Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
After sitting through a detailed technical presentation on Mitsubishi's new Endeavor sport-ute, the only question on most journalists' minds seemed to be, "Am I ever going to get this stupid theme song out of my head?" Like most Mitsubishi commercials as of late, the Endeavor's introductory presentation was laced with images of hip young people having fun in their new Mitsubishis. These scenes were accompanied throughout by a captivating beat that stuck in our heads for days consider it a marketing department job well done.
Mitsubishi is hoping that more than just its theme song will be on your mind once the Endeavor hits the streets in February. Built on an all-new "Project America" platform, the Endeavor is the first Mitsubishi designed expressly for the U.S. market. More specifically, the Endeavor is aimed at the new breed of car-based SUVs that forego serious off-road ability for on-road comfort and convenience. With carlike ride and handling, a torquey V6 and a spacious cabin, the Endeavor certainly has all the ingredients necessary for a popular SUV, but can it play in a game dominated by the likes of Honda and Toyota?
If sales were driven purely by style alone, the Endeavor would certainly compete favorably. Design is always a subjective area, but no one is likely to look at an Endeavor and call it boring. With an in-your-face front end and plenty of sharply creased sheet metal, the Endeavor was designed to stand out among the current crop of otherwise featureless SUVs. It's more than just a distinctive face, however, as it offers the all-wheel-drive capabilities and interior comforts customers have come to expect in this competitive segment.
The aforementioned "Project America" platform is designed to accommodate both cars and sport-utilities, so the fact that the Endeavor displays excellent handling characteristics isn't much of a surprise. The fully independent suspension is tuned to provide a comfortable, precise ride on the highway while remaining compliant enough for light off-roading. We were impressed by the Endeavor's lack of body roll in corners and solid road feel during our test drive. We wouldn't go so far as to call it "sporty," but city driving exposed no major deficiencies, and a brief foray down a rocky fire road revealed a sport-ute fully capable of handling itself when the pavement ended just don't expect to conquer any seriously challenging terrain.
Like most sport-utes, the steering is numb on center and a little slow to react, but the moderate weighting is well suited to day-to-day driving. Four-wheel disc brakes provide plenty of stopping power, but ABS isn't available on front-wheel-drive models unless you spring for the top-of-the-line Limited trim. An all-in-one traction and stability control system will be available later in 2003.
Only one drivetrain combination will be offered, a 3.8-liter V6 mated to a four-speed overdrive automatic. With only 215 horsepower, the Endeavor's V6 falls a little short of vehicles like Toyota's Highlander (220 hp) and Honda's Pilot (240 hp). But Mitsubishi engineers know that horsepower is only half the story, since it's torque that gives you that get-up-and-go around town. With a torque rating of 250 pound-feet, the Endeavor's V6 out-muscles both the Toyota (222) and Honda (244) in this important area, giving the Endeavor a far more responsive feel than its horsepower number might suggest.
On the road, the 3.8-liter drove about how we expected quick off the line, healthy in the midrange, but a little strained at higher rpm. There was also a bit more engine noise than we would have liked, but our test vehicle was a prototype so we expect that much of the racket will be toned down on production models. Transmission shifts were smooth and quick, and there's even a Sportronic shift gate for manual control. The Endeavor offers both front-wheel and all-wheel drive, but we didn't notice any discernable difference in on-road performance between the two. Both models are rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Three trim levels will be offered: base LS, midlevel XLS and top-of-the-line Limited. The LS offers your typical standard features like power windows, locks and mirrors along with remote keyless entry, air conditioning and a 140-watt CD stereo. The XLS adds a power driver seat, upgraded cloth upholstery and a 315-watt stereo with an in-dash six-disc CD changer. The decked-out Limited model comes standard with leather upholstery, automatic climate control, side airbags, rear climate control and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The interior fuses a waterfall dash design with easy-to-use controls for a modern yet simplified layout. The faux metal finish isn't the most convincing treatment we've seen, but, like the bullish snout on the exterior, it does reinforce the idea that this is no Honda Pilot wanna-be. A center-mounted screen displays all pertinent climate and radio information but the fact that it can't be coupled to an optional navigation system makes it seem like a waste of valuable dashboard real estate. At night, the entire dash lights up in a cool blue color that reinforces the futuristic (or is it retro '80s?) look.
The seats provided solid support for our day-long test drive but there's not much in the way of side bolstering, and the driver lumbar adjustment didn't seem to help much. There are plenty of soft-touch materials in all the right places, and storage is abundant thanks to a large center console and spacious glovebox. Second-row accommodations are particularly generous with class-leading legroom and more than enough head- and shoulder room to keep three passengers happy. The seat folds in a 60/40 split with just one latch to reveal a nearly flat, unobstructed load floor. Maximum cargo capacity, however, is just 76.4 cubic feet, considerably less than the Honda Pilot's or Ford Explorer's.
Cargo capacity aside, the Endeavor offers buyers a solid all-around package that doesn't look like every other sport-ute already on the road. It may not be the fastest, have the most gadgets or tow the most weight, but when it comes to the kind of driving that most people do on an everyday basis, it performs admirably. The interior offers ample passenger room along with a good stereo and plenty of storage the kind of stuff you'll appreciate on a day-to-day basis. Buyers who absolutely have to have the latest and greatest might find the Endeavor a bit lacking. But for those who would rather drive something a little farther from the mainstream, this new Mitsubishi presents a very likable alternative.
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