The full-size sport-utility-vehicle segment of the market may seem insignificant, if sales figures are anything to go by – particularly when compared with pickup trucks, for example. And yet, in 2015, 10,587 large SUVs and 9,334 large luxury SUVs were sold in Canada, which is nothing to sneeze at! Sales figures were even more impressive south of the border: 280,037 large SUVs and 119,248 large luxury SUVs found buyers there. With these kinds of numbers it’s little surprise that a large manufacturer like Nissan has taken an interest in this vehicle category, as have the Toyotas and Mercedes-Benzes of this world!
And just like its main rival Toyota, Nissan already has truck-assembly plants in North America, which makes development and production of a new model in the large SUV category that much easier. So it is that Nissan now offers two models in the segment to North American consumers – the Armada (formerly based on the Titan pickup) and the QX80 (previously known as the QX56), which since 2011 has been built on a base borrowed from the Nissan Patrol model, made for the Japanese market.
Nissan had as much as promised a new Armada based, as before, on the Titan, a new edition of which launched last year, but its brain trust evidently had a change of heart. The 2017 Armada is, like its spiffed-up half-brother the Infiniti QX80, now based on the Japanese Patrol model. Both, however, come with an American-only powertrain, which includes the made-in-the-USA Endurance V8 engine.
As a result, in contrast with the majority of manufacturers that prefer to launch the “regular” version of their large SUV first, and only unveil the luxury model later on, Nissan took the opposite tack. Which is why you may have been coming across road tests of the QX80 for a few months or even years, while those of the Armada are only trickling out now. None of this changes the fact that the Armada and the QX80 come close to being two peas in a pod!
One thing is clear from the get-go; comparing the new Armada with the old edition is pointless. The latest iteration features a wholly redesigned shape and looks nothing like its predecessor. To my eyes, the new lines are more elegant thanks to their greater symmetry. The shape of the body (as mentioned, taken from the Patrol) is better-proportioned, the placement of the four doors better-balanced. On the other hand, the front end reprises the general theme found on all Nissan’s pickups, including for instance an elongated-V-shaped grille that brings to mind those featured on the Rogue and the Pathfinder. In any case, as far as I’m concerned, from the front the Armada is more of a looker than the QX80!
One interior, two finishes
Given that the Armada and QX80 share just about everything, it’s no surprise to see how similar their interiors are, almost identical in fact! The design of the dashboard is rather simple though with a dash of elegance. The Infiniti does feature some exclusive luxury elements, but overall the Armada has the same characteristics as its more upscale QX sibling. You want commands and accessories? You got ‘em. The display is digital, but still easy enough to navigate through. As for the basic instrumentation, its mantra is simplicity and it’s equally easy of use. Some might find it a touch old-school, but there’s no arguing with its efficacy. Both the Armada and the QX80 feature a central screen on the dashboard, on which both the navigation and audio systems are accessible, as well as the backup and front-end cameras. The camera function, in fact, kicks in automatically (or can be activated manually according to need) to help the driver park in tight spaces. This is a mighty useful tool for such an imposing vehicle.
In both models, the front seats are downright vast, not to mention inviting and easy to access. This brings me to the biggest difference I see between the Armada and the QX, which is in terms of the finishes and especially the choice of materials. You’ll find more leather and high-end stitching in the Infiniti than in the Nissan, though the materials used in the latter model are by no means deficient. The middle row, for its part, is just as inviting in both models, and features individually-controlled A/C and heating settings.
Nissan’s large SUVS are built for seven passengers - even up to eight in a pinch. This means, of course, that there’s a third row of seats back there. Most of us would expect those condemned to sit there to suffer in uncomfortable, narrow seating, but that’s simply not the case here! Though access to it is not necessarily easy, and the space is not exactly generous, it’s more acceptable than that found in most competitors’ vehicles. Also, the backrests are foldable (as is the case with the middle row), giving occupants some very useful cargo space, which is accessible via the automatic hatchback door. The vehicle provided for our road test was equipped with an electric sunroof, though unfortunately it is not as large as found in a number of its competing models.
A most traditional powertrain
The Armada and QX80 SUVs from Nissan/Infiniti both have the mechanical chops to take on the competition. Each features an Endurance V8 engine producing between 385 and 400 HP, depending on adjustments to the computer system, and equally impressive torque. This is married to a 7-speed automatic transmission box and all-wheel drive. With this setup there’s little doubt these beasts are equipped to take on serious off-road challenges, although it’s likely that buyers will be more concerned with how well they transport passengers (in many cases, children) on all sorts of roads and pull trailers holding their favourite large toys. The two vehicles can each pull up to 8,500 lbs.
Another point of attraction for Canadian consumers will be how they handle winter driving conditions. Optimizing their performance in the winter months will require the installation of the appropriate tires, of course. During our road test, our model was fitted with Toyo winter tires that allowed us to fully appreciate the benefits provided by the all-wheel drive in full-on cold and snow conditions.
On the road
The large Armada and QX80 SUVs from Nissan and Infiniti are not really urban vehicles, if only because of their bulky size. Their domain is more the open road, and they are built to cover long distances – just like pickups. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h can be done in less than seven seconds, and downshifting is just as rapid. At cruising speed, meanwhile, the silence is golden in these SUVs. The steering is relatively precise even with the suppleness of the road handling. The independent 4-wheel suspension (taken from the Patrol) ensures solid stability on the road and exceptional comfort. Another truly impressive point is the visibility the driver has of the outside environment.
We can’t fail to mention consumption. There’s no point comparing these full-size SUVs with smaller models in other segments. The Armada and QX80 have much to offer, but there is a price to pay. One of those is to go through 16 or 17 litres of fuel every 100 km. Good thing you can use regular unleaded!
The base price of the new Armada hovers around $63,000, while you can expect to add another $15,000 or so for the QX80 from Infiniti. Among their main competitors, include the full-size SUVs from GM (Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade), Ford (Expedition and Lincoln Navigator) and Toyota (Sequoia and Lexus LX 570), as well as a few imports, most notably the Mercedes-Benz (GLS).