Nissan’s biggest isn’t exactly its greatest

Nissan launched the second-generation Armada – the brand’s full-size, flagship SUV – in 2017 and, while it was a huge step forward in terms of luxury (relatively used, of course) and rigidity, it was also knocked for its lack of technology. Comfortable seating and cabin space rank high on the list of notable features, but things like the infotainment system and instrument cluster feel dated. With this kind of impression, we thought it would be a good idea to spend some time with the 2020 Nissan Armada to see just what it has to offer and if it can really compete with models like the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition. It was a long week, and this is what our experience taught us about the Nissan Armada.

Driving Impressions

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Exterior
- image 885914

If we had to sum up what it was like to drive the Nissan Armada, we would have to say that it’s decently equipped and comes off as nicely built. But, at the same time, the interior – while comfortable – looks more comfortable than it really is. Performance is okay, but not the best.

Driving the Armada will leave you with mixed impressions. We expected it to grow on us a bit as we drove it, but sadly, that wasn’t the case. The 5.6-liter V-8 is highly competent and offers plenty of power. It even sounds good when you put the hammer down, and the transmission does a pretty good job of handling shifts smoothly. It can be a little jumpy at certain speeds, though, as there’s a sweet spot where it doesn’t know whether to downshift one gear or two. Admirably, braking feels rather controlled, strong, and invoke a fair sense of confidence.

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Interior
- image 885939

Straight-line performance in the Armada is great, but outside of this, you’ll need to remain focused when maneuvering as the steering doesn’t provide as much feedback as you really need for a vehicle this size. The best way to put it is that it’s very deceiving as to how much you’re actually turning. Likewise, handling in curves and around corners fires up a mild sense of anxiety as well. There’s a lot of 90s body lean going on, even at slower speeds, and while it’s not meant to offer sporty handling, the many rivals on the market do a better job in this department.

Ride comfort isn’t horrible, but it’s not the best, either. The most notable thing to mention here is the sheer quietness of the cabin. With everything closed up, you hear next to nothing from outside unless you put the hammer down. And, when that happens, you’ll like the noise you hear. Where the Armada excels in quietness, though, it lacks in other departments. The seats are comfortable, but not too comfortable – not the best seats for long trips by any means. The suspension is even more disappointing as, thanks to the overly soft tuning, you get the aforementioned body roll, and you feel about 90-percent of the bumps in the road. This is clearly something Nissan should have addressed when the second-gen model was introduced in 2017.

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Exterior
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Overall, the Nissan Armada isn’t the worst SUV on the road, we don’t think, but when you’re paying out anywhere between $47,100 and $68,480, you expect a better driving experience than the Armada can offer. For the same money, you can get a much better ride and even more cabin space with the Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition, or a number of other models.

Powertrain, Towing, and Fuel Economy

  • 5.6-liter V-8
  • 390 HP
  • 394 LB-FT
  • 8,500 LB towing capacity
  • decent performance
  • poor fuel economy
  • soft suspension
2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Drivetrain
- image 885958

Under that tall-sitting hood of the Armada sits a 5.6-liter V-8 that pumps out a respectable 390 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque. These figures are marginally better than that of the Chevy Tahoe, but the Armada falls some ten horsepower and almost 100 pound-feet short of the Ford Expedition.

The Armada’s V-8 engine is bolted to an okay-but-could-be-better seven-speed automatic transmission. Power can be sent to the rear wheels only, or you can opt for a true-to-life four-wheel-drive system that’s brawny enough to keep up with the Toyota Land Cruiser or even the Mercedes G-class when it comes to off-road capability. Since it’s still based atop an old-school ladder frame, the second generation model also maintained (and even improved on) the structural rigidity the Armada became known for.

2020 Nissan Armada drivetrain specifications
Engine 5.6-Liter V-8
Fuel Gasoline
Horsepower 390 HP
Torque 394 LB-FT
Transmission 7AT
Drive RWD \ AWD (optional)
Towing Capacity 8,500 LBS
Fuel Economy 14/19/16(RWD) \ 13/18/15 (4WD)
Curb Weight 5,672 LBS
Fuel Capacity 26.0 Gallons

How Much Can the Nissan Armada Tow?

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Armada, when properly equipped, is able to tow up to 8,500 pounds. This is 400 pounds more than the Chevy Tahoe but 700 pounds less than the Ford Expeditions maximum tow rating. The Armada comes standard with preparations made for towing, however, you’ll have to pony up $81 for the tow hitch. However, since all Armadas have the self-leveling suspension as standard equipment, there’s no expensive package to add on.

Nissan Armada Fuel Economy

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Exterior
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This Nissan Armada in a RWD configuration is rated at 14 mpg in the city, 19 mpg on the highway, and 16 mpg combined. Opting for the 4WD Nissan Armada drops expected fuel economy to 13 mpg in the city, 18 mpg on the highway, and 15 mpg combined. Not bad for an SUV that sits well about 5,600 pounds, but it falls short of both the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition. So, if fuel economy is important to you, you might want to look elsewhere. The Armada has a 26-gallon tank, so filling up from empty will cost you somewhere around $72 based on a $2.78 average price per gallon.

Nissan Armada Interior – Impressive But Lacking

  • Fairly large interior
  • Dated technology
  • Looks more comfortable than it is
  • Looks more spacious that it is
  • Has its high points, but there are better cabins out there
2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Interior
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The Nissan Armada’s interior is impressive in a lot of ways. When you first open the door, you’re hit with the abundance of space like a kick to the teeth. Some of you probably have homes with less interior space. Since our tester had the optional, second-row captain’s chairs, the feeling of space was even more abundant, but that’s a good thing, and the captain’s seats afford a number of extra benefits like easier access to the third row, and they can be heated.

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Interior
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There are lots of soft-touch surfaces here. You’ll find leather-wrapped trim on the dash, center stack, and 90-percent or so of the door trim panels. Unfortunately, even newer models already experience some wrinkling of the leather, like you can see on the door trim in the image below:

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Interior
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With that in mind, I should probably point out that the leather on the seats doesn’t feel as thin or cheap, and the feel of it suggests that it’ll hold up well.

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Interior
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The heated seats and steering wheel worked very well and quickly, but at the same time, we also spent the week in Florida, so there wasn’t a lot of need for them.

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Interior
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The second row was, arguably, even more comfortable than the front. Thanks to the size of the Armada legroom is aplenty. The seats can be reclined as needed, and the optional DVD system was a very cool touch. It was actually a hit during our long highway test as two of our writers didn’t care to change position and take turns driving. Outside of this, there’s nothing out of the ordinary here. There is a stationary center console between the captain’s chairs, which is another nice addition, but it does leave us to wonder just how well it will hold up under heavy cargo room use.

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Interior
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Entry to the third row is a breeze thanks to how the captain’s chairs fold downward then forward. Getting to the third row isn’t the only thing that’s easy here, though, as sitting back there isn’t that displeasing, either. We usually knock models with a third-row because the area is so small, but the Armada can handle two full-size adults back there. Without a doubt, the second-row captain’s chairs help in this regard, but it’s notable nonetheless.

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Interior
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Like most other three-row models, however, the bench seat in the back does leave something to be desired. The seating is a little more comfortable than what we experience in most models – we’ll give the Armada that – but it’s still not as comfortable as sitting in the second row. If you have a large family and are taking a long road trip, you definitely want to encourage them to change places at each stop just to keep it fair.

Despite the massive cabin, the Armada offers less passenger room that both the Tahoe and Expedition, with the exception of third-row legroom. Even then, the Expedition beats it by nearly six inches. You definitely won’t feel cramped in any row, but there are more spacious SUVs out there.

2020 Nissan Armada vs competitors interior dimensions
Nissan Armada Chevrolet Tahoe Ford Expedition
1st Row Headroom 40.9 42.8 42
1st Row Leg Room 41.9 45.3 43.9
1st Row Shoulder Room 63.8 64.8 64.9
1st Row Hip Room 59.2 60.8 62.2
2nd Row Headroom 40 38.7 40
2nd Row Leg Room 41 39 41.5
2nd Row Shoulder Room 63.4 65.1 64.8
2nd Row Hip Room 58.4 60.3 62.6
3rd Row Headroom 36.4 38.1 37.3
3rd Row Legroom 28.4 24.8 36.1
3rd Row Shoulder Room 60.5 62.6 64.2
3rd Row Hip Room 48.8 49.3 51.4

How Much Cargo Room in the Nissan Armada?

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Interior
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16.5 cubic-feet behind the third row, 49.9 cubic feet behind the second row, and 95.4 cubic-feet with the second and third rows folded down. Despite the Armada’s massive cabin, it doesn’t even come close to competing with either the Chevy Tahoe or Ford Expedition. The Tahoe actually wins this battle, with an impressive maximum cargo rating of 122.9 cubic-feet. Check out how all three compare in the tables and charts below:

2020 Nissan Armada vs competition cargo room
Nissan Armada Chevrolet Tahoe Ford Expedition
Behind 3rd row 16.5 cu-ft 25.5 cu-ft 19.3 cu-ft
With 3rd row folded 49.9 cu-ft 72.7 cu-ft 57.5 cu-ft
2nd & 3rd rows folded 95.4 cu-ft 122.9 cu-ft 104.6 cu-ft

Technology

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Interior
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For a model updated in 2017 and on sale in 2020, Nissan definitely dropped the ball in terms of technology. It’s not that there isn’t useful technology here but just look at the size of that infotainment display. It’s almost like engineers forgot they needed space for one and simply found a place to cram something tiny after the fact. The Armada does have built-in navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, a 360-degree camera, and there are five USB ports, but that’s about it. And, you have to get into the higher trim levels to get the fifth USB port. The infotainment system is functional and easy to use, but is lacking in comparison to the competition and could be much better.

Safety

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Interior
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Outside of the standard and DOT-required safety equipment, the Armada is also advertised with a bunch of driver assistance technologies:

  • Intelligent cruise control
  • Intelligent distance control
  • Intelligent lane intervention
  • Intelligent forward-collision warning
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Intelligent back-up intervention
  • Blind spot warning
  • Intelligent blind spot intervention
  • Rearview monitor
  • Intelligent rearview mirror
  • Intelligent around view® monitor
  • Front and rear sonar system
  • Hill start assist
  • Vehicle dynamic control (vdc) with traction control system (tcs)
  • Active brake limited slip (abls)

However, not all of these goodies come standard. In fact, You can only get Intelligent backup intervention, blind spot warning, blind spot intervention, intelligent rearview mirror, or Intelligent around view monitor on the Platinum trim levels. Backup intervention and blind-spot warning can be had as paid, optional equipment on the SL, but you can’t get the bulk of the list without paying at least $60,000 for the Platinum trim level.

Nissan Armada Exterior Design and Impressions

  • Clearly a carbon copy of the Infinti QX80
  • Dated-looking front end
  • Awkward-looking rear end
  • Attractive wheel packages
2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Exterior
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The exterior design of the Nissan Armada is clearly a carbon copy of the Infiniti QX80, just a little bit uglier in general. Where the QX80 has sleek lights and an attractive grille, the Armada features a bulkier, offset grille. While it does stay true to Nissan’s current design language, it also looks about a decade past its expiration date. The same can be said for the bulky headlights that look like they were carried over from an older model and retrofitted with LEDs to meet safety standards. The Armada does have a rugged look to it, though, at least in the front, and that works in its favor while helping it visually compete against other rugged-like SUVs.

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Exterior
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As far as the side profile goes, the Armada feels somewhat uninspired. This is clearly a QX80 masquerading as a Nissan – just look at the beltline and rear stationary glass, if you don’t believe me. The fenders look strange because of the short flaring, and the fake vents in the fenders make absolutely no sense on a model like this. The way the side transitions into the rear is a bit ugly, especially below the beltline, but it’s nowhere near as bad as looking at it from the rear.

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Exterior
- image 885976

The design of the Armadas rear end gives the impression that it’s a boxy SUV that once had a flat rear end. Then someone came through and pushed in the center. The rear fascia sticks out just a little too far, and the rear quarters below the beltline are clearly too wide. This gives the impression that the Armada is bigger than it is. Perhaps saying that it’s ugly is a little harsh, but at the very least, one can argue that the rear end is awkward. We won’t expect it to win any beauty contests anyway.

2020 Nissan Armada exterior dimensions
Length 208.9
Width 79.9
Height 75.8
Wheelbase 121.1
Front Track 67.5
Rear Track 67.9
Approach Angle 20.9 Degrees
Departure Angle 22.3 Degrees
Ground Clearance 9.1

How Big is the Nissan Armada?

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Exterior
- image 885974

The Nissan Armada measures 208.9-inches long, 79.9-inches wide, and 75.8-inch tall. It also rides on a 121.1-inch wheelbase. It’s not the biggest SUV on the market, but it’s not the smallest either. In general, it’s bigger than the Chevy Tahoe, but a bit smaller than the Expedition (more than a foot shorter in length vs. the Expedition, by the way.) In terms of garage parking, don’t even think about it if you’re stuck with a one-car garage. And, you’ll need to check the overall length of your garage as the Armada could be a tight fit for shallower two-car garages as well. The 79.9-inch height shouldn’t pose a problem with most garage entries, but it does sit up there with some of the tallest, so that’s something else you need to double-check.

2020 Nissan Armada vs competitors exterior dimensions
Nissan Armada Chevrolet Tahoe Ford Expedition
Length 208.9 204 221.9
Width 79.9 80.5 79.9
Height 75.8 74.4 76.2
Wheelbase 121.1 116 131.6
Front Track 67.5 68.7 67.6
Rear Track 67.9 68.7 67.5
Approach Angle 20.9 Degrees 15.5 Degrees 23.7
Departure Angle 22.3 Degrees 23.2 Degrees 21.3
Ground Clearance 9.1 7.9 9.7

Nissan Armada Competition

Ford Expedition

left right

The Ford Expedition doesn’t pretend that it’s anything more than a truck-based SUV. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s based on Ford’s F-Series trucks and, from the front doors forward, that’s exactly what you get. Sure, there are various trims available (Ford is almost as bad as Volkswagen in that regard), but you’ll find the same massive grille, bulky headlights, and truck-like hood. It’s a boxy SUV at its roots, though, so there’s no sloping roofline, and the rear end looks the part of a modern SUV.

Like the Armada, the Expedition offers seating for up to 8, but the second-row captain’s seats are where it’s at. You’ll find a lot of F-Series DNA in here, though as well, with the dash, center console, and even the center stack taken directly from the F-150. The good news is that the Expedition has modern tech that makes the Armada’s practically obsolete. The instrument cluster is mostly digital, and the infotainment display is larger. The Expedition offers more interior space, more cargo room, and similar materials. About the only thing the Armada might win out on is comfort.

left right

The Expedition is powered by, believe it or not, a 3.5-liter V-6 that delivers 400 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque. Paired to that new 10-speed automatic transmission, the Expedition manages to beat out the Armada in Towing (9,200 pounds vs. 8.500 pounds) and will get anywhere between 3 and 5 mpg better than the Armada does on its best day. Pricing for the Expedition starts at $52,810 and climbs to as high as $73,995. Pricing for the larger, Expedition MAX starts out at $55,835 and tops out at $76,965.

Nissan Armada vs Ford Expedition
Nissan Armada Ford Expedition
Engine 5.6-Liter V-8 3.5-Liter V-6
Fuel Gasoline Gasoline
Horsepower 390 HP 400 HP
Torque 394 LB-FT 480 LB-FT
Transmission 7AT 10AT
Drive RWD \ AWD (optional) RWD \ AWD
Towing Capacity 8,500 LBS 9,200 LBS

Read our full review on the 2020 Ford Expedition

Chevy Tahoe

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe
- image 876027

While the Nissan Armada and Ford Expedition are the size leaders in their respective lineup, the Chevy Tahoe actually sits one peg down with the impressively long Chevy Suburban sitting above it. But, the Tahoe fits the bill if you’re looking for a large SUV, and it’s a prime competitor to the Armada. The front end is dominated by typical GM design, and those big bulky headlights and taillights will remind you that it’s not a luxury model. It does maintain the boxy shape some of us love, though, so it has that going for it. Where the Armada tries to be sleek and stylish, the Tahoe maintains a very bland, toned-down look. The beltline is straight, there are no weird curves or bulges anywhere, and the roofline is level like we’re in the 1990s.

Inside, you can actually opt for three bench seats, which means that you can carry up to 9 people. However, the idea configuration is the traditional captain’s chairs in the first and second rows. As far as design goes, the interior of the Tahoe is the most modern of the bunch. That old-style infotainment system has been ditched for a floating unit that sits atop the center stack. The design has replaced a lot of buttons and brings the Tahoe into this decade. The instrument cluster is still mainly analog, though, and you’ll have to pony up if you want all of the cool accessories.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe
- image 876037
7-inches long
6.7-inches longer than before

Under the hood sits a 5.3-liter V-8 or the optional 6.2-liter V-8. The 5.3-liter, which we’re using for comparison purposes, pumps out 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. With a six-speed automatic transmission, though, the Tahoe doesn’t get the best fuel economy. It’s better than the Armada, but the Expedition still beats it. Towing capacity comes in at 8,100 pounds, so it missed the mark against the Armada there, but it kicks ass in terms of cargo room, offering up as much as 112.9 cubic feet. Pricing for the Tahoe starts at $50,295 but climbs to as high as $69,420 in range-topping form with the 6.2-liter V-8.

Nissan Armada vs Chevy Tahoe
Nissan Armada Chevrolet Tahoe
Engine 5.6-Liter V-8 5.3-Liter V-8
Fuel Gasoline Gasoline
Horsepower 390 HP 355 HP
Torque 394 LB-FT 383 LB-FT
Transmission 7AT 6AT
Drive RWD \ AWD (optional) RWD \ AWD
Towing Capacity 8,500 LBS 8,100 LBS

Read our full review on the 2021 Chevy Tahoe

Final Thoughts

2020 Nissan Armada - Driven Exterior
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Overall, we walked away from our week with the Armada feeling a bit disappointed. It wasn’t the worst model we’ve ever driven, but it was far from the best. The whole experience felt outdated, from the way it drives and handles on the road to the lackluster technology inside. It does have a lot of high points, sure, but for the same money, you can certainly find something better. Overall, it’s time that Nissan pulls it together and builds an SUV worthy of this price point or leave the large SUV segment altogether. At this point, anyone spending this kind of money for an Armada (the prices keep going up, by the way) is just being taken advantage of unless they are truly loyal to the Nissan brand. And, even then, we’d have to question their unwavering loyalty. If you must have a Nissan Armada, we suggest you buy used and wait for the next-gen model to launch it, surly (or hopefully?) be better than this.

Philippe Daix
Obsessive and Compulsive Automotive Expert - phil@topspeed.com
Always on the lookout for the latest automotive news, Philippe Daix is our most senior editor and founder of TopSpeed.com. He likes to see himself as a consumer advocate with a mission to educate motorheads of all ages.  Read More
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