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"Above all else: presence." The words come straight from Mitsubishi's press materials for the introduction of its new mid-sized SUV, called Endeavor. And the words are true to the effort. For sure, Endeavor gets an E for effort, for being designed and built by the North American team in the U.S. It's the fourth SUV offered by Mitsubishi, joining the entry-level Outlander, the rugged truck-based Montero Sport, and the more luxurious and highly capable Montero.
But Endeavor's intended slot between Montero Sport and Montero is thin and tricky. Mitsubishi doesn't dare say the Montero is now facing redundancy, just that Endeavor's overriding goal has been to produce "a vehicle that meets the needs of the U.S. market head on, without the repackaging of a Japanese domestic market product for U.S. tastes." In other words, it may be that Mitsubishi Motors North America created the Endeavor partly to show Mitsubishi Motors Tokyo that it can build, above all else, an SUV with presence.
The ride is the fourth feature that Mitsubishi appears to believe is superior. But this seems a tenuous boast, because it suggests that the Highlander, Pilot and others do not have such smooth rides, which isn't the case. We spent a day in the Endeavor driving over all kinds of surfaces, and it has a nice ride, no complaints, but it wasn't noticeably smoother than many other mid-sized SUVs. What the Endeavor has is a ride that's smoother than the Montero Sport and some other SUVs with truck-based chassis. But the Acura MDX and Lexus RX-300 will not be quaking in their tracks.
A lovely hard drive of about 30 miles took us down a narrow, bumpy, twisty road to an isolated surfing and windsurfing spot called Jalama Beach on the central California coast. The all-wheel-drive Endeavor XLS, using a full-time 50-50 power split, was nice and steady, free of the dreaded tippy motion that used to plague most SUVs and now only a few. We cornered hard and the rack-and-pinion steering was responsive, with understeer only appearing in extreme situations, the independent suspension using standard 17-inch wheels with Bridgestone Terranza 235/65 road tires. The only crack in the Endeavor's ride appeared in the sharp ridges, those pitches upward that you feel in the pit of your stomach.
The new unibody chassis for the Endeavor appears to be very strong. Mitsubishi says virtually every inch of it is either reinforced, corrugated, triangulated or doubled up. The longitudinal rails are octagonally shaped for strength, with no welded beads, and there are five lateral crossmembers.
The manual mode of the Sportronic four-speed automatic transmission is strict, meaning it's not programmed to shift (not very much, anyhow) unless the driver shifts it. This is very good, because the only car we can think of whose program is this pure is the very racy Infiniti G35 Sport Coupe. But there is a problem with the ergonomics of the big rubber-like shift lever; because of the size of the center armrest console, you have to cock your elbow in the air to grab the lever, which puts an awkward angle on your wrist and hinders manual shifting enough to take the fun out of it.
The engine's drive-by-wire throttle system is very responsive, but its 215 horsepower seems barely enough. Mitsubishi says the 0 to 60 mph time for the LS FWD is 9.5 seconds, which is reasonable but sets no records. Our all-wheel-drive XLS was 300 pounds heavier than the front-wheel-drive LS. Land Rover claims the same time for its 217-horsepower Discovery, but the Discovery feels faster, maybe because of its 300 foot-pounds of torque. The Endeavor has 250 foot-pounds at 3750 rpm. We felt the need for more torque in second gear, where the transmission wouldn't shift down for sharp acceleration. At the other end of the power curve we had the opposite transmission problem: too much shifting down. Peak power comes at 5000 rpm and redline isn't until 6000; driving it hard, we felt like we had to rev it above 5000 rpm a lot, to keep the transmission from shifting down so much.
Maybe this is a result of transmission gearing as much as programming, because the curb weight is by no means excessive at 4134 pounds for the all-wheel drive XLS. A couple months earlier we drove the Volvo XC90 the same way on similar roads in the same area, and we remember the engine feeling more responsive, despite having more modest numbers: 208 horsepower, 236 foot-pounds of torque at 4500 rpm, and 4560 pounds of weight to carry. The Volvo has a five-speed automatic transmission, though, and sometimes the difference between a four-speed and five-speed can be a deal-breaker.
We also got some miles in the front-wheel-drive Endeavor, on steeper and rougher roads that included gravel and loose dirt over asphalt. We were less impressed with its handling; it understeered, torque steered, and was sprung more softly. We would suggest going with the all-wheel drive Endeavor unless you live in some place that'
The Mitsubishi Endeavor, entirely designed and built in the U.S., is a solid new entrant into the mid-sized, mid-priced SUV field. Mechanically it appears to be on par with other mid-priced SUVs, while its styling is distinctive.