Review: The 2021 Nissan Armada Is A Smart Makeover Of An Underrated Family SUV

It's not a complete revolution, but it's different enough where it counts

This 2021 Nissan Armada SL Midnight Edition packs a fair amount of content, but the more sinister stance with its blacked out elements is what really makes it stand out. (Photos: TFLtruck)

2021 Nissan Armada Overview

Sharp styling changesStill some dated elements
Much better infotainment layout,
smart wireless charging integration
Woeful fuel economy
Smooth and comfortable Tight third-row seating
Surprisingly quick for its size May not be “different enough” for some shoppers

Sometimes, all you need to succeed is a new look and a fresh attitude. You can still be yourself underneath, but donning some sharp new clothes or just carrying yourself a bit differently can be a big boost to your confidence. That’s the approach we’re talking about with the 2021 Nissan Armada. Underneath, it’s still (largely) the same second-generation truck we’ve come to know over the past few years. But what do you know, if you change the grille, hood, front fenders, headlights and taillights, bumpers and badging — as Nissan did with this refresh — and suddenly the aging Armada is ready for its next tour of duty. At least, that’s Nissan’s aim here.

It’s a tough market, after all. Popular three-row family SUVs include the Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia and the sales-conquering Ford Expedition, among others. While the older Armada had a certain charm about it, there’s no denying it’s not the most popular SUV around by sales. What’s more, with its dated feel Nissan needed to do something to keep their three-row family hauler competitive. But here’s the rub: Is it enough?

What’s new (and what’s not)

For those second-generation models you’ve seen roaming the roads, you may not notice the 2021 Nissan Armada at first glance if you don’t catch it dead on. From the A-pillar to the rear fascia, this updated version is identical to the previous model. It still rides on Nissan’s Y62 platform, sharing its underpinnings with the likes of the global-market Nissan Patrol and the second-generation Nissan Titan.

On an 121.1-inch wheelbase and 208.9-inch overall length as well as a 79.9-inch width and 75.8-inch height, the 2021 Nissan Armada carries over the same dimensions as the previous model year. However, Nissan did make the effort to update the old rig’s slightly bulbous styling into something much sharper, more powerful and more refined. The automaker also seized this opportunity to present its new corporate logo, as well as take the fashionable approach of spelling the model name across the center of the tailgate, connecting the new LED taillight cluster.

Same V8 power

Under the hood, the 2021 Nissan Armada still packs the same VK56VD 5.6-liter Endurance V8 engine as before. This time around, as with the Titan pickup, Nissan did change up the tuning so this model produces 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque. For reference, those are the same specs you could get in the redesigned Infiniti QX80 — luxury twin to this “mainstream” SUV — but now that figure is reachable here as well, provided you use premium fuel. Opt for regular, and it remains at the same 390 horsepower as before. Unlike the Titan, though, this updated Armada carries on with the 7-speed automatic transmission. It does not take on the new 9-speed unit.

Carrying on with the Titan analogies, make no mistake the Armada does still feel like a truck to drive. With its body-on-frame construction and steering, you do still have to put in some effort to maneuver at slower speeds. Obviously it was never going to be a sports car, but take that for what you will.

2021 Nisssan Armada
The 2021 Nissan Armada looks familiar to the old version, with the exception of a new logo on the steering wheel and a heavily-revised center stack.

Different where it matters: The interior

One of the lacking aspects of the older Armada that was starting to creep into “unforgivable” territory was its dated interior layout. Fortunately, that’s exactly what Nissan sought to rectify here, to good effect. The 2021 Nissan Armada uses a dramatically updated 12.3-inch infotainment display, replacing the old 8-inch unit. The touchscreen now sticks out above the redesigned media and climate controls, making it much easier to operate than the old unit sunken into the dashboard. The volume and tuning knobs are much more prominent now, but you can still use the slightly confusing (at least at first glance) command knob and buttons behind the gear lever to make your way through the menus. Even by modern standards, Nissan’s infotainment system still comes off slightly dated against some of the rivals, but it still outpaces the current-gen Toyota Sequoia by a long shot.

Moving to the gauge cluster, the 2021 Nissan Armada does get an updated 7-inch Advanced Driver Assist display as standard equipment as well. It’s not a fully-digital cluster, but in fairness none of the competition in this segment have moved into that area yet either. Some of you out there may appreciate the analog-style gauges, and for what it’s worth they’re laid out the same and are as crisp to read as they were before. Now, though, you can also get clearer auxiliary gauges by thumbing through the menu button on the left side of the steering wheel.

Standard Nissan Safety Shield 360

The 1920×720 resolution infotainment screen is a welcome change against the old 800×480 unit, no doubt about it. This time, though, the 2021 Nissan Armada also gets wireless Apple CarPlay capability (Android Auto is still wired, sadly). A Wi-Fi hotspot also comes standard, as does four USB ports — two in the front and two in the rear. Available as options are features like the Intelligent Around View Monitor 360-degree camera system. The Intelligent Rear View Mirror, rear seat entertainment system and Nissan Concierge service are also options.

Hidden behind a door above the integrated trailer brake controller and USB ports hides the available wireless charging pad. Even if you aren’t warmed over by the other updates, I have to say Nissan’s integration of wireless charging here is among the smartest solutions I’ve seen yet. Actually putting it behind a door — you know, where your phone won’t fly into the truck’s nether regions whenever you accelerate — is a thoughtful touch, and I wish more cars and trucks took that approach. They managed to secure your phone without making the pad stupidly unreachable when you actually need to get your phone again: Who’d have thought?

Quick note: Don’t put adults in the third row

As a big SUV, the 2021 Nissan Armada is as commodious as you’d expect in the first and second rows. However, it’s worth noting the third row is really only suitable for children. I couldn’t sit up straight in the back, mainly due to the Armada’s 36.4 inches of third-row headroom. That’s nearly a full two inches less than the 2021 Chevy Tahoe, and boy do you feel it if you’re around six feet tall.

2021 Nisssan Armada

2021 Nissan Armada trims and tech

The 2021 Nissan Armada comes in three trims, broadly the same as before. The base SV brings in standard Nissan Safety Shield 360 tech, for a start. That includes standard intelligent cruise control, driver attention alert, forward collision warning and blind spot intervention systems. Traffic sign recognition and automatic rear braking are options. The 12.3-inch infotainment system also comes standard, as does wireless charging, Wi-Fi capability and the integrated trailer brake controller. You can get the SV Appearance Package, which adds 20-inch alloy wheels (up from 18-inch), front fog lights, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and power liftgate.

The SL trim adds Trailer Sway Control to the mix, as well as a power moonroof. In addition to that standard fare, the SL is where you can get the Midnight Edition Package we tested here. That adds a host of blacked out trim, including the interior headliner and seats. You also get uniquely-branded floor mats and bespoke 20-inch alloy wheels.

Finally, the Platinum sits at the top of the 2021 Nissan Armada range. At the moment, there is no “Platinum Reserve” model, but you do get 22-inch wheels and quilted leather seats here. The Rear Family Entertainment system and Traffic Sign Recognition are options in this model.

Pricing is not yet available for the 2021 Nissan Armada, but we should have more information on that soon.

The 2021 Nissan Armada still uses a big V8, and gets a bit more power than older models to boot.

Performance: Better than you might expect

Speaking of phone-flying acceleration, the 2021 Nissan Armada is surprisingly quick. I always forget about that after I go without driving one for awhile, but that 5.6-liter Endurance engine is (without rigorously testing long-term reliability, mind you) a fantastic powerplant. I always like it in the Titan and the QX80, and I equally enjoy it here. Despite the Armada’s 6,000 pound mass in SL trim, it’s no slouch when you need to put your foot down. Because it has a fair amount of grunt, as well, Nissan’s big SUV can tow up to 8,500 pounds. That’s higher than most of its rivals, barring the Ford Expedition Max with a heavy-duty trailer towing package.

While it does have best-in-class horsepower, where it does not excel is fuel economy. Again, if you shopped 2020 and older models you already knew that. Nissan did a great job with the styling update, but there’s no black magic they could do to make this powertrain more efficient than the 13 City / 18 Highway / 15 Combined mpg figure the four-wheel drive models managed before. That figure lags far behind the Ford Expedition’s 17 City / 22 Highway / 19 Combined figure by way of its turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6.

At least there’s the Toyota Sequoia…

If the miserable consumption bothers you, keep in mind it is still slightly better than the Toyota Sequoia, which manages 1 mpg worse in highway and combined economy according to EPA figures. In mixed driving, I managed roughly 16 mpg, and couldn’t help but feel the 9-speed automatic could have helped a little bit with that.

On the up side, the 2021 Nissan Armada is just as smooth and comfortable as ever. You still get a high, commanding driving position, which is great for this sort of vehicle. All around visibility is pretty good, and even on the terribly bumpy roads around Denver Nissan’s big SUV soaked up the punishment with ease.

Verdict: Score one for the underdog

Before, I could reason out why the Nissan Armada wasn’t a strong seller. You look at the dated exterior styling and interior tech against the likes of, say, the 2021 Chevy Tahoe and the Ford Expedition, and you may be inclined to go in that direction. In fact, so far this year well north of 50,000 of you did in fact go for the Expedition. On the other hand, just 17,520 people bought Armadas, through October 2020.

Now, though, the 2021 Nissan Armada makes a strong case for your money. Granted, pricing isn’t available just yet, but don’t expect a radical departure from the previous $47,500-ish starting point. Nissan boasts one of the most inexpensive three-row SUVs on the market, and it won’t give up that reputation with this new model if the company knows what’s good for it.

With sharp new styling, a smooth ride, a great (if thirsty) powertrain and solid all-around capability, you should give it your consideration if you hadn’t before. It’s evidence that incremental improvements can lead to a pleasant experience, even if it’s not the revolution some may have hoped for.

The 2021 Nissan Armada will go on sale next month.