When Nissan created its first full-size sport-utility vehicle, the Pathfinder Armada, it did so in the traditional way, using the platform of its full-size Titan pickup. Although there’s now a new Titan pickup from which a new full-size ute could be spun, Nissan decided that worldwide volume for big, body-on-frame SUVs—which sell pretty much only in North America and the Middle East—could be accommodated by consolidating its offerings around the international-market Nissan Patrol.The styling changes from the Infiniti are evident mostly up front, where the Armada adopts a Nissan family face. And while we might have hoped to see the QX80’s chrome fender trim disappear here, the driver’s-side vent is actually functional (as an engine air intake), so the vents stay.Peek inside the luxurious cabin and you might not notice any changes at all from the Infiniti. Padded surfaces abound, hard plastic has been all but banished, and the new Armada marks a wholesale upgrade in interior finery over its predecessor. Even the base SV comes with navigation, a 13-speaker Bose stereo, dual power seats, and a backup camera. The SL adds leather, power operation for the third-row seats, a power liftgate, and 20-inch wheels. The Platinum, tested here, brings a sunroof, heated and cooled front seats, seat heaters for the second row, and dual rear-seat entertainment screens, among other niceties. The Platinum also gets a full spate of driver-assist technologies, which are optional on the midline SL.While luxe, the new cabin is smaller than before in most dimensions, although some of the previous model’s space was largely wasted and served only to make the driver feel buried in a vast, plastic cavern. The new Armada doesn’t feel as huge from behind the wheel, and it affords decent sightlines from the driver’s seat. We also like that Nissan wisely supplements the standard touchscreen with plenty of physical buttons and knobs.The second row is narrower than before but still offers generous head- and legroom. The standard third row is notably more cramped, having lost almost four inches of legroom and more than three inches of shoulder room from the previous model. Nissan still optimistically provides three seatbelts, but the cushion is low to the floor and footroom is tight.The cargo space also has shrunk from 20 cubic feet to 17 behind the third row. The full-size spare is tucked well up underneath for a better departure angle and, as a result, the load floor is nearly waist high. You’ll find a more livable third row in the Ford Expedition and more cargo space in some three-row crossovers, such as the Ford Explorer and the Buick Enclave.No crossover, however, can match the 8500-pound tow rating for all versions of the body-on-frame Armada. And a crossover isn’t likely to be as capable off-road—even though the Armada isn’t quite as hard-core in this regard as its foreign-market sibling. While the Patrol is a real rival to the Toyota Land Cruiser, with features such as locking front and rear ­differentials, those were left behind in the trip stateside (on the QX80 as well).The Armada does come with a two-speed transfer case and a skid plate under the radiator and offers 9.1 inches of ground clearance. We trundled around a short off-road course with ramps and staggered breakovers steep enough to put a wheel—or two—off the ground, and the vehicle made it through without getting stuck or suffering any expensive scraping sounds.A revised version of Nissan’s 5.6-liter Endurance V-8, which was already under the QX80’s hood, slots in here. With the addition of direct injection and variable intake-valve lift and timing, output jumps from 317 horsepower to 390, and torque swells from 385 pound-feet to 394. Those figures are still shaded by the Infiniti’s 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet, so the corporate hierarchy is maintained. The Armada uses the same control-arm front and independent rear suspension as the QX80, with steel springs (although the Infiniti’s optional hydraulic body-motion control system is not offered here). We’re told the Infiniti is tuned for a plusher ride, but the Nissan feels pretty soft, too. It smothers bumps, even on 20-inch wheels, and while we noted a bit of floatiness, it’s far from unpleasant overall. But overboosted steering saps driver confidence, as there is no buildup of effort as you crank it off-center.The new Armada lacks the cavernous cabin feel offered by most American big-box SUVs, and while it may seem more akin to the Toyota Land Cruiser, it can’t match that vehicle’s off-road heroics. But at an opening bid of $45,395 for an SV with two-wheel drive, the Armada is nearly $19,000 less expensive than the QX80, and even the Platinum tops out under the Infiniti’s $64,245 starting figure. That’s not as cheap as the outgoing model, but it’s still something of a bargain among big SUVs, especially given the Armada’s newfound refinement, which is positively Infiniti-like.

 

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