Fullsize SUV offerings in the U.S. are basically limited to a trio of manufacturers -- General Motors, Ford, and Toyota. However, with the recent introduction of the Pathfinder Armada, a fourth manufacturer has entered the fray -- Nissan. Nissan has come on strong in the past several years in the truck and SUV marketplace with such introductions as the Frontier, Xterra, Murano, and more.

Nissan has filled out its lineup nicely and has been very successful across the board with its many nameplates. However, the vehicles the company has sorely lacked are fullsize SUVs and fullsize pickups. Now, with the Pathfinder Armada, and its pickup sister, the Titan, Nissan has become a strong competitor to other fullsize manufacturers in a big way.

Similar to other Nissan offerings, the Pathfinder Armada does not merely copy what other manufacturers are producing, but rather offers a somewhat new approach to a traditional market. The Pathfinder Armada combines impressive performance, bold styling, and a number of innovations to produce a fullsize SUV that certainly creates attention.

Some of the real standouts of the Pathfinder Armada include standard fold-flat second- and third-row seats, the most second-row legroom of any fullsize light-duty SUV, a standard floor-mounted shifter, adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, and a bevy of safety features. The Pathfinder Armada is built on an all-new platform and uses a newly designed Nissan Endurance 5.6L V-8 powerplant, rated at 305 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque. The new engine is mated to a standard five-speed automatic transmission, and the combination offers a towing capacity of as much as 9,100 pounds. The Pathfinder Armada is offered in either two-wheel or four-wheel drive, with the 4WD version using a two-speed transfer case. Three trim levels are available: SE, SE Off-Road, and LE.

Sitting on a full-length boxed ladder frame, the Titan uses Dana axles, three skidplates, double-wishbone front suspension, independent rear suspension, and a 28-gallon fuel tank. Additional suspension duties are handled by a power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, and standard 18-inch wheels and tires. For braking ability, the Pathfinder Armada relies on four-wheel disc brakes with a Bosch ABS system.

Interior features include a choice of eight- or seven-passenger seating, a full-length overhead console with map lights and vents, available DVD family entertainment system, eight-way power adjustable driver seat and available six-way adjustable front passenger's seat, an available satellite-based navigation system, and as many as 14 available cup holders. Safety features include Zone Body construction with front and rear crushable zones, a Nissan advanced airbag system, supplemental front side impact airbags with available supplemental rollover protection curtain airbags, three-point seatbelts for rear seat occupants, and a LATCH child seat anchor system.

Outside styling cues, like other Nissan products, are eye-catching. The front of the Pathfinder Armada features a bold bumper/grille combination that is both aggressive and stylish. The XE model features a paint-matched grille, while the SE and LE models feature chrome grilles, mirrors, and bumpers.

Testing, Testing...

We had ample opportunity to flog the Pathfinder Armada during a two-day press introduction of the vehicle in the wine country of Napa Valley, California. Considering this is Nissan's first entry into the fullsize SUV market, we were very impressed with the Pathfinder Armada on a number of counts. High on the list of impressive features were the Pathfinder Armada's new powerplant, its driveability and handling, a number of excellent interior features, and its many safety features.

During nearly 100 miles of driving on Napa Valley roads, some of which were seriously twisty, the Pathfinder Armada really hit the mark with its handling ability and powerful engine. The full 305 horses could really be felt during hard acceleration and when tackling uphill country roads. T

he Nissan's suspension setup handled the twisty roads nicely, even at breakneck speed. The interior comfort level was high during most maneuvers, and the Pathfinder Armada's seating was extremely comfortable throughout our test period.

However, we also had a few criticisms of the new platform. Our biggest complaint was with the Pathfinder Armada's huge A-pillars that often blocked the view down the road, especially while traveling on curvy roads. The vehicle's interior, although well laid out and comfortably ergonomic, used several plastic pieces that gave it a somewhat low-quality appearance. Lastly, the Pathfinder Armada's front-end appearance is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. We didn't care for the aggressive (but ugly) large lower fascia and lower-grille opening and bumper.

Overall, we were very impressed by the Armada. Although at press time the pricetag for the new truck had not yet been set, we would expect it to be competitive with other fullsize pickups, and would guess the price would come in somewhere between the Toyota Sequoia and the Ford Expedition.

Bang for the buck is an important variable when purchasing an SUV, and we'll have to find out just how much bang the Pathfinder Armada will offer when it displays its final window sticker.