03/30/04 — Armada gives Nissan competitive full-sized SUV

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Armada gives Nissan competitive full-sized SUV

A few years ago Nissan decided to think large. And the results are the full-sized 2004 Pathfinder Armada sport utility vehicle and the full-sized 2004 Titan pickup truck, platform mates built in a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss.

It’s no secret that big sport utility vehicles and full-sized pickup trucks reap handsome profits for U.S. automakers.

Nissan Armada, 2004

General Motors, Ford and the Chrysler arm of DaimlerChrysler still own a huge share of the big truck and SUV market, the one area Japanese and European carmakers have failed to effectively penetrate.

Toyota has been successful in carving out a small niche with its full-sized Sequoia SUV and Tundra pickup.

Now Nissan wants a piece of the action. While Ford and GM surely aren’t quaking in their boots over the new Nissan entries, some alarm bells should be ringing somewhere in Detroit, because Nissan has got it right.

We spent a week behind the wheel of the Pathfinder Armada, a sport utility vehicle that rivals the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Tahoe in passenger space, cargo room and in towing capacity.

By the way, don’t be put off by the Pathfinder name attached to the big SUV. Nissan is still manufacturing the highly popular mid-sized Pathfinder, and will introduce an all-new Pathfinder this fall for the 2005 model year.

The Pathfinder portion of the Armada name will likely be dropped when the 2005 model arrives. Nissan perhaps figured it needed to put the instantly recognizable name on its new full-sized entry to give it a jump start.

The Armada, a rather curious name selection in itself, can stand on its own four feet now that it has been in showrooms for several months and has gained a slew of good reviews from journalists and customers alike.

The new Nissan is big and powerful with a lot of good things going for it.

Perhaps its biggest downside is its rather quirky design. We have talked to people who absolutely love the rather choppy look. And we have talked to others who are turned off.

Under the skin is where the Armada shines.

One of the SUV’s best qualities is the 305-horsepower 5.6-liter 32-valve aluminum V-8, which generates 385 pound-feet of torque. It does an exceptional job powering the big brute, which weighs in at from 5,200 to 5,600 pounds depending on 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive configurations.

The Armada is perhaps the liveliest full-sized truck-based sport utility on the planet. Press the accelerator and it surges from a standstill. Zero to 60 time has been measured in 7 seconds flat.

This also translates into a prodigious towing rating, too. The Armada has best-in-class numbers in that department at 9,100 pounds.

The suspension is tuned to the stiff side although not quite in a true truck sense. It is not offensive by any measurement.

The Armada drives smaller than its 207-inch length would suggest. We felt no trepidation negotiating a crowded parking lot at a sold-out Clay Aiken concert. The Armada flowed in and out of traffic about as smoothy as Clay flowed in and out of tunes in front of thousands of screaming fans at Raleigh’s RBC Center.

The Armada is as big inside as it is outside and the driver is afforded clear, well-marked instruments and switchgear.

The dashboard layout is a center box theme that has a brawny look to match the brawny exterior. Buttons are large and radio pre-sets don’t look like other buttons surrounding them.

One problem — it was difficult in bright sunlight to see the small light that indicates whether the air conditioner was on or off.

Front seats are comfortable and the driving position is good.

Rear-seat passengers are afforded stretch-out leg room. The third row will handle two adults, but the short seat bottom makes it more practical for kids.

The second row can be folded out of the way in three pieces making several configurations possible. Both the second and third rows fold flat to create 97 cubic feet of storage area, about average for the class.

The Armada comes in two trim levels, SE and LE, and in either 2-wheel or all-wheel drive configurations.

Standard equipment for the base SE which starts at $33,950 is generous. Included are 18-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel antilock brakes, running boards, stereo system with 6-disc CD changer and eight speakers, power driver’s seat, remote keyless entry, tire pressure monitoring system, steering wheel controls, air conditioning and power windows, locks and mirrors.

Our test vehicle came with the $2,350 leather package. Included were leather seating, upgraded 265-watt Bose stereo and side impact airbags. That brought the bottom line to $36,300 including destination charge.

On the other end of the spectrum, an all-wheel drive LE begins at $41,250.

Options available on the LE include a DVD entertainment system and a DVD-based navigation system.

Nissan has designed a very attractive full-sized sport utility vehicle that should appeal to many people shopping in that segment.

If you are in the market for a big SUV, you would be remiss to pass up a test drive.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on March 30, 2004 4:20 PM