It’s January, and I’m driving a 2021 Nissan Armada Midnight Edition to Eldora Ski Resort for a day of gear testing. I pull up to the parking attendant, who looks at me, looks at the huge vehicle I am driving, and earnestly says “Nice vehicle. It’s like…a yacht?”
I’m not accustomed to receiving compliments on vehicles very often and this one took me a little by surprise. But, I have to hand it to Nissan, for a generally enormous SUV, the 2021 Armada, especially the Midnight Edition, does look pretty slick. I had the chance to drive a pre-production model for a few days, and while I don’t think I fit into the target demographic, I generally enjoyed the experience.
Let’s dive into my impressions of the 2021 Nissan Armada.
2021 Nissan Armada Midnight Edition
The 2021 Armada Midnight Edition I tested is essentially a black-out appearance package, and as you’d expect. Of course, the interior is black-on-black. The exterior trim includes black logos, black painted mirrors (heated, power adjust and fold, auto-dimming, reverse linked with puddle lights and LED turn signals), black painted roof rails, rear LED lamps with black paint finish, a black painted grille, and black painted front and rear skid plates.
The leather and soft-touch surfaces were lovely and plush feeling. The heated seats got rip-roaring warm in just a couple of blocks after a cold start in 20-degree weather. It’s a nice interior than last year’s Armada, and overall makes for a lovely space to spend time sitting and chatting with family. It’s quiet, and Nissan has done a good job of bringing its big SUV squarely into 2021.
Nissan updated the looks nicely for 2021, which the Armada desperately needed. A squared-off front end and sloping headlights out front give way to a new bumper and taillights out back. The all-black 2021 Armada Midnight Edition is a good looking vehicle, as much as a 7-passenger SUV can be. As the parking attendant alluded, it’s more “yacht” than “boat.” It’s a big SUV, yes, but it’s not bad looking.
2021 Armada: Driving Impressions
Nissan engineers squeezed an extra 10 hp and 19 lb.-ft. of torque out of its 5.6L V-8 for a total of 400 hp and 413 lb.-ft. of torque. All that power gets delivered to the wheels through a 7-speed automatic transmission. So, how do those numbers translate to the real world? In a word, well. Let me tell you a brief story to illustrate.
The Armada is a really big vehicle. It weighs somewhere between 5,700 and 6,000 pounds, not including passengers and gear. But when I saw those bold “V-8” symbols on the side, I had to let my foot get a little heavy.
The drive between Denver and Eldora Ski Resort follows a winding canyon. The twisty, curvy 2-lane road seems more fit to a nice sports car or even a motorcycle test. But, given a beautifully sunny winter day and dry roads, I found myself braking into turns and accelerating out a little more aggressively than one might expect for a family SUV. Sun shining and music blasting, I found myself grinning as I pushed the lumbering beast into turns. Sure, it would have been more fun in a Mustang or Miata, but I still had a great time. And to me, this was pretty surprising.
For a large SUV, the Armada has a lot of pep in its step and handles quite well. And if you need the size and space for a large crew, well, the pilot still gets to enjoy the journey, at least as much as the platform allows.
Of course, there is a huge penalty for the punchy motor: The Armada glugs through gas at an atrocious 13–14 mpg city /18–19 mpg highway. As my dad has always been fond of saying of big SUVs, “it’ll pass anything but a gas station.”
More Useful Tech
For 2021, Nissan gave the mid-cycle Armada a number of refreshes that improve safety, comfort, and technology onboard.
First, let’s discuss the 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen. The crisp, bright screen is easy to navigate. It’s easily readable even with polarized sunglasses. I connected my phone and used it, as well as the XM Satellite, to boom some tunes on my drive to Eldora. The Bose stereo produces excellent audio thanks to 13 speakers. I didn’t need to push it past about 60 percent of its max power to drown out my thoughts and out-of-key singing. It’s loud, clear, and well balanced.
Among updates, Nissan expanded standard driver-assist technology. I easily figured out how to navigate the controls, and turned on adaptive cruise control for a test to a sporting clays range on the other side of Denver from my home. It worked really well, keeping pace with traffic at a comfortable distance. Other driver’s aids, like blind-spot monitoring, were logical and easy to use.
The model I tested came outfitted with both a backup camera and a “bird’s eye view.” Pop it into reverse, and these cameras display in tandem on the center console. For parallel parking in a small space in the city, I found this incredibly helpful. And even in a ski resort parking lot, the bird’s eye view was wonderfully useful in giving space to other vehicles and pedestrians swinging around skis and other potentially paint-scratching gear.
2021 Nissan Armada: The Bad
While the Armada strikes me as a good vehicle, I had some criticisms right off the bat.
First, the third-row seating is, for adults, ridiculous. I’m 5’8″ and 150 pounds — not exactly big. But even I found my knees bumping my chest in the tight space afforded in the third-row. For anyone other than young children or very small adults, it’s not comfortable. Sure, it’ll do for short rides around town. But for a road trip, well, it’s like riding in the back of a sportscar.
Next, I was puzzled about the second-row, back seats. Thanks to the (very nice) center console design of the back seats, there is only space for two passengers in the second-row. And there is no way to turn the center console into a seat in this edition. I found this design wasteful. You’re requiring “wayback” seating for any more than 4-passengers, and as I noted, the third row is tiny. Compounding this problem, if you have 5-people, you can’t use all the storage space in the back, because you have to use the third row.
While yes, this is a big vehicle, it’s not that big. I imagine that you would quickly run out of space if you took 5-adults on a downhill ski trip, and would likely require exterior rack space. This wouldn’t likely be a problem if you could use the full second-row.
But I suppose it’s a matter of compromise. For 4-people, you’ll be very comfortable, and you have the option of carrying up to three more people.
2021 Nissan Armada Review
Therein is the benefit of the Armada. It’s a big vehicle that can carry a lot of passengers. And thanks to its 4WD capabilities it should get you up to that ski area whether it’s a bluebird day or a full-on blizzard. Just be sure to top off that tank before you head up the mountains, as you’re going to need all the dino juice this big SUV can hold.
The 2021 Nissan Armada pricing ranges from $48,500 for the 2WD S model, up to $67,900 for the 4WD Platinum. The 2021 Nissan Armada Midnight Edition 4WD I tested had a sticker price of $62,285, with $1,900 of that being the Midnight Edition package.
Learn more about the new Armada and find a local dealer at Nissan.com.