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Showdown of Nissan Armada vs. Chevy Tahoe yields a clear winner

Judging from their respective histories, the Nissan Armada and Chevrolet Tahoe seemed like even sparring partners for a three-row SUV battle. But one vehicle has made some leaps for 2021.

The Nissan Armada gets a new look for the 2021 model year, but its handling has improved only a bit.
The Nissan Armada gets a new look for the 2021 model year, but its handling has improved only a bit.Read moreNissan

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD Z71 vs. 2021 Nissan Armada Platinum 4WD: Titanic battle.

This week: 2021 Nissan Armada

Price: $71,250, illuminated kick plates, $390; welcome lighting, $395; floor mats, $320; more below.

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes that it’s “serenely quiet and comfy, smooth, potent power train, pillowy ride,” but not the “dreadful fuel economy, some dated interior elements, wanders at highway speeds.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Tame the wild.”

Reality: A little tamer.

Catching up: Two three-row behemoths go grille to grille to vie for the title of Best of These Two SUVs. Last week we explored Chevrolet’s redone Tahoe; now it’s the Nissan Armada’s turn.

What’s new: I looked back into old columns to jog my memory on the Armada, and it helped bring back my experience in the 2018.

The Armada certainly looks like it did four years ago and at first felt about the same. A big, lumbering beast, it added a bit of challenge to the three-point turn to leave my driveway, so from the start, I expected to have the same complaints as before.

» READ MORE: Can Nissan Armada match the Yukon XL?

But it looks as if Nissan did its homework.

Up to speed: Always the brightest part of the Armada, the 5.6-liter V-8 continues to create 400 horsepower, so it doesn’t have too much trouble motivating the Armada to 60 mph. The trip takes just 6.7 seconds, according to Consumer Reports.

Advantage, Armada. And that’s despite breaking the three-ton mark at 6,037 pounds.

On the road: That big engine, though, requires a giant engine compartment. This makes maneuverability a challenge in tight driveways such as the one Mr. Driver’s Seat has.

But beyond maneuverability, once you get out of the driveway, the Armada feels far more manageable than it did in 2018. Let’s try not to expect fun, but the steering was fairly precise, and narrow winding roads could be conquered without a lot of slowing down.

But after a long drive up to the Catskills, I learned that the highway handling is easier but still not perfect. Bumps can be quite rough, and highway seams at high speeds are a bouncy proposition. The Armada is not a good highway companion.

Still, highway rides are improved. I never felt the Armada want to depart from the highways altogether, as I noticed in the 2018 model. Two hands were required on the steering wheel there, but using a hand to shift or change the song these days is not a frightening prospect.

Advantage, Tahoe.

» READ MORE: Chevrolet Tahoe vs. Nissan Armada: Battleship face-off

Shifty: Speaking of shifting, the seven-speed automatic comes with real shiftability in the Armada, not something I really expected. Advantage, Armada.

Driver’s Seat: The Armada cabin feels inviting and luxurious. The leather seats combine a supple feel with support. Though lumbar can be turned off to my liking, the seat back is strikingly curved, so that if I wanted to push back against the headrest, I feel as if I were leaning back to do a bridge. There was really no good way to sit back.

That long drive was comfortable throughout, though — 160 miles one way. Still, advantage, Tahoe.

Friends and stuff: The captain’s chairs package ($650) turns the second row into a front-row-worthy compartment, with comfortable seats and a big armrest, but reduces capacity from eight passengers to seven.

Space there is generous for head, feet and legs, but the Armada sacrifices versatility by using a fixed middle row configuration instead of allowing for legroom adjustments.

So, the third row is cramped with no hope for improvement. No space under the middle seat for feet, knees to the chin, and head against the ceiling.

Cargo space is just 95.4 cubic feet with both rows folded. Though the Armada will add 100 pounds of towing capacity over the Tahoe, strong advantage, Tahoe.

Play some tunes: The 12.3-inch touchscreen is definitely large. The Armada also allows adjustments through a dial-and-button setup similar to BMW’s, although it’s a little clunky to dial through the choices. Large knobs under the touchscreen make volume and tuning easy to adjust.

Though the Bose audio offers 13 speakers, sound is still wanting a bit. I’d call it a B or so, maybe a B+. Only bass and treble adjustments are offered. The sound is clear, but after three hours heading up north, I found it just a little … off. Everything sounded just a little flat, off center somehow.

Advantage, Tahoe.

Keeping warm and cool: Big dials control the temperature and fan speed, and buttons choose the source.

Fuel economy: I averaged just under 16 mpg even with that ride north. Note I brought a different vehicle back, and north is all uphill, right? Feed the Armada whatever. Toss-up.

Where it’s built: Kyushu, Japan

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the Armada reliability to be a 2 out of 5.

In the end: Although the Armada has improved immensely in four years, the Chevrolet Tahoe has come a long way, winning on drivability and infotainment. And if you need seating for six real people, the Tahoe (or its bigger sibling and GMC cousins) is/are the only way to go in its class.