hand off the wheel for a second. Don’t glance around unless you’re on a straightaway. The Armada could really use a “sport” mode, but none was available.

Up to speed: Sure, that 5.6-liter V-8 cranks out 390 horses — only slightly less than the Yukon XL’s 420 — but the power was difficult to harness. For 2017, full throttle just sent the Armada roaring from side to side like an angry bull charging at the matador, but this cleared up a bit for the 2018 model. Car and Driver says 0-60 takes 5.9 seconds, again a match for the Yukon XL, in theory.

Shifty: The 7-speed automatic never made it into my notes, so it surely functioned without intrusion, always a good thing.

On the highway: The Armada’s giant 20-inch tires sure made potholes disappear, but large highway crevices could spell disaster on curves. More than once, an I-95 seam sent the Armada on a whole new trajectory.

A touch of retro: If the 1970s Cadillacky suspension weren’t enough nostalgia, a bevy of buttons recalls cars from nearly a decade ago, before touchscreens and control knobs became common. Knee switches on the left side also take us back to the bad old days.

Driver’s Seat: The comfy, overstuffed leather seat hid a few shortcomings. The seat bottom was short for my average-size legs and as slippery as an Alabama politician. Don’t put your bags on the passenger seat, because they’ll be on the floor soon anyway.

Friends and stuff: No one should complain about space in the second row. Like the Yukon, the Armada second row is fixed, and there’s plenty of room there for legs and heads.

The third row, though, should be so lucky. But Nissan has thoughtfully added a hydraulic system that makes folding the seat out of the way easy and safe without power operation, so at least the trip to the torture chamber is that much nicer.

Space behind the first row is 95.4 cubic feet and 16.5 behind the third row, both tragically small for the vastness of the Armada.

Play some tunes: Despite knobs aplenty, the stereo itself is simple to operate. A center knob makes song searches a snap — twist it hard enough and the song-by-song list converts to a large ABC list, moving listeners from “Adeste Fideles” to “We Three Kings” in no time. Sound quality is disappointing, though. Lack of a mid range doesn’t help the Armada’s ambiance. I’d call it a B or B-minus.

Night shift: The bright, diffuse interior lights in the Armada are too bright and diffuse for igniting while in motion.

Fuel economy: I averaged a dismal 15.7 mpg in the 2017 and 16.2 in the 2018 as I drove the Sheetz tour of Pennsylvania, worse even than the Yukon XL’s 18.

Where it’s built: Kyushu, Japan.

How it’s built: Despite not having ratings for 2014 to 2017, Consumer Reports predicts the Armada’s reliability to be 2 out of 5 for 2018, a tick better than the Yukon XL.

In the end: The Armada saves almost $20,000 over the Yukon XL, but if I needed something this big, I’d probably scour through the couch cushions for the extra money. Again, the Armada goes down in defeat.

Scott Sturgis, Auto Columnist

Read full story: Can Nissan Armada match the Yukon XL?