"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.
Mitsubishi is putting a lot of eggs in the Endeavor's styling basket. Risky? "That's our brand. That's who we are," shrugs designer Dave O'Connell. Mitsubishi vehicles tend to cry "Hey, look at me!" because Mitsubishi is a little guy among big manufacturers, and to get noticed nowadays they have to jump up and down and shout. And the engineering basket can't carry the banner, because while there's nothing much to criticize about the Endeavor's engineering, there's nothing much special about it either. So the Endeavor's body tries to get attention for the sake of getting attention. The marketing spin is that the aggressive styling attracts "people who like to be noticed." If the styling were particularly handsome or graceful, we wouldn't be so jaundiced. But it's no more than it aspires to be: aggressively different.
Mitsubishi calls the design "geomechanical," or "geometric shapes with a mechanical application." But it's not a blend of geometric and mechanical, it's an abrupt meeting: the geometric shapes are all on the top half of the Endeavor, and the mechanical application is on the bottom. It's a deliberate "horizontal transition between man and machine," says O"Connell, who adds, "You can see the logic in the lines." We'll have to take his word for it.
The Endeavor is dominated by the high, angular fender flares, which in the front are carried all the way up to the hood. It looks like they were designed for tractor tires, as the wheel wells seem to dwarf the standard 17-inch tires. They are mounted on either standard five-spoke or optional seven-spoke aluminum wheels, neither of which are memorable. The fenders are connected by a horizontal high beltline, with the man above the belt being significantly slimmer than the machine below it.
"Bold" is the word Mitsubishi uses to describe the front end, but it's not as bold as the Endeavor's sides. This is good. There's no chrome or metal, just two body-colored horizontal ribs in openings on either side of a wide vertical center pillar with a big Mitsubishi badge. The headlamp units are fairly ordinary, reflecting a missed opportunity for some drama. This grille section rides on a high bumper fascia which might be the part of Endeavor that best fits Mitsubishi's adjectives and design objectives. Mitsubishi's description, "imposing intake cavities," is a good one. The long horizontal opening gapes so broadly you can easily see the radiator fins inside. Skipping highway stones might be worrisome.
The Endeavor looks best from the rear. The back end is simple, smooth and classy?angular on a two-dimensional level, with the tailgate shaped into a subtle stretched hexagon by small taillights. Its elegance creates a small mystery as to how it fits into this in-your-face geomechanical theme. Elegant describes the Limited with body-colored bumpers, at least. The LS has black "garnish" on the bumpers, and the XLS has gratuitous chrome bumper caps.
Because the independent rear suspension is mounted low in order to provide more cargo space, the control arms are oddly visible and catch your eye from the rear. It gives the Endeavor an air of mechanical seriousness, if not a suggestion of fragility from low ground clearance. Finally, the roof rails are wide oblong tubular aluminum, neither easy to reach nor especially functional, at least not without the crossbars that come standard only with the XLS and Limited. These thick aluminum rails may look rugged on the Nissan Xterra, where they were born, but not on the Endeavor, whose point is that it's not supposed to be the Montero Sport.
Mitsubishi says that Endeavor's sales strength will ride on four features that beat the competition, namely the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. The first claimed strength is styling, which is subjective and therefore not measurable. The second and third are interior features: cargo space and seating comfort. So let's compare.
Cargo capacity behind the front seat is 76.4 cubic feet for Endeavor, while the Highlander has 81.4 cubic feet and the Pilot 90.3 cubic feet. The 60/40 rear seats fold totally flat with the touch of a finger, and, thanks partly to a wide track, the cargo area has enough length and width to fit a 4x8 sheet of plywood, although it rests on the small wheel humps. There are no less than 10 hooks on the floor and side panels so things can be secured with bungee cords or nets, and one power outlet. The temporary spare tire is mounted under the cargo floorboard, which is easy to raise; a full-sized spare is optional.
Front legroom is good. For front legroom, the Endeavor and Pilot have 41.4 inches, the Highlander 40.7; most other mid-sized SUVs are in that range. The XLS driver's seat with standard adjustable lumbar support is comfortable and well bolstered, but rather wide for aggressive cornering. The premium fabric is nice, and appears quite durable.
Rear legroom is very good, with 38.5 inches; the Pilot's middle seat has 37.0 inches, and the Highlander has 36.4. The rear seat is quite comfortable, and has a center armrest with two cupholders.
Getting in and out is easy. Ingress and egress is especially good, with wide door openings. The step-in is low, which is one of the advantages to a car-based unibody frame, as opposed to the truck-based body-on-frame.
That word "geomechanical" pops up again in Mitsubishi's description of the Endeavor interior design. What they say looks like a cascading waterfall, the vertical center of the instrument panel, we would describe as looking more like the top half of a robot, including a small rectangular LCD screen as eyes and protruding vents as shoulders. The panel background is finished in faux titanium, and the top of the dashboard is a rubbery-feeling matt black plastic. Mitsubishi believes these "futuristic forms covered with metallic textures" will appeal to the "hip character" of SUV buyers. Metallic-colored trim is a trend right now.
Functionally it's fine, except maybe for the confusing compass that appears in the LCD window on XLS and Limited models. The knobs and dials on the robot's belly are easy to push and turn. The instrument cluster is a unit of three gauges that are easy to read, lit at night in a moody ice blue. There's a new climate control system efficiently combining heat and air conditioning with one blower.
The small LCD screen also displays a menu of functions programmable by what Mitsubishi calls ETACS, or Electric Time and Alarm Control System, which works with the SWS (Smart Wiring System) and CAN (Control Area Network). Just follow the menu on the ice-blue LCD screen, press the knobs on the robot/waterfall, and presto, you can "customize body functions," says Mitsubishi, which sounds pretty intriguing. We think it means you can fine-tune the timing of things such as interior lights and intermittent wipers.
There's a nice big glovebox, and the cushioned armrest console between the front seats has a removable tray, ideal for cell phones, that increases its capacity. With the tray in place, however, you have to lift two lids to get to the deeper storage area. There are two 12-volt outlets within the console, and another one accessible from the rear seat.
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.
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