When adventurers imagine their perfect off-the-grid vehicle it may resemble something a lot like the Nissan Armada Mountain Patrol, a heavily modified SUV used by the automaker to demonstrates its off-road capabilities.
Nissan designers have traded the SUV’s stock components for far heavier equipment. A typical Armada has 33-inch tires. They have grown to 35 inches on the Mountain Patrol. It features heavy-duty steel bumpers, a sophisticated Icon Vehicle Dynamics coil-over suspension and a Cascadia Vehicle Tents unit that unravels over the roof to sleep four adults safe from rocks and critters.
Nissan timed its Mountain Patrol build for the 2018 Overland Expo West, the popular meeting for off-roaders and van-lifers in Flagstaff, Ariz. The automaker hopes its appearance will inspire Armada owners to take to the trails.
“We didn’t build this to show, we built it to run,” said David Page, a photographer for Fluid Peak Productions, experienced outdoorsman and Nissan consultant who guided the build of the Mountain Patrol.
Overlanding is experiencing rapid growth because it is more accessible than hardcore off-roading and more comfortable than rough camping. The 2018 Overland Expo West welcomed the most attendees and exhibitors since the event was founded in 2009. Organizers expected a record crowd of 14,000 attendees over the course of the weekend, up from 12,000 in 2017. The number of exhibitors grew by 30 percent to 365.
Nissan wants in on the fun and used the one-off Mountain Patrol to demonstrate what can be done with its vehicles. Vehicles such as the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota Tacoma are staples of the overlanding community where Nissan lacks a presence. Some Titan XD pickup trucks and a single Armada were scattered about the campground area, but otherwise the company’s products were hard to find.
Through an afternoon of driving the Armada Mountain Patrol conquered rocky trails high up in Arizona backcountry. Its upgraded suspension and tires handled the rocky minefields and shallow gullies the Coconino National Forest threw at— even carrying an additional 1,400 pounds.
A stock 2018 Armada also performed well on the same route. Its 5.6-liter V8 engine helped the SUV zip through high-speed dirt sections, and its electronic transfer case provided effective four-wheel drive.
But the Armada Mountain Patrol offered a completely different experience. Where the stock Armada tiptoed around treacherous spots, the Mountain Patrol barreled over them. Its ride remained balanced and its steering offered more feedback.
Driving the Armada required scanning the ground 3 feet ahead at nearly all times. Driving the Mountain Patrol required the willpower not to stomp the accelerator and blast away from the rest of the group.
The Mountain Patrol is aimed at Armada owners who may be considering an overland rig of their own. Nissan sold more than 9,000 Armadas through the first quarter of 2018, an increase of nearly 25 percent compared with the same period in 2017, according to research firm Autodata Corp. If the company can motivate a fraction of its owners to venture into overlanding it could rebrand the SUV’s reputation.
Overlanding provides an ease and accessibility to the outdoors. But minor hiccups still persist. The extra weight on the Mountain Patrol affects its acceleration, and the assorted racks and equipment rattle on. During a rest period high above dazzling forests and canyons the group noticed one of the front tow hooks on the Mountain Patrol had come loose and fallen off miles earlier.
Page came around the front to inspect.
“Well, that’s overlanding,” he said.