NEWS

2021 Nissan Armada Real-World Fuel Economy: Thirsty but Worth It

nissan-armada-platinum-2021-01-exterior-front-angle-red-suv 2021 Nissan Armada Platinum | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

Big SUVs used to be ubiquitous and cheap. Nearly 20 years ago, the Detroit automakers couldn’t crank ‘em out fast enough for public demand. They were family cars, toy haulers, style statements and grocery getters — the thing to have instead of a typical sedan or coupe. But the Great Recession and fuel price spikes around 2009 put a quick end to that universal use. Instead, public demand shifted to new smaller crossover sport utilities: SUVs built on more efficient, better-handling car platforms. The big SUVs that remained got more fuel-efficient engines (Ford’s Expedition doesn’t even have a V-8 anymore), a lot more expensive and a lot harder to find.

But some full-size SUVs haven’t had that kind of modernization. One of them is the Nissan Armada.

Related: 2021 Nissan Armada Review: Incremental Improvements

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I tested the latest version of Nissan’s big boy, the V-8-powered 2021 Armada Platinum, and drove it on a lengthy road trip from the Cars.com Detroit bureau office in Ann Arbor, Mich., to a drive event in Nashville, Tenn. How did this luxurious SUV perform when called upon to be a highway cruiser, and can an old-school SUV still work in a modern, fuel-efficient world? 

nissan-armada-platinum-2021-05-exterior-rear-angle-red-suv 2021 Nissan Armada Platinum | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

The Ride

Nissan’s original Armada shared a platform with the North American Titan full-size pickup truck when the former was introduced for the 2004 model year. After a significant 12-year production run, the company switched it to its global SUV platform. That means the latest Armada is built off the global Nissan Patrol, a smaller full-size SUV than the original Armada but one that’s a bit more sophisticated in its manners. It still features a big, honkin’ V-8 engine however — a 5.6-liter unit that makes 400 horsepower and 413 pounds-feet of torque and is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive is optional on the Armada and came with my top Platinum trim test vehicle along with some hefty 22-inch machined-aluminum wheels. In a world where a lot of big SUVs and pickups are now getting 10-speed automatic transmissions, a seven-speed unit seems like it’s a bit behind the times, especially since the full-size Titan pickup now gets that same 400-hp V-8 but matches it to a standard nine-speed automatic gearbox.

As a result, the 2021 Armada with 4WD is EPA-rated to get just 13/18/15 mpg city/highway/combined, which is not great by any measure. A rear-drive Armada improves upon that somewhat with a 14/19/16 mpg rating, but the automaker’s Titan bests it considerably with a 16/21/18 mpg 2WD rating and a 15/21/18 mpg 4WD rating. Again, thank those two extra gears in the Titan’s transmission for the better (if not exactly stellar) results. 

nissan-armada-2021-14-engine--interior.jpg 2021 Nissan Armada | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

But despite how bleak that fuel economy rating must seem, it’s really not far off what full-size SUV competitors are also rated to get. The latest Chevrolet Tahoe with its top optional 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8 and 4WD is rated at just 14/19/16 mpg, merely 1 mpg better than the Armada. The all-new 2022 Jeep Wagoneer with its 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 and eight-speed automatic transmission comes in at 15/20/17 mpg, just 2 mpg better than the Armada. Ford’s Expedition is not available with a V-8, so its twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 is good for 17/22/19 mpg in 4WD form. 

The Nissan, Ford and Jeep all offer up only one powertrain. Chevy does offer two other powertrains on the 2021 Tahoe, however — a standard 5.3-liter V-8 rated at 16/20/18 mpg and a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder diesel engine rated at an impressive 20/26/22 mpg in 4WD form — so there are more fuel-efficient full-size SUV options available. 

The Route

Normally, my fuel-economy testing route is a 200-mile loop through southeast Michigan, combining a mix of about 30% urban stop-and-go and 70% steady highway speeds. But this time, I had a destination: Nashville. The drive stretched 1,250 miles from Ann Arbor down to Tennessee and back; a combination of steady highway driving and a few days of limited urban travel combined to form this mileage test. Speeds were always kept to within 5 mph of the posted limit and automatic air conditioning was used ‘cause Tennessee is hot, even in late September.

I also used cruise control on the long-distance highway portion of the trip. Some publications choose not to employ it, but I did for two reasons: First, you all use it, too; it’s a common feature for highway driving. Second, it does improve fuel economy by leveling out throttle applications on long distances, and that makes a difference over a long trip like this. The windows were always up and sealed, however, to give the big, blocky truck every aerodynamic advantage it could have (which ain’t much in a vehicle shaped like a single-family bungalow).

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nissan-armada-platinum-2021-09-instrument-panel-interior-suv 2021 Nissan Armada Platinum | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

The Results

During the 1,250 mile-trip, I used 71.4 gallons of gas, good for 18.3 mpg according to the Armada’s trip computer. However, this was slightly optimistic; manual calculation based on the amount of fuel I actually pumped put it at 17.5 mpg. That’s pretty much spot on for a trip that was almost overwhelmingly highway miles with a couple days of around-town jaunts thrown in. I would’ve hit the official EPA highway rating of 18 mpg if not for that stint of urban driving, and the 17.5 mpg calculated economy does best the Armada’s 15 mpg combined EPA rating.

So no, it’s not the most efficient vehicle on the market today. But its thirst is one of the trade-offs you make to enjoy the Armada’s smooth, quiet, comfortable ride on the highway. It absolutely eats up highway miles with its graceful stride, and despite the high seating position and top-heavy nature of this big SUV, it didn’t feel tippy or ponderous, instead impressing with good control and maneuverability. 

In terms of tech, the Armada has distance-keeping cruise control, but it doesn’t have much in the way of semi-autonomous driving aids beyond some lane departure warning, lane keep assist and blind spot warning and intervention systems as part of the Nissan Safety Shield 360, which is standard. For a road trip vehicle, the Armada excels at being an interstate cruiser — it’s just going to cost you at the pump for the privilege of its ability.

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

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