Large sport utility vehicles aren't as fashionable as they once were. So today's buyers of big SUVs are apt to be the people who really need them _ for towing horse trailers, boats and motorhomes and for carrying large groups of people.
The 2010 Nissan Armada handles all these tasks capably yet drives like a smaller vehicle than it is. Body motions for this 17.3-foot-long SUV are well-managed, and despite the Armada's two-ton-plus weight, the ride is comfortable and controlled.
The Armada's 317-horsepower, 5.6-liter V-8 is powerful, allowing for a towing capacity of 9,100 pounds with optional towing package.
Plus, there's generous room inside the eight-passenger Armada, enough for people in the first and second rows to stretch their legs and for smaller adults to be accommodated in the third row. Maximum cargo space is a healthy 97.1 cubic feet.
Pricing is competitive for the segment. Manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base, two-wheel drive, 2010 Armada is the same as for 2009: $38,010.
This compares with $39,480 for a 2010 Toyota Sequoia with 310-horsepower V-8 and $42,440 for a 2010 GMC Yukon XL 1500 with 320-horsepower V-8.
The lowest starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2010 Armada with four-wheel drive is $43,610 _ which compares with $42,705 for the four-wheel-drive Sequoia, and $45,280 for the similar Yukon XL.
Based on the sturdy, fully boxed platform of the Nissan Titan full-size pickup truck, the Armada has attractive styling and an immense presence on the road.
Walking up to the 6-foot-4 Armada, I was startled to discover that the top of the hood was at my nose level. Thankfully, standard running boards helped me get inside, where I could see the road and vehicles in front of me easily. It is a commanding view, way above the pavement.
The robust V-8 is named Endurance by Nissan officials, has dual overhead cams and produces 385 foot-pounds of torque at 3,400 rpm.
Right at startup, passengers hear the deep, strong engine sounds. Some people may prefer a quieter engine, but I liked hearing the confident sounds of power from this engine.
The V-8 never stressed in its duties and merged the Armada into city and highway traffic without fuss. There was just a bit of coasting when I'd let up on the accelerator pedal.
This V-8 uses regular unleaded gasoline, not pricey premium. Fuel economy for the four-wheel-drive test Armada is rated 12 miles per gallon in city driving and 18 mpg on the highway, which compares with 12/19 mpg in similarly equipped Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL models.
In the test Armada, though, I averaged just 12.7 mpg in combined city and highway driving. But the Armada's tank is big _ capable of holding 28 gallons _ and so I could go 355 miles before needing a fillup.
Power in all Armadas comes through a five-speed automatic transmission. In the test vehicle, shifts were smooth and exactly where they needed to be generate lively performance. This SUV didn't feel heavy or sluggish at all, even when all seats were occupied.
Fit and finish on the test Armada was excellent, and manually flipping the second-row seats out of the way for access to the third row was a one-hand operation. I just released the lever atop the seatback so the seatback would fall forward and then lifted the cushion in one smooth motion. The seat moved quickly and came to rest just behind the front seat back.
People climbing into the third row have to step onto carpeted floor that's not flat _ it's the floor that's usually covered by the second-row seats. But the door entry is good-sized, which is helpful.
The third row seat splits 60/40 and has short cushions, so there's not full support for thighs. Because this third row seat rests closer to the floor than do the other seats, knees rest higher. But I rode back there with acceptable legroom.
For 2010, Nissan revised the Armada lineup, so there's a base SE trim level plus Titanium and Platinum models.
The SE includes 18-inch wheels, halogen headlamps, body color grille, dual-zone climate control, remote keyless entry, overhead console storage, cloth seats and manual front passenger seat adjustment.
The test Titanium model, the next trim level up, added chrome-look grille, chrome-look roof rack, leather-trimmed seats, XM satellite radio, Bluetooth handsfree phone connectivity, Intelligent Key entry and startup and 20-inch wheels.
All Armadas come with electronic stability control, antilock brakes, and six air bags.
But despite its heft, the Armada is one of the few large sport utility vehicles that doesn't score the top rating of five out of five stars in frontal crashes. Driver protection is rated by the federal government at five stars, but protection for the Armada's front passenger is rated only at four out of five stars.
Spokesman John Schilling said he "can't comment on why other SUVs got 5 (stars), but we believe the Armada is performing in the top levels of occupant protection."
Consumer Reports lists reliability of the Armada as average.