The muscular new Pathfinder Armada is late to the full-size sport-utility vehicle market, but is so deftly designed that it favorably compares with veteran players from General Motors, Ford and Toyota.

The Armada not only is roomy and comfortable—it's also surprisingly fast and has athletic handling and a smooth ride. It should make rivals more than a little nervous.

Name Game
Forget the "Pathfinder" part of the Armada's name because it's based on Nissan's big new Titan pickup truck, not the automaker's veteran midsize Pathfinder sport ute. The Pathfinder name just was added to give the Armada better name recognition.

The Armada looks plenty tough, with rugged styling that matches its imposing size. It is nearly 207 inches long, making it about a foot shorter than a Chevrolet Suburban and nearly the same length as a Ford Expedition.

Full-size sport utes are "living-large" vehicles, so it shouldn't be surprising that the Armada weighs 5,013-5,327 pounds.

Surprisingly Fast
However, the Armada is surprisingly quick for its size and weight. It can streak to 60 mph in about 7 seconds, making it among the fast sport utes of any size.

Power comes from a sophisticated 5.6-liter V8 with dual overhead camshafts and 32 valves. The engine produces 305 horsepower and gobs of torque. With an optional towing package, it lets the Armada tow a class-leading 9,100-pounds.

Responsive Transmission
A five-speed automatic transmission helps acceleration. It's a responsive unit, which upshifts as if in a luxury sedan and downshifts quickly.

The transmission also helps the engine loaf at 75 mph and has tow-haul modes for enhanced performance and fuel efficiency—besides a first-in-class gated floor-mounted shifter for better shift control when towing.

All that power and weight result in low fuel economy: an estimated 13 mpg in the city and 18-19 mpg on the highway. If it's any consolation, only regular-grade gasoline is needed and the 28-gallon fuel tank allows an acceptable highway cruising range.

Sporty Handling
You might not know it by looking at the Armada, but it's got sporty handling for a large body-on-frame sport ute that is not car-based. For instance, curves can be taken briskly with little body sway.

Steering is quick and occupants enjoy a smooth ride because the Armada substitutes an independent suspension for the Titan's rigid rear axle. The Armada's rear suspension also allows room for a third-row seat, which consumers consider mandatory for a full-size sport ute.

The brake pedal has a nice linear action, and stopping distances are short.

Three Trim Levels
The Armada comes with rear- or 4-wheel drive with low range gearing for rugged off-road driving. There are three trim levels: SE, SE Off-Road and top-line LE.

No matter what trim level, the Armada provides Texas-style room. It holds up to eight occupants with an elevated third-row seat. The second- and third-row bench seats fold nearly flush with the floor to greatly enlarge the cargo area—without the need to remove headrests. Available second-row bucket seats also fold flat, as does the front passenger seat.

High Step-In
However, getting in and out of the tall Armada's first- and second-row seats calls for extra effort and full use of the running boards, which are fairly wide. And the third-row seat calls for above-average nimbleness to reach. That seat is fairly roomy for adults, but should provide more thigh support.

Front door handles are unusually large, as are interior door handles. The rear exterior handles are too high off the ground in roof pillars—a good styling touch for a smaller, car-like sport ute but not practical for the Armada.

High Load Floor
The two-piece tailgate is handy, but the high load floor can make it hard to load and unload cargo. Cargo space is modest with all seats in their normal positions, but it's more than generous with them flipped forward. Still, you must climb into the cargo area or enter the Armada through a rear door to return the folded third-row seat back to its regular position.

Matching the rugged exterior is a no-nonsense interior, which has easily read gauges and large controls.

Those with shorter arms will find they must stretch a little to reach parts of the dashboard. And the driver power window and mirror controls are set too high for easy use on the driver's door even for those with long arms; that's a glitch that should have been caught early in the design phase of this truck.

There's many beverage holders and storage areas throughout the Armada, which has rear windows that roll all the way down. Visibility provides a "king-of-the-road" feel from the comfortable driver's seat, and rear visibility is helped by large outside mirrors.

Well Equipped
The SE has enough standard equipment to make most people happy. Such items even include power adjustable pedals and a rear-obstacle detection system. The SE Off-Road adds an off-road suspension and skid plates for protection of under-body components when driving off pavement.

Standard for the LE are heated front seats and second-row bucket seats with a unique removable center console. This is the only trim level offered with an optional ($600) power tailgate.

Rear-Seat Entertainment
Extras include a DVD rear-seat entertainment system to keep the children quiet, navigation system and satellite radio. Others are a sunroof package that costs from $1,000 to $3,350, depending on the trim level.

Big sport utes appear to be among the safest vehicles because of their sheer size and weight. But the Armada supplies plenty of standard safety equipment, including supplemental curtain airbags for side-impact and roll-over protection for all rows of seats. Side-impact front-row airbags are standard for the SE Off-Road and LE—optional for the SE.

There also are standard anti-skid and traction control systems and anti-lock brakes with a brake-assist feature for surer stops in emergencies.

The Armada is made in a new $1.43 billion facility in Mississippi. Nissan is optimistic about sales of its new sport ute, which should have no problem attracting plenty of buyers.

MSN Autos

© 2009 Microsoft

Related Articles & Car Reviews

Find Cars for sale near you:

Research by Vehicle Type

  • Convertible
  • Coupe
  • Hatchback
  • Hybrid
  • Luxury
  • Sedan
  • SUV
  • Truck
  • Van/Minivan
  • Wagon

Shopping Tools

For Sale on Autotrader.com

Please enter your ZIP to see prices and listings near you.

Loading Ajax Content Loading Ajax Content