Nissan has stepped into the fullsize light-duty SUV class with the Pathfinder Armada. Built on a fully boxed frame similar to its new 11/42-ton fullsize Titan pickup and running the same 305hp 5.6L Endurance V-8, this is quite a big step away from the mini-trucks and smaller SUVs that Nissan has become known for.
Though this new sport/ute has Pathfinder in its name, it is in no way replacing the current Pathfinder; imagine it as a bigger younger brother in the rugged Pathfinder family. In addition, the Pathfinder Armada is assembled in Nissan's new U.S. factory in Canton, Mississippi.
When the U.S. portion of Nissan's design and engineering team explained to the home office in Japan that they wanted a fullsize pickup and SUV, they were met with a less than positive response, but they didn't give up. Most countries other than the U.S. don't understand the desire for colossal amounts of space for hauling people and stuff, but the Armada has just that. The second row of seats has more legroom than any SUV we have ridden in, and almost seemed larger than the old Nissan pickup beds from the early '80s. In fact, if you have teenage kids who are good at basketball, or just a group of tall pals, then this might be the perfect vehicle for your cross-country road trip. There is also a third row seat that, though not as spacious as the second row, is big enough for small grown-ups and far enough away from the driver for loud children. All of these seats fold down flat for hauling junkyard treasures for your 4x4 project or car camping.
Besides hauling people inside, the Armada could also act as a tow rig. The 123.2-inch wheelbase, 385 lb-ft of torque, and towing capacity of 9,100 should be sufficient for getting a boat, bike, or buggy to your favorite playground.
The Nissan reps didn't let us take the Armada off road much, but we did put quite a few miles on it in the twisty hills of northern California. Though the truck looks large, it handled very well due to the independent suspension front and rear and the heavy but responsive rack-and-pinion steering. We put it through some twisty turns and it felt solid-big, but solid.
Did we have any gripes? Just a few. The interior, though big and comfortable, had parts that seemed a bit cheap and plasticy. Maybe these will be refined before sales officially start or maybe we had a preproduction truck. We found the front two-thirds of the body to look pretty burly, but we didn't really find the exterior design lines behind the back seat very appealing. Though the design is definitely unique, it was as if the cargo area was an afterthought. We like the four-wheel-drive version we tested with the optional Rancho gas shocks, but we think the two-wheel-drive version with the Off Road package is kind of silly and confusing. A final note to all OEMs: Get rid of the running boards on anything that has an off-road package. If you don't, we will. Our verdict: If you have a family with two tall kids, and you are looking for a healthy SUV to tow with, this might be the ride for you.