Not many full-size, truck-based SUVs remain available in America since consumer preference has clearly migrated to more car-like crossovers. While that truth may be undeniable and inconvenient, sometimes drivers still need the big power and capability of a proper SUV with plenty of passenger room and cargo-carrying chops — requirements the Nissan Armada can easily cover. With fresh styling and updated features, the 2021 Nissan Armada continues as a convenient contender in the small yet competitive full-size SUV market.
Nissan provided us with a 2021 Nissan Armada Platinum 4WD painted in Hermosa Blue Pearl. The Platinum sits at the top of the Armada lineup, and thus comes well equipped with standard features. The only options on the test Armada were a Captain’s Chairs package, carpeted floormats and illuminated kick plates for a total MSRP of $71,250. Competitors to the Armada include the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia, Dodge Durango and Ford Expedition.
Designers gave the full-size 2021 Nissan Armada what amounts to a face-lift: new front fenders, grille and front bumper, as well a new headlight design that has more than 50 LEDs in each one to create a new light pattern. Additionally, the flagship Armada is the first vehicle in the Nissan portfolio to wear the brand’s redesigned logo. Overall the Armada has a bold stance, further enhanced by the tester being the Platinum trim with its standard 22-inch wheels.
At the rear, the 2021 Nissan Armada features a new bumper with combination lights that contain more than 70 LEDs. This big SUV also features accented fenders, LED turn signals, painted roof rails and acoustic glass for the front windows and windshield.
As part of the 2021 update for Armada, designers reworked the center stack, topped by a larger 12.3-inch color display. Much improved over the previous version, the large display is easy to read and navigate — we like the split screen, which can show navigation as well as what’s playing. Apple CarPlay connects wirelessly; however, Android Auto still requires a wired connection, and both use most of the screen’s real estate — another improvement. USB ports and a wireless charge pad keep everything powered.
The 2021 Nissan Armada Platinum tester arrived with quilted leather seats that look like they belong in a luxury car — especially with their contrasting piping. Seats feel a bit stiff at first; however, after spending several hours on the road we were happy to discover they are supportive and comfortable. Of course the Armada’s heated seats can be a welcome feature when starting out early on chilly mornings.
With bucket seats and an integrated entertainment center, the second row may be the seat of choice in the Armada. This location has plenty of legroom, and the panoramic roof adds to the row’s spacious feeling. The large center console offers plenty of storage and convenient cupholders. And if second-row occupants need to get into the front console storage compartment, the lid opens from front or back for easy access from either location.
The third row of the 2021 Nissan Armada is reasonably comfortable for two adults, although as expected legroom can be a bit tight depending on the position of the second row. This rearmost bench does offer space for three, although it would be rather cramped unless the three occupants were children.
Access to the third row is easy thanks to a second-row seat that folds completely out of the way.
One big reason for buying a vehicle of the Armada’s size: generous cargo space. The SUV possesses a reasonable amount of room behind the third row — certainly enough for a few suitcases or plenty of groceries.
With the push of a button on the side panel, the 60/40 split-folding third row folds flat to create a large stowage space. The second row can also be folded to increase cargo space to more than 95 cubic feet.
In the same way that Nissan’s Armada represents a classic full-size SUV, it also has a proper V8 powertrain to match. Power comes from Nissan’s Endurance 5.6-liter V8 engine producing 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque. The big V8 gets teamed with a 7-speed automatic transmission.
The 2021 Nissan Armada’s big V8 engine provides plenty of power for hauling and towing, and thus fuel economy is not its forte. According to the U.S. EPA, the Armada 4WD is rated at 13 mpg city / 18 mpg hwy / 15 mpg combined. During our test drives the fuel display read around 15 mpg in the unladen Armada; however, towing did drop the average to a hair less than 12 mpg.
All Armada trims come with a receiver hitch and wiring harness for towing, and the test Platinum was also equipped with trailer sway control as well as an integrated trailer brake controller. When properly equipped like this, the Armada can tow up to 8,500 pounds and handle a tongue weight of 850 pounds.
Granted we might be showing our age and attitude, but there’s something about having a big V8 under the hood that can be immensely satisfying. Even with a vehicle as large as Armada, the 400 horses on tap provide strong acceleration with a substantial exhaust note as a bonus track. Overall the 2021 Armada’s ride is solid and comfortable — easily a great option for road trips with the whole family — although the fuel bill might be significant, depending on trip length.
Drivers have a commanding view when seated in this big SUV, and the digital rearview mirror is a welcome addition for a clear view out back.
Speaking of road trips, we took the Armada to Deception Pass State Park in Washington state for a few days of camping while towing a Lance 1475s travel trailer. At 3,700 pounds, the trailer weighs in well below the 8,500-pound maximum that the Armada is capable of towing, so it’s no surprise that the powerful SUV performed well. Even with extra weight such as a travel trailer, the Armada’s acceleration remains strong. Attaining highway speeds or getting through busy intersections present no problems for the Armada.
Thanks to the 2021 Nissan Armada’s big side mirrors, seeing around towables such as a travel trailer while underway is not an issue. Handling is commendable with a stable, confident ride. The biggest issue can be keeping the SUV’s speed under 65 mph — Lance’s suggested maximum velocity for the trailer. Again, as expected, fuel economy takes a bit of a hit while towing; as mentioned previously, during our short trip we averaged a bit less than 12 mpg while towing.
With Nissan’s multiple camera views, hooking up a trailer is incredibly easy. The rearview camera clearly shows the hitch and ball with a superimposed centerline, so lining up a camper is incredibly easy. And with the camera’s overhead view a trailer can be hooked up with no need for a spotter. One caveat when towing — be sure to turn off parking sensors before performing these operations; having the automatic brakes suddenly engage while attempting to back toward a trailer can be a bit unnerving.
The 2021 Nissan Armada may be part of a vanishing breed of big V8-powered SUVs, but we wouldn’t put a nail in that coffin yet. When it comes to towing, hauling cargo or loading up the entire family and their gear — or doing all three simultaneously — the Armada does it all well. Granted the Platinum trim level bumps up the cost, although the high level of luxury and high-tech features are worth the full price of admission.