Poised for a 2020 freshening, how will 2019 Nissan Armada maintain its appeal?

2019 Nissan Armada

2019 Nissan Armada

What changes will make the 2019 Nissan Armada different?

Nothing of significance, as Nissan prepares its sport-utility flagship for a model-year 2020 freshening. The 2019 Armada will continue as a full-size, body-on-frame SUV with luxury amenities that nudge it surprisingly close to the more expensive QX80 from Nissan’s premium Infiniti brand. Both vehicles in fact are derived from the Nissan Patrol, a rugged SUV sold in overseas markets. In the U.S., they’re pitched as upscale wagons with brawny V-8 engines and seating for up to eight.

Armada sales more than doubled following its model-year 2017 transition from an even larger but far less sexy SUV based on Nissan’s full-size Titan pickup truck. The growth continued through early 2018, with sales up another 14 percent. Still, Armada sales trail those of the rival Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, Ford Expedition, and GMC Yukon. It does, however, outsell the Toyota Sequoia, as well as the QX80, which competes in the premium-full-size SUV segment.

Why should I wait for the 2019?

No compelling reason is evident, although we’d hold out hope Nissan would liberalize availability of top safety features. Specifically, it ought to make forward-collision warning and autonomous emergency braking standard on all trim levels. For 2018 these driver assists, along with blind-spot warning, were standard only on the two most expensive of the four Armada grades; they were optional or unavailable on the less costly trims. More details below in the “Will it have new features?” section.

Otherwise, expect a new color choice or two, perhaps some standard-equipment shuffling. The 2019 Armada won’t change materially from the 2018, and it’ll be on the cusp of an expected model-year 2020 freshening. That update is likely to concentrate on minor styling tweaks; it won’t alter Armada’s dimensions, general shape, or basic engineering. However, the ’19 will almost certainly be priced higher than the ’18, so you’d be asked to pay more for a fundamentally unchanged SUV. On the upside, Nissan and its dealers probably will be offering better-than-usual late-model-year price cuts on 2019 Armadas to clear inventories before the freshened ‘20s arrive.

Expect the 2019 lineup to repeat the ’18 roster of base SV, uplevel SL, plush Platinum, and plusher Platinum Reserve models. With base prices in the $45,000-$66,000 range, these will again be well-equipped SUVs, with such features as a navigation system included across the board and amenities like leather upholstery, a power-folding third-row seat, and 20-inch alloy wheels standard on all but the SV.

Should I buy a 2018 model instead?

If you want a strikingly styled SUV with a notably upscale cabin that’s unfortunately not quite as roomy as the exterior bulk might suggest. More details on that below, but if the flashy ’18 fits your bill, why pay more for a ’19 that’ll look identical and have the same performance and features? Buying a ’18 will get you the same sturdy, Patrol-based construction that’s proven itself in international war zones. Armada is old-school beneath the skin: it’s among the few remaining sport-utility vehicles built like a truck, with a separate chassis, rather than like a crossover, with a car-type unified body/frame structure.

Once, virtually all SUVs were body-on-frame. Today, the list is relatively short. Within Armada’s competitive set, there’s the Tahoe and Suburban (and their GMC Yukon and Yukon XL cousins), the Expedition and longer Expedition Max, and the Sequoia. Most drivers don’t need the heavy-duty capabilities of a true SUV – hence the overwhelming popularity of crossovers such as Nissan’s own Pathfinder, a seven-seater that’s more space-efficient and fuel-efficient than the Armada. But Armada’s V-8 power, rear-wheel-drive-based handling augmented by genuine four-wheel drive, and 8,500-pound towing capacity are a combination of attributes mainstream crossovers cannot deliver.

Will the styling be different?

There could be a new color choice or two but expect the ’19 Armada to be visually identical to the ’18. It’s an attractive visage, handsomely proportioned and with just enough interesting detail, such as front-fender vents that actually are functional air intakes. This is a large vehicle, longer overall than the Expedition, Tahoe, Yukon, and Sequoia.

Differentiation among ’19 Armada trim levels should remain minor, with wheel design and diameter – 18 inches on the SV, 20 on the others – one main distinction. Others include fog lamps as optional on the SV and standard on the others, while all but the SV should again come with chrome mirrors that are heated and house puddle lamps. Added as the new top grade for model-year 2018, the 2019 Platinum Reserve will again build on the Platinum with exclusive “Dark Chrome” grille, wheels, and exterior trim. Inside, it’ll return with unique two-tone leather upholstery and stitching, its own faux-wood accents, and a center-console lid embossed with the “Platinum Reserve” emblem.

That’s a step up from Armada’s already impressive cabin. All models will continue to feature a blend of strong, upright shapes with sophisticated contours. Gauges are unobstructed, controls clearly marked and easily accessible. The infotainment screen that serves the nav system is mounted nice and high, but, at 8-inches diameter, is small given the Armada’s scale and the larger displays on most rivals. Solid-feeling materials and lots of insulation from road, wind, and engine noise enrich the ambience.

Seating for eight is standard and all models comes with a 60/40 split/folding third-row, with power folding optional on the SV and standard on the others. In the Platinum and Platinum Reserve, the second-row bench can be optionally replaced by a pair of captain’s chairs, reducing capacity to seven (and sacrificing these models’ second-row seat heaters). In any configuration, there’s generous room in front and good but not exceptional space in the second two row.

Third-row seating is extremely difficult to access and very cramped once aboard. That’s acceptable if you consider the Armada an expressive five-seater with occasional accommodations for two additional little kids. But it’s a deal-breaker if you expect it to serve as a genuine seven- or eight-passenger family vehicle. For that, check out the roomier third rows in the Expedition and Sequoia, and even in Nissan’s own Pathfinder. Cargo volume is just below average among direct competitors, through at 49.9 cubic feet behind the second row and 95.4 cubic feet aft of the front buckets, it’s still generous. A power liftgate is optional on the SV and standard on the others; for 2019, Nissan ought to find a way to give it hand’s-free operation.

Any mechanical changes?

No. All 2019 Armadas will again share engineering and powertrain with the QX80. The only engine will be a 5.6-liter V-8, here expected to remain at 390 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque, versus 400 and 413, respectively, in the QX80. A seven-speed automatic should remain the sole transmission and all models will again be available with a choice of rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive (4WD).

Nissan calls this 4WD system All-Mode All-Wheel Drive. It provides the driver a center-console control that allows the system to automatically switch from rear-drive to 4WD based on sensors set to maintain traction on both dry and slippery surfaces. Like the all-wheel-drive systems typically found on crossover SUVs, All-Mode All-Wheel Drive can remain engaged even on dry pavement. But unlike crossover systems, it also includes locked-in 4WD “high” and 4WD “low” settings. The latter suits severe off-road conditions and teams with Armada’s generous 9.2-inch ground clearance for impressive all-terrain grip. Snow and tow modes also are provided.

Acceleration should again feel robust from any speed, and the driver can toggle upshifts and downshifts from a console-mounted transmission lever that slips easily into an adjacent gate. Armada will remain a companionable cruiser, helped by all-independent suspension that maintains an even keel at highway speeds and easily absorbs most bumps and ruts, even on the 20-inch tires. Too bad we can also expect steering feel to remain light and vague. And the tall build and sheer mass are likely to continue to contribute to noseplow and body lean if you attempt to take even routine turns at more than a moderate pace. To be fair, that behavior is part and parcel of the body-on-frame, full-size-SUV experience.

Will fuel economy improve?

With powertrain and aerodynamics unaltered, expect the 2019 Armada’s EPA ratings to mirror those of the 2018 model. That leaves ‘19 Armada owners saddled with another old-school-SUV reality: abysmal fuel economy. Nissan’s big rig is even worse than most, with the ’19 model expected to again rate 14/19/16 mpg city/highway/combined with rear-wheel drive and 13/18/15 with 4WD. Oddly, the heavier and more powerful QX80 rated higher for 2018, at 14/20/16 mpg rear-drive and 13/19/15 4WD.

Among direct Armada competitors, only the Sequoia had lower 2018 EPA ratings: 13/17/15 mpg with rear-drive and 13/17/14 with 4WD. It’s no coincidence that Armada and Sequoia are the oldest designs in the segment, the Nissan based on a circa-2010 Patrol and the Toyota last redesigned for model-year 2008. By comparison, the redesigned-for-2018 Expedition has EPA ratings of 17/23/19 mpg rear-drive and 16/21/18 – and that’s for the massive, extended length Expedition Max model. Expedition offers power comparable to Armada’s, but benefits from a newer design that weighs less and is roomier than the Nissan.

Will it have new features?

There may be some minor equipment shuffling among models, but new features are unlikely. The model-year-’18 addition of the Platinum Reserve capitalized on the market’s appetite for even more luxury, even among non-luxury brands. Wait for the model-year 2020 freshening to see how far upmarket Nissan might push the Armada while still maintaining some distance between it and the even more opulent QX80.

For ’19, expect every Armada to again include as standard heated power front seats with power lumbar, with the Platinum and Reserve versions adding cooled front seats, and, along with the SL, leather upholstery. We’re impressed that even the base SV comes with the navigation system. But you’ll again need to move to an SL or a Platinum or Reserve for access to the sorts of amenities typically expected in vehicles like this, and most Armada buyers do.

For example, the 2019 SL should again build on the SV with such standard features as a power tilt/telescope steering column, remote engine start, the power liftgate, and Nissan’s Around View Monitor. The Platinum and Reserve will again include all that, plus plush leather door trim, a rear DVD entertainment system with dual 7-inch headrest displays. A power moonroof is likely to again be unavailable on the SV, optional on the SL, and standard on the Platinum and Reserve.

Among the few options, the 2019 list should again include the Driver Package ($600 for 2018) that adds to the SV fog lights, power liftgate, power-folding third-row seats, among other upgrades. Substituting the second-row captain’s chairs should again add just $450 to a Platinum or Reserve. A power moonroof – though not a panoramic moonroof — should return as standard on the Platinum and Reserve and optional on the SL.

As for safety features, Nissan offered the 2018 Armada with all the key driver assists, just not as standard on every trim level. That’s at odds with the automaker’s laudable decision to make autonomous emergency braking standard on virtually all its 2018 cars and crossovers. The system can warn the driver of an impending frontal collision and automatically slow and then stop the vehicle to mitigate damage and injury.

On the ’18 Armada, autonomous emergency braking – with the ability to stop the vehicle even when reversing — was standard on the Platinum and Reserve and part of the $2,200 Premium Package for the SL. In all cases, it was accompanied by blind-spot warning and by adaptive cruise control that maintains a set distance from traffic ahead. Exclusive to the Platinum and Reserve was Nissan’s Blind Spot Intervention system, which can apply counter-steering if you’re about to change lanes into the path of an unseen vehicle, as well as lane-departure warning with automatic lane-maintaining steering correction.

How will 2019 prices be different?

Base prices are almost certain to increase, and given healthy demand, Nissan may feel confident with a greater-than-usual bump. They increased an average of 5 percent for returning 2018 models, while the Platinum Reserve was priced more than 9 percent higher than the previous flagship Premium model. Still, the 2019 Armada should remain competitively priced against direct rivals. Estimated base prices here include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $1,295 on the ’18 Armada.

Estimated base prices for the 2019 Armada SV are $49,400 with rear-wheel drive and $52,300 with 4WD. For the ’19 SL, they’re $54,200 with rear-drive and $57,100 with 4WD. Estimated base prices for the ’19 Armada Platinum are $62,500 with rear-drive and $65,400 with 4WD, and for the ’19 Platinum Reserve, they’re $65,000 and $68,000, respectively.

When will it come out?

Expect a fall 2018 release date for the 2019 Armada.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, Ford Expedition and Expedition EL, Toyota Sequoia

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]