Epic Spec Battle: 2017 Nissan Armada vs. 1588 Spanish Armada

2017 Nissan Armada vs Spanish Armada

History can be confusing. Take the 2017 Nissan Armada for instance, which is Nissan’s biggest, most off-road capable SUV, able to tow big loads and carry up to eight people into territory that would stop a minivan in its tracks. The Armada was first introduced in the North American market for the 2004 model year, with a body-on-frame platform based on Nissan’s Titan pickup truck and built in Canton, Mississippi. That Armada has been discontinued and is no more.

The all-new, second-generation 2017 Armada – which I drove recently in Northern California – isn’t really an Armada anymore, and nor is it exactly all new. Instead, it’s based on the sixth-generation Nissan Patrol, a worldwide body-on-frame SUV that was introduced way back in 1952 to compete with the Toyota Land Cruiser, and that had already entered the North American market in 2011 as the luxury-oriented (and wildly overstyled) Infiniti QX56, later renamed QX80 just to add to the confusion.

Given the Patrol’s strong reputation around the world, it might have made sense to adopt the Patrol name as well as the platform for North America’s 2017 model year, but instead we’ll continue to refer to the “sort-of new” Japanese-built vehicle as the Armada. It’s a Spanish and Portuguese word meaning either “armed” or “naval fleet,” and perhaps most closely associated in the English-speaking world with the Spanish Armada of 1588. This legendary naval fleet attempted to invade England partly in retaliation for England’s support of the Dutch revolt against Spain and partly to try to reinstate Catholicism, which had been cast out of favour during the Protestant-aligned English Reformation started by King Henry VIII and continued by his daughter Elizabeth I.

Like I said, history can be confusing, and automotive naming can be equally confusing. But it does beg the question: How does the 2017 Nissan Armada stack up against the 1588 Spanish Armada?

Style

2017 Nissan Armada

The 130 ships of the Spanish Armada were predominantly galleons, a new type of sailing ship that featured a lower forecastle and elongated hull compared to existing vessels at the time, giving them unprecedented stability and reduced wind resistance at the front for more manoeuvrability. At the back, a tall, boxy stern accommodated a relatively comfortable great cabin, with a characteristically large expanse of glass windows across the stern letting in natural light.

The 2017 Nissan Armada likewise has expansive windows, and cleaves closely to the worldwide Patrol on which it’s based. The bumpers have been modified from the global platform to meet North American standards, but the overall style remains the same. Up front, there’s the familial Nissan V-motion grille, with standard LED headlights and taillights, and distinctive LED character lighting. The basic shape is upright and sturdy, as befits a big SUV, and the overall effect makes the Armada a far more conventionally good-looking SUV than the somewhat bulbously styled Infiniti QX80 (that said, the Armada still has big fender ports just like the QX80, but they’re apparently no mere stylistic exercise and are in fact functional, although sadly not as cannon ports). For Canada, the Armada is available in either SL or Platinum trim.

Power and Steering

2017 Nissan Armada

Galleons of the 16th century ranged in size and power, with the flagship of the Spanish Armada measuring 180 feet by 40 feet and weighing over 500 tons. It had four masts, with square-rigged sails on the taller forward masts and lateen-rigged sails on the aft masts, with fighting power provided by 48 heavy guns. Steering was via a rudder mounted on pintles and gudgeons, typically controlled via a whipstaff-tiller arrangement.

The 2017 Nissan Armada is 5,306 mm long and 2,029 mm wide, and weighs in a few tons less than a galleon at 2,683 kg. It’s powered by a new version of Nissan’s 5.6L V8 engine (the same as used in the new 2017 Titan, and built in Decherd, Tennessee) developing 390 hp at 5,800 rpm and 394 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Direct injection and improved heat management systems allow both more power and better fuel economy. While official fuel consumption numbers aren’t yet available, Nissan’s engineers indicated that they should be better than the current QX80 (which rates 17.4 / 12.2 L/100km city/highway). As well, the Armada is tuned to run on regular fuel, versus the QX80 which requires premium. During our mixed driving we saw about 13.6 U.S. mpg, which works out to 17.3 L/100 km, but that included a fair amount of idling while taking photos. Unlike in the Titan, there are no plans to offer a diesel in the Armada.

The engine is hooked up to an all-new seven-speed transmission and this gets high points, with crisp shifts and quick responses in manual mode. The suspension provides a very comfortable ride and decent handling, although it felt a little floaty over some road surfaces. The traditional hydraulic power steering offers nice feedback, and overall for a big SUV the Armada is athletic-feeling and pleasant to drive.

Accommodations

2017 Nissan Armada

A typical Spanish galleon carried 80 sailing crew and 120 soldiers in crude, uncomfortable quarters that were both noisy and smelly.

The 2017 Nissan Armada has seating for up to eight (seven if you choose the second-row captains’ chairs available in Platinum trim), with luxuriously supple leather upholstery, stitched soft-top dash and door uppers, standard power lumbar support up front, standard heated front seats and steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, and acoustic glass to provide an exceptionally quiet driving environment. At idle the noise level is on par with a library, and at 100 km/h it rises only to about the level of quiet conversation (63 db on my highly calibrated free smartphone app, compared to about 70 db in competing vehicles). In general the interior feels much more “luxury” than “mainstream”, and about my only quibble is that the glossy woodgrain trim isn’t quite my cup of tea. Oh, and the standard power-folding third-row seats operate annoyingly slowly.

Technology

2017 Nissan Armada

Ships of the Spanish Armada were equipped with astrolabes, hourglasses, magnetic compasses, quadrants and knotted log lines to allow navigation using a combination of latitude fixes and dead reckoning.

The 2017 Nissan Armada includes a standard GPS navigation system, 13-speaker Bose sound system, around-view monitor with moving object detection, blind spot monitor, front and rear sonar with backup collision intervention, forward emergency braking with predictive forward collision warning, distance control assist, pushbutton start, and more. Step up to the Platinum trim and you get a family entertainment system, lane-departure warning and prevention, blind spot intervention, and speed sensitive power steering. My one complaint is that there’s only one USB port, but Nissan’s marketing people said to “stay tuned” on this, and meanwhile there are several 12V outlets to take care of charging needs, provided you bring along appropriate USB charging adaptors.

Off-Road Capability

2017 Nissan Armada

The are no roads in the ocean, so naturally Spanish galleons had immense off-road capability. Mind you, despite their stout oak-and-hardwood construction many fell prey to the hurricane winds and towering waves the Atlantic can dish out during a storm.

The 2017 Nissan Armada can’t drive across oceans, but it avails itself extremely well in rough terrestrial conditions. While it lacks some of the off-road equipment available in the global Patrol (there’s no hill descent control, for instance) it does get proper four-wheel low-range gearing, with an electronically-controlled transfer case and limited slip functionality thanks to Nissan’s ABLS (active brake limited slip) system. We put the Armada through its off-road paces on a challenging course that featured steep hills with extreme angles of approach and departure, wickedly angled side slopes, and “elephant track” offset hummocks that had two wheels off the ground at times, and the Armada powered confidently through it all with minimal fuss, drama, or wheelspin. Certainly it never capsized and sank, unlike a galleon caught in a hurricane.

The Competition

Spanish Armada

Galleons of the Spanish Armada faced a formidable threat from more lightly armed but faster English “race-built” galleons, typified by Vice Admiral Sir Francis Drake’s flagship Revenge. The invading armada was initially delayed by bad weather, and when it did engage the English fleet the defenders’ faster, more manoeuvrable race-built galleons were able to tack upwind and gain the weather gage, bombarding the Spanish and eventually driving them back to a defensive position anchored in Calais across the English Channel. The English then set alight eight fireships and let them drift into the Spanish fleet, forcing the Spaniards to cut their anchor lines and scatter towards the waiting English fleet, which pummelled the fleeing Spaniards with withering broadsides. Five Spanish ships were lost and many more critically damaged, and the attacking armada retreated back to Spain in disarray.

Priced starting at $63,498 (and with the Platinum trim coming in at $69,998) the Nissan Armada squares off against mainstream large SUVs including the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia. In fully-loaded Platinum guise, it also perhaps competes against its Infiniti QX80 cousin. Where it has an edge over the competition is its best-in-class 3,856 kg (8,500 lb) towing capacity, very well-appointed interior, and limo-like second-row seats (the third row is acceptable but has low seat cushions and limited footroom). Unlike the 1588 Spanish Armada the 2017 Nissan Armada is unlikely to retreat from anything you can throw at it, and for families who want to be able to haul themselves and their toys in exceptional comfort it should definitely be on the shortlist of considerations.

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Simon Hill

Simon Hill

Simon Hill rebuilt his first engine, an air-cooled Volkswagen, at 14. He started writing professionally about cars in 2009 and was also the editor of Boat Journal magazine. He lives in Vancouver, BC.