Orlando Sentinel's view

Old school: That was my first thought after a few miles in the 2010 Nissan Armada sport-ute. It had been awhile since I’d driven a huge, traditional, truck-based, body-on-frame, V-8-powered SUV, and it didn’t take long to rekindle that love-hate relationship.

Love, because an SUV such as the Armada Platinum is arguably the most versatile vehicle you can buy: Leather-clad luxury, every safety feature you’d want, three rows of seating, Bose stereo with a rear-mounted DVD player; the ability to go off-road with high- and low-range four-wheel-drive, and the muscle to tow 9,000 pounds.

Hate, because this thing is big. Huge. And heavy, and thirsty – an EPA-rated 12 miles per gallon in the city, 18 mpg on the highway – and no fun at all to drive on winding back roads.

For many customers, big SUVs such as the Armada, one of the most appropriately named models ever, have a very specific job to do, and do it better than any other vehicle you can buy. But if the job you need doing is to provide simple day-to-day transportation for one or two people, you probably don’t need a 5,841-pound, 317-horsepower vehicle to do it.

Even for its size, the Armada is not the most nimble big SUV available. There’s quite a bit of body lean in corners, brakes are spongy, and steering is over-boosted. The ride is quite good, and highway manners are excellent.

Inside, the Armada is comfortable, obviously roomy and accommodating. Instruments are easy to read, controls easy to reach. The 5.6-liter V-8 engine, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, really can’t be faulted. Off-road, the powertrain has plenty of grunt, and the 20-inch tires work reasonably well in the mud, but this isn’t exactly a mountain goat.

The test Armada is the top-of-the-line Platinum edition, which comes with virtually every feature you night want: The only option was $220 worth of mats, which brought the total price to $53,190, not cheap but not out of line with comparable models.

As you might expect, the future of some of the full-sized SUVs is in question, given gas prices and the sagging economy, and the future of the Armada may be even cloudier. It’s based on the Nissan Titan truck platform, and both are built in the Nissan plant in Mississippi. But present plans suggest the next-generation Titan will be built in Mexico on the Dodge Ram platform, which could likely leave the Armada out in the cold.

In the first seven months of 2009, Nissan has built only about 3,100 Armadas, less than a third of the number built during that same period last year.

It’s the right vehicle for a lot of people, at the absolute wrong time. Get ’em while they’re cold.

2010 Nissan Armada

Base price: $52,190

Price as tested: $53,190

EPA rating: 12 miles per gallon city driving, 18 mpg highway

Details: Front-engine, four-wheel-drive SUV with a 5.6-liter, 317-horsepower V-8 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission.

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