2017 Nissan Armada. © Nissan

Nissan Armada v. Chevrolet Suburban

Originally published: September/October 2017

By Courtney Messenbaugh

What vehicle do you drive in the Rocky Mountain West—a vehicle that can bring everyone and everything along to conquer Colorado terrain and enjoy the environment? Why, a large SUV, of course. The SUV is built on a truck-like platform, giving it clearance and hauling ability that crossovers and minivans don’t have. Though rugged, these workhorses do not lack for comfort. Today’s large SUVs come with all the swanky trappings of any other car on the road today.

Two such modern-day behemoths are the 2017 Nissan Armada and the 2017 Chevrolet Suburban. Among the largest on the road today, these vehicles run at least a couple of feet longer and 1,000 pounds heavier than the average car. I spent a week driving both to determine if one might edge out the other. Hint: with age comes wisdom.

Nissan Armada

The entry-level 2017 Nissan Armada starts at $44,900; I tested the top-level Platinum model, with an MSRP of $61,585. Its 5.6-liter V8 engine delivers 390-horsepower and 394-lb feet of torque, matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission that performs relatively smoothly. Fuel economy is 13/18/15 miles per gallon (mpg) city/highway/combined.

The ride is smooth and quiet once you get to cruising speed, but the noise of acceleration takes some getting used to. With its high hood line and wide body, it often feels more cumbersome turning corners.

Towing capacity is 8,500 pounds, ample when considering that an average camper trailer weighs 6,000 pounds, a horse trailer replete with two horses weighing around 5,000 pounds, and pop-up trailers less than that.

The exterior and interior styling on the Armada are attractive, especially when you consider that it looks strikingly similar in both areas to its more expensive luxury sister vehicle, the Infiniti QX80.

I’ve got to hand it to Nissan for offering unique Copper and Almond exterior colors—refreshing departures from the otherwise standard grays and blacks. My test car came in a cerulean blue called Hermosa. The interior comes with lovely wood trim and soft surfaces that give the cabin that Infiniti-like upscale demeanor.

Of course, luxurious finishes are not the only measures of a vehicle’s worth. A car this large should be highly functional, and this is where the Armada delivers … and doesn’t deliver. There is a stable of great features such as heated and cooled front- and second-row seats, rain-sensing wipers, tri-zone climate control, a power-folding third row, premium Bose sound system, and an extremely user-friendly entertainment system.

The third row is a different story. Although the Armada is said to seat eight passengers, the third row is best left to children. Adult access is not the easiest (catapulting over the second row anyone?). More disappointing is that, with the third row in use, cargo space in the rear shrinks to a meager 16.5 cubic feet. Lower the third row and the space expands to 49.9 cubic feet—like what you’d find in a smaller crossover.

The 2017 Armada has not yet been rated for crashworthiness or safety, but will correct or brake the vehicle in the event of an imminent collision if the driver does not. For the off-road crowd, the vehicle redirects power to the wheels with the most traction in wheel-spinning and -slipping situations.

Chevrolet Suburban

2017 Chevy Suburban. © General Motors

The first Armada model arrived in 2004; the Chevrolet Suburban in 1935—now in its eighth decade of production. If nothing else, this vehicle has history on its side.

The model I tested, with midlevel LT trim, and running more than 18 feet long, had an MSRP of $66,020. Powered by a 5.3-liter V8 EcoTec3 engine, which produces 355 horsepower and 383-lb feet of torque, the vehicle offers better fuel efficiency, 15/22/18 mpg, than the Armada. The Suburban can tow up to 8,000 pounds, just a little less than Armada.

The model I tested seated eight, though the Suburban equipped with a front bench seat can accommodate nine. The big difference between the vehicles is cargo space behind the third row—39.3 cubic feet in the Suburban, with plenty of third-row room for easier adult access.

The Armada and Suburban share many of the same features, such as rain-sensing wipers, heated seats, tri-zone climate control, and power-heated outside mirrors. The Suburban is updated with modern-day features, including a built-in phone charger, and a WiFi hotspot.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Suburban four out of five stars, with five stars across almost all side-crash categories. An extra airbag between the front bucket seats adds protection for the front occupants in the case of a side collision.

A host of other active safety features are available, such as lane-departure intervention and forward-collision prevention. One surprising feature (literally): The driver’s seat vibrates when you get close to hitting something.

And the winner is …

Choosing a victor in this behemoth battle is challenging, given that each vehicle offers a unique value proposition. In the Armada, you get a lot of bang for your buck in terms of luxury, but don’t find as much functional cargo or passenger space in the back as you might like or need. The Suburban offers ample space for everyone and everything, but if you’re looking for a more luxurious cabin, you’ll have to spend more money.

Nonetheless, the Suburban comes out on top, with better fuel economy and greater cargo volume than the Armada, whose rear cargo space we’d love to see grow in future models. The addition of WiFi and a phone charger in the Suburban truly turn it into a place of functionality for our modern lives. And with its safety ratings, the Suburban delivers where it matters, perhaps a sign of wisdom in its advancing age. We can only hope that when we’re in our eighth decade of existence, we are equally wise and useful.

Courtney Messenbaugh is a freelance writer in Lafayette who has improbably been writing about cars and life in the car for over a decade.



AAA Connection

AAA Colorado AutoSource arranged for the test vehicles used in this review, and it can arrange test drives for you, at the location of your choice. Call 877-244-9790, or visit AAA.com, and experience concierge service like nowhere else.