by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2017 Nissan Armada should apply for membership in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA). It is a full size sport utility vehicle masquerading as a comfy crossover SUV.

Even as it mimics a crossover, it does not give up its essential character—a burly, eight-passenger SUV that weighs nearly three tons and can tow an 8,500-lb trailer. You also can order the tested top-of-the-line Platinum as a seven-passenger luxury barge with second-row captain’s chairs.

Generally, SUVs are defined as closed, truck-based vehicles built with a body on a separate frame—the same way almost all American cars and trucks were constructed for decades nearly up to the turn of the 21st century. They have V6 or V8 engines, rear wheel or four wheel drive and can tow heavyweight trailers.

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Crossovers, on the other hand, are car-based with unit body construction. They usually have four cylinder or V6 engines, front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and deliver better handling and fuel economy—sometimes as hybrids—than their SUV counterparts. Some people buy them as substitutes for minivans.

The Armada competes with such full size stalwarts as the Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon and Toyota Sequoia. But  behind the wheel the Armada doesn’t feel much different than some  crossovers like the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse or even Nissan’s own Murano.

On the scene since 2004, the Armada is based on the Nissan Titan full-size pickup truck. But it features independent double-wishbone suspension systems on both the front and rear wheels. The setup contributes to competent handling and an unexpectedly good ride.

There’s an old adage in vehicle design that says a small car should drive big, or feel bigger than it is, while a big truck or SUV should drive small, or feel smaller and nimbler than it is. The Armada falls into that latter category.

2017 Nissan Armada

Power comes from a redesigned 390-hp 5.6-liter V8 engine that makes 401 lb-ft of torque. It gets to the rear wheels or all four wheels through a new seven-speed automatic transmission that imparts increased flexibility and improved fuel economy compared to the previous five-speed automatic. Still, it’s a big vehicle and manages an EPA city/highway/combined rating of just 13/18/15 mpg.

The Armada’s forte is comfortable highway cruising. The front seats, outboard second row seats and optional captain’s chairs deliver relaxed support for long distances. The center rear seat in the second row, however, has a lumpy and uncomfortable cushion.

There are three seatbelts in the third row. But the space is cramped and should be reserved for children, munchkins or pet monkeys. Even if you fit, it takes a bit of athleticism to crawl back there despite second row seats that cleverly fold out of the way without removing infant or child seats.

2017 Nissan Armada

Nissan has kept the Armada lineup easy to understand. There are three trim levels: SV, SL and Platinum, and just four option packages. SV models come with rear wheel drive and a so-called driver package that includes a motorized 60/40 third row seat, fog lights, power lift gate and a trailer towing package with a wiring harness.

The SL and Platinum versions come standard with rear-wheel drive as well as four-wheel drive with high and low ranges. That’s appealing for owners who might occasionally want to tackle some trackless terrain. Though it has plenty of power for off-road maneuvering, the Armada lacks sophisticated equipment like automatic downhill braking or crawl control. Also, its size limits its capabilities in the boondocks.

The SL has two available packages: motorized glass sunroof and a technology package that includes adaptive cruise control and blind spot warning. The Platinum model, which is fully equipped, comes with only one option: captain’s chairs.

Prices for the base SV model will start at $45,395, including the destination charge. The price of the tested Platinum version with the captain’s chairs will be $59,990 (plus a $995 destination charge).

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Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Nissan Armada Platinum four door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:6-liter V8, 390 hp, 401 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with four-wheel drive, high and low range.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 152/17 cubic feet (50, 95).
  • Weight: 5,963 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 8,500 pounds.
  • Estimated EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 13/18/15 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge (SV 2WD): $45,395.
  • Price as tested, including destination charge (Platinum AWD): $60,985.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) Nissan