Does Your Back to School Shopping Include a Three Row SUV?

Three Row Suv

Nissan thinks you shouldn’t be a slave to the carpool schedule, so boom: the all new 2017 Armada.

This actually happened: In the middle of the back to school craze I discovered we could join a carpool for my daughter’s dance troop (three days a week!). But we didn’t have enough seating in our car to participate.

So, I did what any sane person would do. I bought a car with a third row.

It was time for a new car anyway, and a three row SUV had been on my wish list, but the start of the school year was what pushed me over the edge.

As it turned out, a three row SUV was a great purchase, but if I would have had a little more time to think about it, I would have considered many of the things that Nissan’s design team focused on when they redesigned the Armada for 2017.

2017 Nissan Armada: A super-luxe family truck

Three Row Suv

A view of the front cabin in the 2017 Nissan Armada. Photo: Scotty Reiss

And yes, it really is a truck: it has the same engine as the Nissan Titan and can tow up to 8,400 pounds. It also shares its lineage with luxury sibling Infiniti QX80, including a size and shape that ensures lots of interior space, a 9 inch ground clearance that puts passengers above the traffic, and details such as wide spoked wheels and chrome side vents that give it a capable, adventurous feel.

The Armada, which takes its heritage from the Patrol, a 4WD workhorse first introduced in 1951, has become quite popular in countries where interior comfort and exterior capability are a priority; the Middle East is the truck’s top market and the US is right behind in second place.

For 2017, Nissan redesigned the Armada for families who want a fortress on wheels with a cool, muscular demeanor. It hit dealerships recently and is priced from about $44,000-$58,000.

I had the chance to take the Armada on a short drive through the California mountains and chat with Robin Moreo, the product engineer who oversaw the Armada’s redesign. I discovered why this large, comfortable, easy to drive truck is ideal for families who spend lot of time in the car:

A great space to do homework

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Tall dark and handsome: The 2017 Nissan Armada’s roof rails require a bit of a reach, but its size means lots of leg room and head room. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Nissan significantly improved the quietness of the interior by cutting out road and engine noise, so reading, talking or listening to a podcast while on the road is easy. Add that to the ample space and headroom, and everyone can comfortably open a laptop, read a book or get work done while on the road or while waiting for lacrosse practice to end.

Plenty of plug-ability

Passengers in the front, middle and back can easily plug in phones, tablets or even computers for charging. There’s a household plug on the back of the center console (though it’s positioned close to the floor so it might be hard to plug in a bulky adapter), three power outlets in the front seat’s center console (2 12V and one USB), a 12V power outlet next to the household plug on the back of the center console and a 12V outlet in the cargo area (great for third row passengers). There is an option to get two additional USB ports on the back of the center console, which is accessible to second row passengers.

An entertainment system–you know, for watching educational shows

The entertainment option (standard on the Platinum edition but not available on other models) adds a DVD player, remote control, wireless headphones and A/V ports for connecting devices. You can pop in March of the Penguins for edu-eco fun.

Lots of head room, leg room and comfortable seating

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The rear seats offered ample leg room and were quite comfortable. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Nothing is worse than being cramped in the car, especially when you have to sit for hours next to grumpy siblings or sweaty soccer players. The Armada’s designers thought about this and provided seats that are ample and comfortable (and second row seats are heated in the Platinum edition!); even the third row seats were roomy. There’s also a good amount of cargo space behind the third row—and tons behind the second row, so unless you’re toting 6 football players with full gear, no one should have to hold their duffel bags on their laps.

Advanced safety features keep you safe on the road

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The rear view and surround view camera in the 2017 Nissan Armada. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Nissan is serious about safety, so they put all their technology into the Safety Shield package, which is offered on all their vehicles. It includes:

  • Lane departure prevention and warning
  • Blind spot warning and backup collision intervention (the system beeps and even stops the vehicle if an eminent crash is detected)
  • Around view monitor
  • Moving object detection
  • Adaptive cruise control with gap adjust
  • Forward emergency braking with predictive collision warning

Comfortable, confident drive experience for everyone—driver and passengers 

While the Armada is quiet, it’s also powerful; merging onto the highway was easy and I felt confident on the road (thanks to a humongous 390 horsepower engine). The truck’s handling was quite nice—I sat in the back seat and worked on my computer for a while and never felt jostled or motion sick, even on mountain roads.

The Armada handles more like a car than a truck thanks to improved suspension and other systems such as the electronic brake force distribution (which distributes brake force when you hit the brakes hard, keeping the car from lurching or swaying) and brake assist, which starts to apply the brakes before you do.

Three Row Suv

Taking the 2017 Nissan Armada off road might not be on your bucket list, but it’s good to know you can do it. Photo: Scotty Reiss

And if you want the Armada to perform like a truck, there’s an all wheel drive option that lets you select 4 wheel drive, snow mode and tow mode; manual shift will give you even more control over any hills, snow or mud that might be on your route.

Pricing: Luxury or not, it’s your choice

Armada’s space and capability can be had at an accessible price, starting at about $44,000. But I really loved being spoiled by all the extras, which takes the price up to nearly $60k. And, if you want the center row captain’s seats (which means there’s seating for 7 instead of 8), you’ll have to go with the top of the line Platinum edition. Here’s how the pricing shakes out:

  • Armada SV with the “Driver Package” includes all standard features as well as a power lift gate and trailer towing harness: about $45,000
  • Armada SL Moon Roof package adds a moon roof: about $46,000
  • Armada SL Tech package includes the Safety Shield features:  about $51,000
  • Armada Platinum has it all, including the second row captain’s chairs option: about $58,000

The price blew me away—in a good way

Three Row Suv

The center console in Armada is elegant and features the all wheel drive selector as well as a few nooks for storing change, phones and keys. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The competitors to the Armada Platinum edition are many, and most are priced significantly higher—$10K-20K higher. Competitors in this category include the Ford Expedition, Toyota Land Cruiser, GMC Yukon Denali and Chevrolet Tahoe.

Regular gas and a large tank balance out fuel economy

While you’ll save on the price tag you’ll spend more on gas. I didn’t love the fuel economy, which is about 14 MPG city/19 MPG highway. However, I did really loved the 26 gallon tank, which means you still get a good 400 miles between fill-ups, and that the Armada uses regular fuel, so no extra ca-ching at the pump.

Three Row SuvDisclosure: I was Nissan’s guest on the Armada test drive, and travel and accommodations were provided; opinions expressed here are all my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss