Mitsubishi's Endeavor has easier objectives, but far greater competition from others. The Endeavor is a midsize sport utility that seats five, with generous space in the front and rear seats. The rear seatbacks flip down to reveal a big cargo area with a perfectly flat floor.
In spite of its rugged appearance, Endeavor is built more like a car than a truck. Underway, the Endeavor handles well and offers a nice, smooth ride. Its drive-by-wire throttle provides responsive control, and its 3.8-liter V6 delivers adequate power, though the Endeavor won't win many drag races. It's available with front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, but we much prefer the AWD model.
Barely two years old, the Mitsubishi Endeavor has been moderately facelifted for 2006. ABS with traction control is now standard. The standard towing capacity has been increased to 3500 pounds. And all Endeavor sound systems now include MP3 capability.
Mitsubishi Endeavor LS ($26,599); LS AWD ($27,999); Limited ($30,799); Limited AWD ($32,299)
Endeavor's front end is bold and this boldness has been further enhanced for the facelifted 2006 models. Chrome grille bars replace the previous body-colored trim, and on Limited the center bar is chrome as well. The bumper and fascia are new for 2006, but the headlamp units are unchanged.
Moving around to the side, the Endeavor is dominated by high, angular fender flares, which in the front are carried all the way up to the hood. It looks like they were designed for larger tires, as the wheel wells seem to dwarf the standard 17-inch rims. The tires are mounted on either five-spoke brush-finish (LS) or seven-spoke polished (Limited) aluminum wheels. The fenders are connected by a high, horizontal beltline.
Endeavor looks best from the rear. The back end is simple, smooth and classy, angular on a two-dimensional level. Triangular extensions on the taillights and an upturned rear bumper make a subtly stretched hexagon of the tailgate. The rear bumper has been extended for 2006, and its step cover redesigned. Mitsubishi has stripped trim-level badges of off the Endeavor for a cleaner appearance.
Because Endeavor's independent rear suspension is mounted low to provide more cargo space, the control arms are 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.
The roof rails are wide oblong tubular aluminum, neither easy to reach nor especially functional, at least not without the crossbars that come standard on the Limited. These thick aluminum rails may look rugged on the Nissan Xterra, but not on the Endeavor. Xterra, built like a truck, is a rugged vehicle; Endeavor is built more like a car.
For 2006, the remote keyless entry controls have been integrated into the key, eliminating the separate fob, a setup Mitsubishi believes to be more convenient. A valet key is no longer provided, however.
Once in, the Endeavor is roomy, with front legroom that's comparable to other midsize SUVs (41.4 inches). The Limited's driver's seat with standard adjustable lumbar support is comfortable and well bolstered. The premium fabric is nice, and appears quite durable. Big mirrors offer a good view rearward. Leather upholstery is offered as part of a Leather Package. The seats themselves have been re-styled. And all Endeavors with beige interiors are better color-coordinated, with beige replacing black on the door armrests, lower dash, glovebox, center console, and steering wheel.
Functionally, the Endeavor features big knobs and dials that 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, and accented for 2006 with bright rings. The climate control system efficiently combines heat and air conditioning with one blower.
The center stack features a small rectangular LCD screen with a panel background that changes from titanium to a more subtle black metallic for 2006. The small LCD screen displays a menu of programmable functions, including compass, outdoor temperature, calendar, and the timing of interior lights and intermittent wipers. For 2006, Limited and Road Trip models add a fuel-mileage calculator, door-alarm indicator, and maintenance recorder. The top of the dashboard is still a rubbery-feeling matt black plastic, but Mitsubishi has added brightwork to the inner door levers, door accent panels, and radio buttons.
The Endeavor's rear seat is quite comfortable, with a center armrest with two cup holders and generous legroom for the class, at 38.5 inches. That's more than you'll find in the second row of the Pilot (37.0) or Highlander (36.4).
The 60/40 rear seats fold totally flat with the touch of a finger. Cargo capacity behind the front seats is 76.4 cubic feet, which is a little less than the Highlander and Pilot. The cargo area has enough length and width to fit a 4x8 sheet of plywood, although it would rest 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 full-size spare tire is mounted under the cargo floorboard, which is easy to raise.
A big glove box offers storage space along with the cushioned armrest console between the front seats with 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.
We've driven the Endeavor over all kinds of surfaces, and it has a nice ride. It's smoother than most truck-based SUVs and comparable to some of the car-based SUVs. The only bump in the Endeavor's otherwise comfortable ride appeared in the sharp ridges, those pitches upward that you feel in the pit of your stomach.
The unit-body chassis 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.
Put it in Drive and the four-speed automatic transmission does a decent job. It also features a manual Sportronic mode, which allows the driver to change gears; put it in the manual mode and it only shifts when the driver shifts it. We prefer that over the manual modes on many automatics that won't hesitate to override the driver when it doesn't like the driver's decisions. Shifting manually is awkward, however; 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.
The engine's drive-by-wire throttle system is very responsive. Mitsubishi says the 0 to 60 mph time for a 2WD LS is 9.5 seconds, which is reasonable but sets no records. The all-wheel-drive Limited we drove was 300 pounds heavier than the front-wheel-drive LS. The 3.8-liter V6 is rated at 225 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque, the latter 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.
We also spent some miles in a 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 choosing an all-wheel drive Endeavor unless you live in a place that's always flat and dry, and you never leave the pavement.
The Mitsubishi Endeavor, designed and built in the U.S., is a solid entrant in the midsize, mid-priced SUV field. Mechanically it appears to be on par with other mid-priced SUVs, while its styling is distinctive.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed the original report from the central California coast; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.