Giant dinosaur SUVs still lumber down our streets, occasionally nudging aside slow-moving Honda Fits and flashing tailgates the size of billboards.
Call it the surprising survival of the biggest, against all fuel-economy odds.
None of these behemoths stands out quite like the 2019 Nissan Armada, an awkward but curiously likable T-Rex with all-wheel-drive capability and 13-mile-per gallon fuel economy.
Hey, maybe that’s why Nissan built the little electric Leaf, the zero-emissions yin to the profligate Armada’s yang – which, incidentally, outsold the Leaf by a 2-1 margin last year.
Even squarer and thicker looking than regular SUVs, the glowering Armada seemed a bit daunting at first glance, radiating something between ugly and avant-garde.
Every time I went to Tom Markup’s for a loaf of bread, lesser vehicles scurried for parking places 50 feet away from the beast.
At least, my dark-blue Armada Platinum Reserve model looked a little better than last year’s model, its headlights raised slightly to fit more cleanly next to a blunt mesh grille. (It is less dull-eyed and reptilian now.)
A long, lightly chiseled hood settled above the grille, capping thick front fenders dotted with cheesy fake “vents” to break up the expanse of sheet metal.
Huge flat doors, meanwhile, contributed extra mass to Rex’s 5,700-pound bulk, while a banquet table-shaped top kept everything seriously squared up.
Just to keep doubters like me off-balance, it rolled on polished multi-spoke 20-inch wheels wrapped with meaty 275-60 tires.
But as I discovered over the course of a week, the Armada’s vaguely militaristic body was just a big metal box containing the good stuff—a spirited 5.6-liter V-8, a well-sorted platform and a pretty decent interior.
In fact, I didn’t need much prodding to appreciate the thirsty, throaty 390-horse V-8 under its hood.
Tied to an intuitive seven-speed automatic, the husky V-8 made it abundantly clear that it could shove big boxes around like a Georgia longshoreman.
For whatever reason – tuning, perhaps – the Armada felt kind of soft when driven conservatively.
Pushed a little bit, though, the engine came alive, lifting the front fenders slightly and snarling past 5,000 rpm on its way to 60 mph in a fleet 6.4 seconds, according to Edmunds.com.
T-Rex can also tow 8,500 pounds – or roughly your neighbor’s Super Duty pickup.
I mean, how can you not like a bulky SUV that knows how to really truck?
As you might expect in an all-wheel-drive SUV based on a full-size pickup, the Armada moved around on city streets, but tended to absorb small bumps pretty gracefully.
At speed, it smoothed out and felt truly trip-friendly --capable of inhaling big concrete at 80 mph and even behaving pretty well in corners.
Although I hesitated to toss a 75-inch tall brute into a hard corner, I could tell from more moderate corners that the Armada leaned – no surprise there – but not excessively.
Likewise, its steering was slow and a tad truck-like, but it felt precise and tracked down the highway nicely.
Inside, the $68,000 Armada felt more upscale SUV than boxy truck, which was kind of a surprise, to be honest.
Once I got past the vehicle’s huge, outdated center-stack, I settled comfortably into its slick brown-leather seats wearing classy-looking perforated dark-gray centers.
A shallow dashboard in smooth black plastic set the tone, marred only by the garish center-stack, which was at least highly functional and offered switches and knobs for all the controls.
The upper dash wrapped around to the door-tops, its wood trim flowing into the doors and tying the two together.
Brown vinyl with orange stitching covered the Armada’s door centers, matching the orange stitching in the seats.
As is typical with full-size SUVs, the second-row captain’s chair bucket-seats provided expansive leg- and head-room, while the third row would be a fairly tight fit even for those of us who are vertically challenged.
My high-end Armada arrived with about $4,000 in options, including the Platinum Reserve package with its 20-inch wheels, and the two-tone leather seats ($3,000); as well as $450 for the second-row captain’s chairs and $315 for carpeted floor-mats.
Look, I agree that $68,000 is a serious pile of cash for an SUV that might scare some birds out of the sky, but a week after I had the Armada, I got a dark-blue Infiniti QX80 whose body, engine and transmission were virtually identical to the Armada. It cost $91,450.
I suppose you could contend that you’re getting 80 or 90 percent of the Infiniti for 75 percent of the cost.
Maybe more important, the Armada bristles with personality – something most Nissan vehicles seriously lack.
Just wear sunglasses when you wash it.
2019 Nissan Armada Platinum
- What I liked most: The lusty 5.6-liter V-8 and the Armada’s overall performance
- What I would change: I might send the Armada to Audi or Mazda for a style makeover
- Price as Tested: Base price, $47,100; as equipped in Platinum Reserve trim, $67,850
- Fuel economy: Rated at 13 miles per gallon in town, 18 on the highway and 15 mpg combined with filler on the left
- Official color: Hermosa Blue
- Odometer reading when tested: 1,954 miles
- Weight: 5,716 pounds
- Length-width-height: 208.9 inches long/79.9 inches wide/75.8 inches tall
- Fuel-tank capacity: 26 gallons
- Towing capacity: 8,500 pounds
- Spare tire: Full-size
- 2019 Armada Platinum Reserve in a few words: A fully capable, well-developed SUV that is more pleasant to drive than to look at
- Warranty: Three-year, 36,000-mile overall warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain protection
- Final assembly location: Yakuhashi, Japan
- Manufacturer’s website:
- E-mail me at [email protected]
- Up next: 2019 Toyota Corolla