By Derek Price
Nissan’s updates to the roomy, brawny Armada for 2021 make it a more bifurcated SUV than ever before.
On the one hand, the changes are all designed to make it look and perform more like a pickup. A new, upright, squared-off appearance up front is blatantly truck-like, and bumping up the V8’s power lets it tow a stout 8,500 pounds.
That’s not only the best towing figure in its class — classic pickup-truck bragging rights — but also available in every trim, with both four-wheel and rear-wheel drive.
At the same time, it still delivers one of the silkiest, smoothest, most luxury-car-like rides of any full-size SUV for sale today. The buttery ride is especially impressive for a vehicle that doesn’t come from a luxury brand.
In terms of performance and content, the freshly updated Armada competes nicely with the full-size General Motors and Ford products that dominate this segment.
A standard 12.3-inch touchscreen is the biggest in its class, Nissan claims, and it can be customized and split to access different functions at the same time.
A 7-inch display in front of the driver takes the place of traditional gauges. It can also be customized and controlled using buttons on the steering wheel.
Overall, the cabin looks more contemporary now with a cleaner layout and improved connectivity.
Its strongest selling point, though, is the silky ride and capable powertrain.
The 5.6-liter Endurance V8 makes 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, the best in its class, according to Nissan. That’s up from 390 and 394 last year.
It has a couple of unsurprising downsides, though. The engine requires premium fuel to make that much power, and it burns a lot of it. The rear-wheel-drive Armada is rated for 14 mpg in city driving and 19 on the highway. Opting for four-wheel drive drops those numbers by 1 mpg.
If you can look past the fuel economy, the powertrain is flawless. It delivers smooth, instant power with a pleasant growl through the tailpipe. The seven-speed automatic shifts confidently in every situation.
Taken as a whole — including things like comfy front bucket seats, a spacious cabin in the first two rows and a 26-gallon fuel tank for long distances between fill-ups — the Armada is a fantastic highway cruiser. The supple, near-silent ride on the freeway is icing on the family-friendly cake.
Pricing starts at $48,900 for the S grade and tops out with the Platinum at $65,300. You can add 4×4 traction to any Armada trim for an extra $3,000.
A special Midnight Edition also launches this year with 20-inch wheels and a thoroughly blacked-out look both inside and out. It is a $1,990 upgrade and only available on the SL trim level.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2021 Nissan Armada Platinum 4WD Auto ($68,000). Options: Carpeted floor mats ($320), illuminated kick plates ($390), welcome lighting ($395), captains chairs package ($650). Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge): $71,250
Wheelbase: 121.1 in.
Length: 208.9 in.
Width: 79.9 in.
Height: 75.8 in.
Engine: 5.6-liter Endurance V8 (400 hp, 413 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 13 city, 18 highway
Why buy it?
A thorough update for 2021 keeps the spacious, powerful Armada competitive. Its smooth ride and 400-horsepower engine stand out among full-size SUVs.