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Nissan Pathfinder Armada LE 4 x 4

Serious Contender

Nissan’s new Pathfinder Armada is Japan Inc.’s latest entry into the crowded full-size sport utility market.

When you enter a market late in the game, such as Nissan has done with its full-size Pathfinder Armada, whatever you’re selling better be good. As the adage goes: You either need to be first or be better. Otherwise, why bother, right?

It may be that the band of engineers at Nissan had this in the back of their collective brains when the conceived and built the Pathfinder Armada, an SUV comparable to Ford’s Expedition and Lincoln’s Navigator. The Armada is well-appointed and tows quite well. It’s smooth, refined and powerful. It is as good as it needs to be to compete in this market.

Like the Ford and the Lincoln, the Pathfinder Armada boasts independent front and rear suspension, which can be a blessing or a hindrance when towing a boat.

In the case of the Armada, it was a huge blessing. The independent rear afforded an excellent ride over all surfaces, even the kathump-kathump-kathump stretches of cement freeway all too common here in Southern California. The automatic leveling system also helped improve the truck’s steering manners when towing.

We did notice a few rattles in the early production version we tested, but those may be cleared up as the plant irons out the build process. However, it may be that the chassis isn’t as stiff it should be. In other words, as stiff as competing vehicles. We could detect the telltale high-frequency vibrations throughout the cabin when driving over ragged pavement.

That was about it as far as negative traits of the Armada. Other than that, it was an immensely competent and satisfying truck.
What made the truck so competent was its powertrain. The 5.6-liter 32-valve dual overhead cam V-8 made 305 horsepower at 4,900 rpm and a handy 385 foot-pounds of torque at a low and usable 3,600 rpm. Based on the 4.5-liter V-8 developed for Nissan’s Infiniti line of luxury cars, the new 5.6-liter featured a variable-length intake plenum. Where the rubber meets the road, that meant that there was still lots of pedal on tap at any legal speed.

The engine was coupled with a five-speed automatic transmission, which was nice for a couple of reasons. First, it felt highly refined, upshifting and downshifting quickly and quietly without bumping or banging. Gear changes were smooth and barely perceptible, even under load.

The gearbox also was fitted with a tow/haul button on the center console. Its operation was imperceptible. If we detected anything, it’s that it locked out fifth gear on the freeway. With a trailer in tow, the Armada chugged along at 2,100 rpm at 60 mph. Without a boat, the same speed registered a mere 1,600 rpm in fifth gear.

Heading up a 7 percent grade about 2 miles long with a trailer in tow, the Armada held 60 mph in third gear at about 3,300 rpm. At one point, we had to slow for traffic, then resume the hill climb. In an impressive show of brute strength, the Armada kicked down into second gear and accelerated back up to 60 mph in short order. Nice.

So for towing, it’s hard to find a reason not to recommend the Armada. With the towing package, it’s capable of hauling up to 9,100 pounds.

Even better, the Armada makes a good daily driver. It’s easy to drive with lots of room for a family, amenities that make road trips fun and the benefit of elegant simplicity in its features.

For example, the front seats featured six-way electric adjustment—part of the LE sunroof package which also included a sunroof, obviously, and a power lift gate. Seat comfort was outstanding because there was enough thigh support, even for our tallest staffers.

Though we panned the Lincoln Navigator’s power lift gate as “awkward and silly,” the Armada’s system was much better, so much so that we’d actually pony up for it with the option package. Rather than using a motor-driven ring and pinion at the hinge points, a la Navigator, the Armada’s power unit had the motor tucked inside the trim of the D-pillar and used an arm to pull the door closed. The system worked much better and felt as if it would last longer than the warranty.

We also liked the third-row seats, which flipped down to create a flat load floor and lifted up with one hand. The second-row seats were split into thirds and could be configured to accommodate cargo and crew as necessary. They too folded flush to lengthen the flat load floor. Operating them was simple and most functions could be performed with one hand, which would be useful if your other hand was holding, say, a child or a bag of groceries.

The second row also was especially roomy. In the ubiquitous self-behind-self test, we found enough leg room in the rear seat even when the front seat was all the way back. Nissan claims to have the “longest regular wheelbase and more second-row leg room than any full-size SUV.” Well, obviously the wheelbase is shorter than a Suburban or an Excursion but the rear legroom is substantial.

Come to think of it, that’s a fitting description for the truck, on the whole. It’s a serious contender that may just get the attention of manufacturers who’ve been in the market awhile. Buyers, too.

SPECIFICATIONS

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy Estimates
City 13 mpg
Highway 18 mpg

ACCELERATION
0-60 towing... 17.69 seconds
40-60 towing… 9.24 seconds
0-60 non-towing... 9.01 seconds
40-60 non-towing… 5.12 seconds

POWERTRAIN
Engine... 5.6-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8 engine
Horsepower... 305 @ 4,900 rpm
Torque... 385 ft./lbs. @ 3,600 rpm
Compression ratio... NA
Transmission... 5-speed automatic

CHASSIS
Axle ratio... NA
Fuel capacity... 28 gal.
Tire size... P265-70R-18
Brakes... Four-wheel disc with antilock and electronic brake force distribution.
Suspension... Front: independent double wishbone; Rear: independent double wishbone.
Tow rating... 9,100 lb.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating... NA
Gross Combined Weight Rating... NA

DIMENSIONS
Overall length... 206.9"
Maximum width... 78.8"
Wheelbase... 123.2"
Curb weight... 5,290 lb.
Base price...$40,600
Price as tested... $42,850

TRAILER TOWED
1994 24’ Nordic
7,500 lbs.

INFORMATION
Customer service... 800-NISSAN-6s
Web site... www.nissanusa.com

 

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