When you compare it to the Durango and Grand Cherokee, its pricing looks bloated, but its ability to haul and tow is impressive. Still, the Durango comes close enough to the Armada in towing and passenger capacity, exceeds it in cargo volume, but costs 10K less. For the upmarket customer looking for high-end features at a higher price, the Armada is just fine. Otherwise, the Durango may be the better bet.
The best way to describe the Armada's driving experience is solid. We described the Titan's steering as heavy, and the Armada's is nearly identical, but we definitely don't want it to come off sounding clunky or unrefined. In fact, it's just the opposite. There's slightly more effort required to turn the wheel than in most of the trucks we drove, but it contributes to the overall stable feel of the vehicle, as do the quiet interior, smooth suspension, and ever-present engine power. The vehicle is large, but the driving dynamics don't leave you feeling like you're piloting a barge down the highway. In fact, parallel parking the Armada is a cakewalk. The backup camera includes on-screen distance guide and makes backing up easy. Combine that with front-mounted parking sensors and you've got a ticket to the smallest parking spaces possible. At first, the thought of front parking sensors seemed ridiculous, that's what our eyes are for, right? Well, after fitting the Armada into a tiny parking spot that would have previously required either ninja-like skill, or minor body damage, someone ask us how on Earth we managed to get the Armada to fit into such a tiny space.
Jeep has been expanding its product lineup for the last couple of years, but with mixed results. Non-trail-rated models, such as the Compass, or barely trail-rated vehicles like the Patriot, have softened Jeep's craggy, weathered image typified by the Wrangler. However, the latter, iconic off-roader doesn't have as much appeal for the moneyed classes, who are more concerned about trundling over potholes than boulders and willing to pay a premium for comfort. Hence, the venerable Grand Cherokee, which was rolled out as an evolution of the popular Cherokee SUV. The Grand Cherokee has gone through a number of changes since its debut in 1992, with its most recent major redesign for the 2005 model year when it most notably went to an all independent suspension. (It won our SUV of the Year accolade for that model year, by the way). Its sibling, the Commander, is built on the same platform, but is targeted at suburban soccer moms. That vehicle won SUV of the Year for 2006. So, the strength of the platform is well established.
This year we revisit the Grand Cherokee, which got some improvements for 2008 that wouldn't necessarily stand out from the usual spate of mid-cycle automotive freshenings except for one thing: It now has a diesel engine. The Grand Cherokee is the second SUV in its class; any class really, in recent history, aside from the Hummer H1 to offer a diesel engine. The diesel Jeep Liberty got pulled from the market last year after a short stint. Jeep's 3.0L V-6 common rail diesel is the same powerplant made by Mercedes-Benz that Jeep offers to the European market where diesel-fueled cars and SUVs take about half of the automobile market. Here in the good-ol' USA, the diesel Grand is not 50-state legal (neither was the diesel Liberty) because of the more stringent emissions standards imposed by California and other states who follow the Golden State's lead as far as air quality is concerned (New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Jersey). When emissions standards become even more stringent in a couple years, Jeep may go with the Bluetec 3.0 V-6 currently in the Mercedes-Benz ML320. The current Jeep diesel generates 215 hp and 376 lb-ft, and while the EPA fuel economy estimate is already impressive at 17/22, we got an astounding, real-world, combined fuel economy of 20 mpg from the diesel after towing with it, roadtripping, commuting. And it did well on the track, too.