Behind the Wheel

2020 Nissan Armada Review: High on comfort and capability, low on tech

The 2020 Nissan Armada is already passed its prime.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The 2020 Nissan Armada has a reputation for being a strong and capable vehicle but in an increasingly competitive field, it's not the stunner it could be. As 2019 comes to a close and 2020 begins, the three-row full-size SUV will be competing against completely redesigned Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Tahoe, and GMC Yukon models for buyer dollars.

Both the Armada and the 2020 Infiniti QX80 offer a similar driving and handling experience. They're powered by the same 5.6-liter V8 engine that is paired with a 7-speed automatic transmission. The engine is thirsty and competent but both SUVs suffer from lane wandering habits that make a driver's arms tired and patience wear out in a jiffy.

2020 Nissan Armada Platinum Reserve rearview camera mirror The SUV does have a nifty rearview camera mirror. It's distracting in the daytime but helps mitigate headlight blindness at night.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Both can tow up to 8,500 pounds and have enough off-road prowess to more than satisfy the average owner.

Seating is especially comfortable in both of the vehicles' front rows. Second row seating is decently comfy with enough leg- and headroom for adults to be comfortable. The third row is best only for short trips as adults feel easily squished.

Nissan introduced the Platinum Reserve trim level for its Armada for the 2018 model year. Designed to be the top-tier offering, the Armada Platinum Reserve features all the bells and whistles including Dark Chrome exterior trim, Dark Grey skid plate and tow hatch cover, two-tone leather-appointed seats, interior trim with unique stitching, and 22-inch wheels and tires. It also gets a standard rearview camera mirror.

interior Nissan Armada 2020 screen shifter The center stack immediately dates the Armada.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

But, and this is a big but, it still includes Nissan's outdated infotainment system and driver information screen. There are large buttons galore on the center stack in a time where most SUVs at the Armada Platinum Reserve's price point have gone to either one large infotainment screen and a minimalist button setup or a dual-screen setup with buttons only where absolutely necessary.

The driver information screen is a relic of another generation of vehicles. Despite technically only being in the second year of its second generation, the screen looks much older.

Nissan Armada instrument cluster driver information screen The driver information screen in the Armada looks a decade old.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

With a $68,030 starting price for the 2020 Armada Platinum Reserve 4x4, it's easy to see potential buyers looking elsewhere for more updated equipment.

If you're set on getting a Nissan but want a more modern SUV, take a stroll over to the other side of the lot to the Infiniti dealership where a fresher 2020 Infiniti QX80 sits.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Subaru Crosstrek has been revised for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek is an excellent example of what can happen when a car company stops spending its time, efforts, and marketing dollars on chasing the biggest competitors in the room and chooses instead to focus entirely on building and selling what its customers want.

The Crosstrek received a significant overhaul for the 2018 model year, but it's the updates that Subaru put in place for 2021 that have genuinely made it a complete car. Headlining the changes is a newly available engine, which at 2.5 liters is both larger and more powerful than the 2.0-liter mill that powered the Crosstrek line before. The car also got a nose job and new standard safety gear for 2021.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport The Crosstrek has been given a new face.Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

The standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is adequate but lacks power where it counts. With the lesser engine on board, reaching highway speeds is a real chore. There's far more noise and vibration involved than there should be, which accentuates the fact that, no matter how hard you stomp the accelerator pedal, it's not going anywhere fast.

The available 2.5-liter four-cylinder spices things up considerably, with 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. It's still paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), but the extra power mitigates many of the transmission's annoying quirks and makes the vehicle much more engaging overall. It's more refined, has great low-end grunt, and is much quieter in everyday use.

As you'd expect, a tall ride height makes the car more useful when the pavement ends, but what you might not expect is how well Subaru has tuned the suspension and chassis to gracefully deal with the lifted body. For the most part, the ride is sublime, as the beefy suspension and tires soak up all but the worst potholes and broken pavement. Despite that, the Crosstrek, which comes standard with all-wheel drive, remains surefooted when pushed, and like many crossovers, doesn't feel floppy or soft in the corners.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport The dimensions of the Crosstrek have remained basically the same for the 2021 model year.Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

The Crosstrek's surprisingly spacious interior is a pleasant place to spend time, but luxurious is not a word that comes to mind to describe the cabin in any of the car's trim levels. Form here follows function, but that's not a terrible thing. Headroom is generous in both rows, though the driving position can lead shorter drivers to feel like their face is uncomfortably close to the windshield. Even so, there's plenty of hip and shoulder room, both front and back, and the back seat can squeeze a full-size rear-facing car seat without breaking a sweat.

The Sport trim I tested comes with synthetic leather upholstery that Subaru calls "StarTex," which is essentially a high-tech polyurethane material made from recycled plastics. It's far from leather, but it's equally as far from feeling entry-level or cheap. It's a different thing altogether, and while I didn't get to take my dog for a ride or take the car camping, I can see several situations where a water- and dirt-resistant synthetic upholstery material could come in handy.

The optional 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen sits high on the dash, making for excellent visibility and usability from either of the front seats. The upgraded screen in the Crosstrek Sport is a 1.5-inch step up from the standard display and makes good use of the extra real estate with bright, crisp text and images. It comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM radio, Bluetooth, two USB ports, voice controls, and HD Radio. The top-level Limited trim gets the same display with navigation, but most people will be just fine with maps provided by Apple or Google in other trim levels.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport The interior of the Crosstrek is perfectly functional.Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

It'd be irresponsible to write this entire review without mentioning Subaru's safety efforts in the new car. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) hasn't crashed the 2021 Crosstrek yet, but the organization awarded the 2020 model, which has the same core body structure, a Top Safety Pick designation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rated it five stars overall.

Those successes come thanks in part to Subaru's standard EyeSight technology, which brings driver assistance features like pre-collision braking, lane departure alerts, and adaptive cruise control. The Sport trim adds high beam assist and is available with blind-spot monitors.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Dark accents and wheels make the Crosstrek Sport stand out in a crowd.Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

If there's one thing that Subaru does better than anybody else, it's listening to its customers. The automaker knows that its buyers want a comfortable car but need one that won't fall apart at the first sign of abuse. It also knows that many people who walk onto a dealer's lot looking for a new Crosstrek are doing so because they believe it will be better for their active lifestyle, better at transporting their pets, and better at keeping them safe. The best part about all of that for buyers, besides the fact that their car company listens to them, is that Subaru hit the mark on all accounts.

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The Ford Ranger is a solid entry into the midsize truck segment

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Chevrolet Colorado is a good working man's truck. Want a step up? Get the GMC Canyon. Toyota's aging Tacoma is built for reliably tooling around. The Nissan Frontier is anxiously awaiting an upgrade while the Honda Ridgeline is busy being the best-kept secret of the segment. The Jeep Gladiator is the Wrangler of trucks.

What is the Ford Ranger besides just a slot-filler for the Deaerborn, Michigan-based automaker? A week behind the wheel would surely sort that out. Surely.

2019 Ford Ranger Not much changed on the Ranger between the 2019 and 2020 model years. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

As tested, the 2020 Ford Ranger Lariat is a top-tier option that starts at $38,675 but had a number of add-ons driving the price up to just under $46,000 all-in. While the exterior isn't particularly striking sans lift or beefy tires, the Ranger is, by most accounts, a reasonable looking truck. It's certainly not nearly as polarizing as the Ridgeline.

In the Lariat trim level, the Ranger comes with a long list of desirable features including LED headlamps and fog lamps, front tow hooks, cargo box tie-downs, power-folding side mirrors, and approach lights. The interior features list includes dual-zone automatic climate control, a 110-volt power outlet, cruise control, Ford MyKey, push-button start, eight-way power-adjustable driver and passenger heated seats, and flip-up rear bench storage.

In its cabin, the Ranger begins to show more of its true colors. The truck's dashboard and center console design earn Ford a solid "alright" in terms of design and appointments. It's all functional though not particularly modern and without any revolutionary components. The 8.0-inch touch screen infotainment system, 4.2-inch driver's information display, and steering wheel date the model more than anything else - and that's saying a lot in a segment where the Tacoma and Frontier live.

2020 Ford Ranger The wheel of the Ranger is a bit dated in its appearance, but completely funtional.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

That's not to say that the Ranger's interior doesn't have a lot to like. The Medium Stone leather-trimmed seats were comfortable and the front row's seat design allow the driver and passenger great visibility.

Ford also gets points for its strong 270-horsepower, 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine. That's the same engine that will power the new Bronco - the two are manufactured at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan. The engine is paired with the same 10-speed automatic transmission that's is in the F-150 and proves to be just as smooth in the Ranger as in its big brother.

Operation of the switchgear inside the cabin is just as smooth. There's not particularly special about the buttons, knobs, and dials, but they do the job without much hassle.

In their most off-road proficient variety, the Colorado and Tacoma are forces to be reckoned with. The Ranger, though capable off-road, doesn't come in the ultra-proficient Ranger Raptor variant in the U.S. that is sold globally, and that's a shame. So, we're left with the more pedestrian variety and some available add-on packages. Still, it's a good daily driver leaving the average customer little to complain about.

2019 Ford Ranger The interior of the Ranger is not as outdated as the Frontier's, but it's not the most modern either.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

None of this moves one any closer to deciphering what the 2020 Ranger is. But, what if that's the magic of it? The Ranger doesn't have a defining characteristic or package or specialty. This U.S. model is a well-rounded machine that quickly leaves the impression that maybe what this Ranger is, is really good.

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