- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

A good soldier is sometimes referred to as “an army of one.” At Nissan, they’ve developed a counterpart. It’s a new combat vehicle in the sales wars, the Pathfinder Armada, which the company believes has the firepower to conquer full-size SUV buyers.

By definition, an armada is a fleet of warships. You’d hardly think it should apply to a single big ol’ truck, but Nissan wanted a name that tells everybody resistance is futile.

At the same time, the marketing mavens knew there was a lot of recognition and warm feelings for the popular midsize Pathfinder SUV, which has such a reputation for rugged reliability that it’s highly prized by buyers of used SUVs.

Not many people need a huge SUV, and likely only a small percentage of those who buy them actually need them either. But there’s something about big trucks that excites a substantial number of customers. The car companies like them, too, because they produce the highest profits of any vehicle.

Until Toyota developed the Sequoia, General Motors and Ford had the big SUV territory staked out for themselves. Their wares included the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, the Cadillac Escalade, the Ford Expedition and Excursion, the Lincoln Navigator and the Hummer H2.

Together, those brutes accounted for more than 866,000 sales in 2002, with some priced way more than $50,000. That’s not inconsequential, even at a time when annual vehicle sales in the United States total more than 16 million.

So, naturally, resurgent Nissan wants a piece of the action, which it is seeking with two new full-size trucks — the Titan pickup and the Pathfinder Armada SUV, the subject here.

The Armada comes off the same basic body-on-frame platform as the Titan, with one big difference. Where the Titan has a solid rear axle and leaf springs in back to carry heavy loads, the Armada has an independent rear suspension with coil springs to enhance the ride and handling.

There are two models — the SE, with a base price of $33,950, and the LE, which starts at $38,450. The prices are for rear-wheel-drive models, but each can be ordered with all-wheel drive and towing and off-road packages for serious boondocks bashers. The tested all-wheel-drive LE, with options that included navigation and DVD entertainment systems, had a suggested sticker price of $46,650.

Standard equipment on both models includes antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, side-curtain air bags, front and rear air conditioning, running boards, privacy glass, a roof rack with two crossbars, power windows and mirrors, remote locking, power driver’s seat, tire-pressure monitoring, and an audio system with six-disc CD player and remote controls on the steering wheel.

The SE has a body-colored grille, while the LE is distinguished by a chrome face. Optional off-road packages include seven-spoke alloy wheels, heavy-duty shocks and cooling, skid plates, fog lights and a more aggressive rear-axle ratio.

Right off, you know the Armada is not fooling around. It’s more than 17 feet long and weighs a whopping 5,327 pounds in the tested LE version. The styling is in-your-face brutish, definitely handsome if you’re a truck person. The cavernous interior carries three rows of seats, enough to carry seven or eight people.

Despite its size, it looks vaguely like the midsize Pathfinder, and uses the Pathfinder’s trademark outside rear-door handles mounted up in the pillar between the side windows. From a distance, it makes the Armada look like a sporty two-door, but the handles are so high up some children might not be able to reach them.

The power comes from a honking big 5.6-liter V-8 engine that delivers 305 horsepower and 385 foot-pounds of torque — or low-speed pulling power — through a five-speed automatic transmission.

It has overhead camshafts that are spun by an internal chain, which should contribute to long-term durability.

With all that, the Armada can accelerate to 60 mph in a shade over seven seconds, which is quick for this size of vehicle. For a big truck, it also handles with confidence, though not as nimbly as some smaller trucks and cars, and you can get the tires howling if you push it too hard on a curve.

It feels like a smaller vehicle on the road, partly because the hood slopes away from the driver’s field of vision. That could prove disconcerting to some drivers who are used to using the hood’s front corners to judge parking.

Inside, the Armada offers space aplenty and a plethora of comfort and convenience items, including standard adjustable pedals, comfortable seating in the front and outboard second-row seats, plenty of storage space and cup holders, and full truck-style instrumentation.

The third-row seat is raised, theater-style, for better visibility. Seats in both the second and third rows, as well as the passenger’s seat up front, fold flat to carry big loads and long items. With the front seat folded, the Armada can swallow a 10-foot stepladder.

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