Say the words rally car and we’ll bet the first vehicle that comes to mind is not the Nissan Armada, unless of course you’re rallying your four kids off to school. However, Nissan believes their juggernaut body-on-frame full-sized SUV to be more rugged and capable than just for morning drop-off occasions. So, they entered it into the Rebelle Rally, a seven-day 2,000-kilometer navigation rally where drivers and navigators do not have the luxury of GPS but rely solely on map and compass navigation.

To successfully compete in the 4x4 class of the Rebelle, the Armada’s 5.6-liter V8 and its 390 horsepower and 394 lb-ft of torque would have to be enough to power its massive 5,576-pound body over rigorous terrain through the Nevada desert, over jutting rocks, loose shale and gravel in Johnson Valley, Calif. There would be dry lake beds to navigate that just saw rain for the first time in decades, turning them into mud fields, and finally the Armada would end its quest in the shape-shifting mountains of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area about 150 miles east of San Diego.

Stock vehicles invited

Rebelle creator and off-road legend Emily Miller knows what it takes to get a vehicle across some of the toughest terrain in the western United States.  “I have so much belief in stock platforms and what designers and engineers have created and know that in the hands of smart drivers and navigators the Rebelle Rally is the perfect place to showcase the capability of their vehicles,” says Miller.

The Armada, deceiving though its stature seems, has some respectable off-road chops. A legitimate 4-wheel drive vehicle with a two-speed computer-controlled transfer case to get the Armada into low gear and exploit its low-end torque is just the beginning. An auto-leveling rear air suspension gives the Armada a maximum 9.1-inches of ground clearance, endowing the truck with approach and departure angles of 20.8- and 22.1-degrees respectively.

Team #106, Wild Grace, comprised of driver Sedona Blinson and navigator Leah Heffelfinger, both two-time returning Rebelles, didn’t have much trouble in some of the same terrain drivers negotiate heavily modified off-road rock crawlers in the insane King of the Hammers off-road race.

Armada power pulls through

“Because of the Armada’s V8 power it did everything we asked of it, and funnily enough, despite its size, it was surprisingly maneuverable, almost as agile as the Nissan Frontier we drove in last year’s Rebelle. We might have had to do a couple of extra turns, but we got where we needed to go every time,” said Heffelfinger about the Armada’s capability.

With only the tires changed to Nitto Ridge Grapplers, the Armada qualified for the Bone Stock designation, which means no modifications were made. It was in exactly the same condition a customer would drive it off of the dealer’s lot.

Those tires were significantly aired-down for the Armada’s final and most rigorous challenge, the sand dunes of Glamis. Intimidating mountains of soft sand didn’t deter either Team 106 or the Armada, and despite its rear air-suspension operating sporadically for the final day of competition, the Armada made easy work of the evil mounds of kitty litter, getting stuck only once.

“We pretty much floated over things because it has both independent front and rear suspension. Over whoompy, rutted terrain it showed its size and felt a little boat-like at times, like any other long wheelbased vehicle out here. Because it’s longer and bone stock we had to find the right momentum, but once we found the right speed, the Armada kept up just fine and we got all the checkpoints we went after,” Heffelfinger continued.

Unscathed 11th place

Perhaps in less capable hands, there would have been occasion to get stuck more often in terrain more suitable for beach volleyball, but Blinson sailed the Armada to a relatively unscathed eleventh-place finish among the 42 teams competing. And they finished in relative comfort, the Armada’s leather interior a bit dirty but serving their posteriors well over the seven ten-plus hour driving days.

Katy Kunkle, previous competitor and Rebelle social media guru out in the field said exactly what we were thinking. “They’re like two moms in a minivan out there crushing it!”

While you might not put the Armada through tough testing like the Rebelle Rally, perhaps you can take comfort in the knowledge that if there’s a curb that needs going over to get those kids to school on time, you’ll make it with no problem.

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