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Dual Duel: Nissan And Jeep vs The Elements

Posted in Features on January 26, 2017
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What happens when you pit two of the latest and greatest models of SUVs against a variety of terrain and weather conditions? You learn a lot. We know this because we covered a vast amount of terrain and encountered a range of weather conditions as we tested the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk and the Nissan Armada during the 44th annual 2017 SUV of the Year competition.

The 2017 competition was special, partly because it had a new name (it was formerly known as Four Wheeler of the Year) and partly because the vehicles in it were both fascinating machines that represented the state-of-the-art of modern, cutting-edge SUVs. For example, both had engines producing horsepower over the 350 mark and were fit with transmissions boasting seven or more gears.

How were these two vehicles selected to participate in SUV of the Year (SUVOTY)? Well, to qualify for the event a vehicle had to be all-new or substantially revised, have a two-speed transfer case, a production run of 1,500 vehicles in the U.S., and be on sale by March 15, 2017. Other vehicles that qualified, but were unable to attend during the test period, was the Mercedes-Benz GLS with Off-Road Engineering package, Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road, and Lexus LX570.

The SUVOTY test took place at various locations in Southern California, and our panel of judges rotated into each SUV at regular, frequent intervals. The judges in the test were all experienced off-road drivers that have logged many hours driving in the dirt. During the test, each judge was required to record detailed notes in their official judging book and score each vehicle in a variety of areas. You can read about the specific testing categories and how scoring is structured elsewhere in this story. The end game was to detect each SUV’s strengths and weaknesses. To accomplish that goal we drove the vehicles almost non-stop for five days, stopping only to eat and sleep. We drove the vehicles in almost every imaginable on-road situation, from twisties to highway, and we pointed ’em onto a variety of off-road terrain, including loose-dirt hillclimbs, sand, water, mud, rocks, and snow.

So what’s new with these two rigs that qualified them for the 2017 SUVOTY? What qualities did each have that worked? What needs improvement? Which SUV took home the 44th annual 2017 SUV of the Year trophy? Read on.

2nd Place

Nissan Armada Platinum

What’s New

The Armada is all-new for the ’17 model year. The biggest news is that the Armada is now based on the legendary Nissan Patrol, whereas the previous generation Armada was based on the Titan pickup. Like the previous generation, the new Armada retains body-on-frame construction (the frame has thicker material resulting in increased stiffness) and an IFS/IRS setup. There are huge differences in the powertrain when compared to the previous generation, however. The ’17 Armada is fit with the new Endurance 5.6L V-8 that produces 390 hp, which is a hefty increase over the output of the previous generation 5.6L’s 317 hp. Torque is increased to 394 lb-ft for the ’17 model, which is a modest increase from the previous generation’s 385 lb-ft. Also new is a seven-speed automatic transmission, which has two more cogs than the transmission found in the previous generation Armada. The SUV now has a transfer case low-range ratio of 2.77:1 compared to the previous generation’s 3.35:1 ratio. This gives the new Armada a respectable crawl ratio of 38.5:1. The new Armada also has a 2.1-inch shorter wheelbase and a 1.2-inch longer length than its predecessor. The Armada is available in SV, SL, and Platinum trim levels.

Ramp and Track

The Armada climbed 41 3/8 inches up our 20 degree RTI ramp to earn a score of 342 points. The 390hp 5.6L engine helped to propel the approximately 5,963-pound SUV from 0-60 mph in a respectable 6.9 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 15.4 seconds at a speed of 92.6 mph. The 13.8 x 1.2-inch (front) and 13.8 x 0.8-inch (rear) disc brakes helped to bring the SUV to a stop from 60 mph in 122.2 feet in only 2.7 seconds.

Exterior/Interior

Judges were almost unanimously unimpressed with the exterior design of the Armada. Comments like “Bulbous” and “Looks like a minivan mixed with a Titan,” were some of notes in the logbooks. Judges were also harsh on the long front overhang and low ground clearance, which contributed to a poor approach angle of 20.9 degrees. Judges also noted the lack of skidplating and easy-to-use front towhooks. Several judges noted that they liked the wheel design, however. Inside, the comments were much different. Almost every judge noted positive comments. “Seats are softer and more plush than most SUVs,” “Incredible mid-row headroom,” “The second row seating and features are awesome,” “Gauges are simple and easy to read,” and “Dual-zone HVAC with actual numbers—I like that,” were some of the judges’ notes. It was clear that a lot of thought went into the interior of the Armada. From the removable rear console to the cargo area tie-downs to the incredible textures of interior materials, the Armada had a very upscale feel. Judges were less enthused about the complexity of the stereo controls and the digital info center.

On-Road

This is the SUV you want if you’re going for a long trip but don’t want it to feel like a long trip. The Platinum trim level had a litany of options, and the “library level” interior noise levels were created in part by acoustic glass on the windshield and front side windows, along with expanded use of sound absorption materials. This culminated in a vault-like interior where conversations could be conducted in a whisper, even at speed on the highway. Engine power in all situations was excellent and the powerplant, described by a judge as “smooth, powerful, dialed,” worked in harmony with the seven-speed transmission. The ride from the IFS/IRS was described as “pillow time,” and the feel from the engine-speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering was described as “not overly stiff; can one-finger the wheel without feeling like you’re driving a ’70s Cadillac.” Braking felt strong. Several judges noted that rear visibility was hindered by the second-row headrests and C-pillar, but the backup camera helped with that. During an all-highway segment of testing the Armada returned a respectable best tank mpg of 19.5.

Off-Road

The Armada did quite well overall off-road. Surprised? We were too, considering the luxury level of the SUV. The Armada went everywhere we asked it to go, and it surprised every judge with its overall capability. It owned the sand with its ample power and was called a “dune scooter.” It climbed our test hill with no drama as the traction control worked its magic. The suspension absorbed the brutality of washboard roads and provided an impressive ride with predictable handling, though it did blow through its uptravel and utilize the bumpstops from time to time at speed. Rocky trails were the Armada’s biggest nemesis, but if even throttle was applied with tire speed, it got the job done. However, as one judge wrote, “It doesn’t want to be here,” when referring to its overall attitude on rock-strewn trails. With that said, it did deflect the rocks we threw at it (figuratively speaking), showing that it is in fact capable of traversing such challenging terrain. Going into the test we had our doubts about the all-season P275/60R20 Bridgestone Dueler tires, but the 33-inch tires did a respectable job and didn’t suffer any tread punctures or sidewall damage. Further, the tires didn’t show any signs of chunking. The Armada would lift tires often on uneven trail obstacles, but the traction control system did a fantastic job sending power to the wheels that needed it. We liked the decent 38.5:1 crawl ratio, which allowed for powerful, controlled trail crawling. We were less than enthused about the poor approach angle, lack of skidplating, and limited recovery points, and this affected the Armada’s score in the Trail Performance and Empirical sections, as well as the final scoring. During snow testing the Armada never got stuck, and it was described “fun in the snow!” by a judge.

Bottom Line

The all-new Nissan Armada is an outstanding on-road vehicle with lots of interior space, abundant luxury, gobs of power, and incredible sound deadening qualities. Underneath all of that refinement is a rugged structure that helps to make the SUV surprisingly capable off-road.

Logbook quotes

“I’m really impressed at how well this SUV did.”
“Handles extremely well off-road.”
“Unbelievably comfy and smooth on-road. This is the cross-country machine you want.”
“Lots of power and light steering feel help make this vehicle seem light, nimble, and fun to drive.”

What’s hot: Endurance 5.6L V-8 power, abundant luxury
What’s not: Poor approach angle, lack of skidplating, limited recovery points, limited suspension articulation
Our take: Great for those who want a SUV that combines carrying capacity, luxury, power, and decent off-road capabilities

GENERAL
Vehicle/model: ’17 Nissan Armada Platinum 4WD
Base price: $59,990
Price as tested: $61,735
Options as tested: Carpeted Floor Mats ($300), Captain’s Chairs Package ($450), Destination Charge ($995)
ENGINE
Type: Nissan 32-valve V-8 Endurance
Displacement (ci/liter): 341.7/5.6
Bore x stroke (in): 3.85x3.62
Compression ratio (:1): 11.2
Intake/FI: Direct injection
Mfg.’s power rating @ rpm (hp): 390 @ 5,800
Mfg.’s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 394 @ 4,000
Mfg.’s suggested fuel type: Regular unleaded
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: JATCO 7-spd automatic
Ratios (:1):
First 4.89
Second 3.17
Third 2.03
Fourth 1.41
Fifth 1.00
Sixth 0.86
Seventh 0.78
Reverse 4.04
Axle ratio (:1): 2.94
Transfer case: Magna ATX90A 2-spd
Low-range ratio (:1): 2.77
Crawl ratio (:1): 38.5
FRAME/BODY
Frame: Steel body on frame
Body: Steel
SUSPENSION/AXLES
Front: Double-wishbone independent, twin-tube shocks, stabilizer bar/Nissan Tochigi 8-in
Rear: Double-wishbone independent, twin-tube shocks, stabilizer bar/Nissan Tochigi 9.75-in
STEERING
Type: Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Turns (lock-to-lock): 3.5
Ratio (:1): 19.6
BRAKES
Front: 13.8x1.2-in vented disc, two-piston caliper
Rear: 13.6x0.8-in vented disc, single-piston caliper
ABS: Four-wheel
WHEELS/TIRES
Wheels (in): 20x8.0
Tires: P275/60R20 Bridgestone Dueler
FUEL ECONOMY
EPA city/highway: 13/18
Observed city/highway/trail: 14.0
DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Weight (lb): 5,963
Wheelbase (in): 121.1
Overall length (in): 208.9
Overall width (in): 79.9
Height (in): 75.8
Track f/r (in): 67.5/67.9
Minimum ground clearance (in): 9.1
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft): 41.3
Approach/departure angles (deg): 20.9/22.3
Breakover angle (deg): 20.7
GVWR (lb): 7,500
Payload (lb): N/A
Maximum towing capacity (lb): 8,500
Seating: 7
Fuel capacity (gal): 26
PERFORMANCE
0-60 mph (sec): 6.9
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph): 15.4 @ 96.6
Braking 60-0 mph (ft): 122.2
Ramp Travel Index (20-degree, points): 342


Winner!

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk

What’s New

Jeep’s Grand Cherokee is now available for the ’17 model year with the Trailhawk package. The Grand Cherokee is the third model in the Jeep lineup to be paired with Trailhawk features. The first Jeep vehicle to receive the Trailhawk treatment was the all-new ’14 Cherokee. The second Jeep vehicle to get Trailhawk features was the all-new ’15 Renegade. On each model, the Trailhawk package enhanced off-road performance and added to its fun factor, and those great attributes continue to the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. The package includes a unique version of Grand Cherokee’s Quadra-Lift air suspension that improves articulation and suspension travel; 265/60R18 (30.5-inch-diameter) Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure with Kevlar tires; skidplates; an anti-glare hood decal; red front and rear towhooks; new Trailhawk and Trail Rated badges; a unique black interior with leather and suede performance seats; brushed piano-black appliques; a gun-metal finish on all interior painted parts; a steering-wheel Trailhawk badge; and red accent stitching on the seats, doors, and console.

Ramp and Track

The Trailhawk-version Quadra-Lift air suspension helped the Grand Cherokee earn a score of 375 on our 20 degree RTI ramp, which is a 14-point improvement over the air suspension-equipped Grand Cherokee Limited in our 2016 test. The Trailhawk’s 5.7L Hemi V-8 engine mated to the eight-speed automatic transmission helped power the Trailhawk through the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at a speed of 90.9 mph and from 0 to 60 mph in a time of 7.3 seconds. The Trailhawk’s four-wheel disc brakes helped to bring the SUV to a complete stop in only 132.8 feet from 60 mph.

Exterior/Interior

One judge said the styling of the Trailhawk looked “Mean and purposeful,” but visuals were only half the story. The other half is that the exterior design doesn’t contain hardly any fat that would impede off-road performance. Judges liked the plastic that is used at likely off-road contact points on the body of the Trailhawk, the ample skidplating, and the out-of-harms-way recessed tailpipes. Even the aluminum wheels garnered praise, with one judge noting, “Can’t go wrong with a five spoke wheel design.” Inside, judges loved the simplicity of the gauges. “Love the gauge cluster simplicity and logical way to access the digital info like trip, mileage, and so on.” We were also impressed at the attention to detail of functional interior features like the cargo area tie-downs, integrated flashlight, and 12V power port. Judges also noted that overall the Trailhawk had a quality feel with excellent fit and finish.

On-Road

Even though the Trailhawk was designed to excel off-road, it gave up nothing in on-road manners and performance. The steering was “well-balanced and dialed,” braking was “sure and predictable,” and power was “ample and smooth.” “The 5.7L Hemi backed with the eight-speed ZF transmission is one of the best combos in the industry today,” noted a judge. Judges had many positive things to say after experiencing the Trailhawk on twisty roads. Comments included, “Carves corners,” “No excess body roll,” and “Quick and spirited.” During testing, we encountered snow-covered and icy roads at high altitude, but the Trailhawk took it in stride. “Feels stable and predictable in snow and ice. Very secure,” noted a judge. In tight parking areas the Trailhawk impressed, with one judge calling it “the paring knife of parking,” referring to its easy-to-maneuver size, lack of huge overhangs, and visibility from the driver seat. It’s also worth noting that the Trailhawk returned a best tank 24.4 mpg during a highway section of testing. About the only thing we found annoying during on-road testing was some wind whistle from the outside mirrors at speed.

Off-Road

In the sand, the Trailhawk had a lot of “scootability,” on graded roads it was “surefooted and comfortable,” and on rocky trails it was “stable and agile.” The ride quality off-road was amazing, prompting a judge to write, “No head toss, filling rattling, or bad stuff.” The only hiccup in the Trailhawk’s performance was when trying to crawl our notorious loose-dirt hillclimb. The traction control system refused to send power to the wheels that needed it. However, we found that approaching the obstacle with a bit of momentum worked great. This led several judges to note that they wished the Trailhawk had a mechanical rear locker (the Trailhawk has an electronic limited-slip differential). Judges loved the adjustability of the Quadra-Lift air suspension to instantly increase the Trailhawk’s ground clearance and approach angle by simply pushing a button. The suspension still produces an annoying thud sound during full suspension downtravel when the system was raised to its maximum height (a trait we’ve complained about in the past). It’s apparently harmless, but we think it needs to be addressed on a vehicle of this luxury level. The Trailhawk’s 4WD mode selection was “fast and immediate” and low range locked in quickly. We also loved the rock sliders and ample skidplating, and the large, easy to use front towhooks. The traits that made the Trailhawk “the paring knife of parking” on-road carried over off-road. Judges’ notes included, “Especially maneuverable on narrow shelf trails with tight corners.” The Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure tires were failure-free and held up great during the test, but we’d love to see a more aggressive tire on the Trailhawk. We think it would add even more capability.

Bottom Line

The Trailhawk is like a mountain goat in a tuxedo. It has exceptional capability paired with great looks.

Logbook Quotes

“Just a pleasure to drive.”
“Rally car!”
“I want one!”
“I still want one!”

What’s hot: 5.7L Hemi and eight-speed transmission combo, Quadra-Lift air suspension adjustability, tight structure
What’s not: Quadra-Lift air suspension thud and rough ride at the highest setting, no rear mechanical locker
Our take: The 2017 SUV of the Year

GENERAL
Vehicle/model: ’17 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4
Base price: $43,095
Price as tested: $53,515
Options as tested: Customer Preferred Package 28J ($2,695), Jeep Active Safety Group ($1,495), 5.7L Hemi V-8 ($3,295), Rock Rails ($895), Uconnect 8.4 NAV ($450), Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection ($595), Destination Charge ($995)
ENGINE
Type: Chrysler 16-valve V-8
Displacement (ci/liter): 345/5.7
Bore x stroke (in): 3.92x3.58
Compression ratio (:1): 10.5
Intake/FI: Naturally aspirated, sequential multi-port electronic
Mfg.’s power rating @ rpm (hp): 360 @ 5,150
Mfg.’s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 390 @ 4,250
Mfg.’s suggested fuel type: Midrange unleaded recommended; regular unleaded acceptable
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission: ZF 845RE 8-spd automatic
Ratios (:1):
First 4.71
Second 3.14
Third 2.11
Fourth 1.67
Fifth 1.29
Sixth 1.00
Seventh 0.84
Eighth 0.67
Reverse 3.30
Axle ratio (:1): 3.09
Transfer case: MP 3022 2-spd
Low-range ratio (:1): 2.72
Crawl ratio (:1): 39.6
FRAME/BODY
Frame: Steel unibody
Body: Steel
SUSPENSION/AXLES
Front: Short- and long- arm independent, coil springs, twin-tube coilover shocks, steel upper- and aluminum lower-control arms, stabilizer bar/ZF 7.7-in
Rear: Multi-link, coil springs, twin-tube shocks (with load leveling for towing), aluminum lower control arm, independent upper links plus a separate toe link, stabilizer bar/ZF 7.7-in
STEERING
Type: Electric rack-and-pinion
Turns (lock-to-lock): 3.2
Ratio (:1): 16.7
BRAKES
Front: 13.8x1.3-in vented disc, two-piston caliper
Rear: 13.0x0.9-in vented disc, single-piston caliper
ABS: Four-wheel
WHEELS/TIRES
Wheels (in): 18x8.0
Tires: P265/60R18 Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure with Kevlar
FUEL ECONOMY
EPA city/highway: 14/22
Observed city/highway/trail: 15.7
DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Weight (lb): 5,154
Wheelbase (in): 114.8
Overall length (in): 189.8
Overall width (in): 76.5 (84.8 w/mirrors)
Height (in): 69.3
Track f/r (in): 63.9/64.1
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.2 (standard height), 10.4 (suspension position #2)
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft): 37.1
Approach/departure angles (deg): 26.2 (standard height) 36.1 (suspension position #2, air dam off)/24.0 (standard suspension), 27.1 (air suspension position #2)
Breakover angle (deg): 18.2 (standard height), 22.8 (suspension position #2)
GVWR (lb): 6,800
Payload (lb): 1,190
Maximum towing capacity (lb): 7,200
Seating: 5
Fuel capacity (gal): 24.6
PERFORMANCE
0-60 mph (sec): 7.3
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph): 15.6 @ 90.9
Braking 60-0 mph (ft): 132.8
Ramp Travel Index (20-deg, points): 375


How we test ’em

We began our weeklong SUV of the Year 2017 test in Los Angeles by measuring each vehicle’s ramp travel index (RTI) to determine suspension articulation. We then traveled to Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, California, where we used a RaceLogic Performance Box to gather acceleration and braking data. We then convoyed to the desert via paved roads, along the way gathering important data regarding ride, handling, and fuel efficiency, among other things. For the next three days, we spent time in every type of driving situation you can imagine. From stop-and-go city driving to wide-open highway. Since we’re off-road-centric, we spent the majority of time in the dirt, water, mud, sand, rocks, and snow. Each day of driving began shortly after sunup and ended well after sundown. We traveled to both high and low altitudes and we drove in the dark. On the last day, we made the trek back to the Los Angeles area, which completed the test. In the end, we drove each vehicle approximately 1,000 miles.

How we score ’em

Our scoring procedure utilizes five weighted categories. Here’s the breakdown: 30 percent Trail Performance (how a vehicle performs in a variety of wheeling environments and off-road-centric features like 4WD system operation, tires, traction aids, and so on), 25 percent Empirical (RTI, acceleration, braking, price, and so on), 20 percent On Pavement (handling, ride quality, steering feel, and so on) 15 percent Interior (instrumentation, ingress and egress, seat comfort, storage, and so on), and 10 percent Exterior (appearance, stance, body protection, and so on).


Final results

Grand Cherokee

Trail Performance: 21.46
Empirical: 21.11
On-Road Performance: 14.82
Interior: 10.79
Exterior: 7.17
Total: 75.36

Armada

Trail Performance: 16.97
Empirical: 23.75
On-Road Performance: 13.71
Interior: 9.77
Exterior: 4.57
Total: 68.78

Judges Picks

We asked the judges which one of the two vehicles in this year’s test they’d most like to own, and we asked ’em to pony up the reason why. Official scoring is irrelevant here—this is all about personal preference. Here’s what each judge chose.

Stuart Bourdon, Jp technical editor
I have to admit the Nissan Armada we tested performed well in the sand and snow, and it was quick. However, I remain firmly convinced that the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk would be the better choice for my driveway. It did very well in the snow and in the sand, and although it’s not made for hardcore rock-running, it performed exceptionally well on mild-to-moderate off-road trails. The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk also looked sharp and was enjoyable on the highway. I could commute in it, take it on long vacations, and have a good time with it in the dirt.

Ken Brubaker, Four Wheeler editor
The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is a great on- and off-road vehicle, but I like bigger rigs, and I’m a sucker for a body-on-frame SUV, so of these two rigs I have to give the thumbs-up to the Nissan Armada. The Armada earned my respect. It did remarkably well in almost every driving situation, and off-road, it went (and returned from) places that I never imagined. Also, since I tow stuff often, I also appreciate the Armada’s max trailer tow rating of 8,500 pounds and tongue weight max capacity of 850 pounds.

John Cappa, contributor
The competition between these two vehicles was a lot closer than I ever thought it would be. Regardless, I'd still pick the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. It's really the little things that swayed me to make this decision. In the end, I appreciated the easy-access tow points, off-road–worthy tires, adjustable ground clearance, real rocker guards, and the more user-friendly interior of the Jeep.

Matt Emery, Dirt Sports + Off-Road editor
Of everything we tested, the one vehicle that proved the biggest surprise for me was the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. Honestly, I didn’t have much thought about the SUVs either way when we first started out, but the Grand Cherokee proved to be a very capable off-road machine. In fact, it was amazingly good in the sand dunes and chugged up through rocks and snow without any trouble. It’s a good size for a trail vehicle—not too big and not too small—and it had good ground clearance. It has a good interior design, and the ergos were fine for everyday road driving. The seats were good (heated too, which was nice on the cold days), and the cargo area is big enough to carry plenty of stuff. The 4x4 system was easy to operate, and with 360 hp, the Jeep was quick, while still affording a reasonable mpg rating. I could see myself taking a Jeep Grand Cherokee home.

Christian Hazel, 4-Wheel & Off-Road editor
My decision was infinitely more cut and dry before I actually drove the Nissan. The Grand Cherokee’s styling, while at this point admittedly feeling a bit more evocative of last decade than next decade, just mops the floor with the Nissan. And looking past the Nissan's front styling that, frankly, reminds me of orthadontic night wear and rear styling that, well, let's just say you could paint it red and call the Armada the "baboon" edition, you get an incredibly comfortable and surprisingly luxurious interior that's quiet, smooth, refined, and enjoyable. And the on- and off-road performance surprised as well with very spirited acceleration and an off-road drive system that rivaled or bettered the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk in certain situations. But at the end of the day, despite the fact that it boasts one (or two based on layout) more seats than the Grand, I gotta go with the Jeep. I have not yet completely cashed in my youth, nor my man card. And when it came down to "which one would I rather be seen stepping out of by a group of my peers," the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk won hands-, headgear-, and baboon-ass-down.

Jake Headlee, contributor
Hands down the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. The Nissan Armada wasn’t terrible by any means, it just isn’t an off-roader. It is bigger than the Grand Cherokee and would make a good soccer-parent vehicle that can be used on basic rough roads to the cabin. The Trailhawk however is a Jeep by more than just name. There is a high level of comfort and control while tearing up dirt, sand, and snow. The terrain selection is easy and effective. The Trailhawk equals refined off-road fun.

Jerrod Jones, contributor
While I want to say that the Grand Cherokee was my automatic go-to for an SUV choice in this year’s testing (and it actually was), I changed my mind over the course of the test, being realistic with how I would personally use one of these two SUVs. The Nissan Armada—a vehicle I despised as the previous generation offering—is what I would purchase from the dealer right now. Its display of top-end power, comfort, decent stereo/climate control/creature comforts, and available cargo and passenger capacity made the Armada quickly grow on me. I even began to soften to the looks, which immediately offended me as “Mercedes-ish.”

Rick Péwé, Jp editor
My choice for the winner is hands down the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. Simply put, it’s the best bang for the buck in all areas. While it didn’t excel in every aspect, the comfort, power, convenience, and styling set it apart from the crowd. The Trailhawk package just looks right, and the added clearance, real rockers, and great tow points shows that it means business. I’d take this Jeep home in an instant, as it can crawl, tow, and wheel, while still be the family wagon.

Verne Simons, Four Wheeler technical editor
I never would have thought that the Nissan Armada would have even blipped the radar of my interest on Four Wheeler’s SUV of the year. It’s big and round, has independent suspension front and rear, and well, it’s a modern pedestrian SUV. I was wrong. It’s fast and confident on the road, nimble in the sand, a blast on dirt roads, and is a lot more capable than I ever would have thought it could be on the trail. This thing has no business performing as well as it does off-road. This was the Jeep’s competition to lose, and while it kicked butt almost everywhere, the Armada was nipping at its heels the whole time. Despite the Nissans epic performance, I fell in love with the size, interior, and racy look of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. Let’s face it, the Armada, while quicker and more capable off-road than expected, is kinda bulbous and big in a minivan kind of way. The Trailhawk is a rally car in SUVs clothing, a ball in the sand, comfortable on the highway, and surprisingly capable off-road. Having said that I wish the Grand had at least one locker (I like what lockers do off-road), and the Armada really was almost as capable in the dirt as the Grand—it still shocks me.

Harry Wagner, contributor
Coming into the test, I would have thought that the Trailhawk would be the runaway winner, but honestly this was closer than I thought. Both SUVs were a blast on backroads, but the big towhooks, Selec-Terrain system, rear electronic limited-slip, and air suspension of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk set it apart for me. While the Armada was comfortable and powerful, the smaller, nimbler Grand Cherokee makes sense for the type of wheeling and daily activity I would use it for. If I had a larger family my answer might be different.

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