by Jim Kenzie
Santa Barbara, California – Mitsubishi made its initial mark on the motorsport scene not with their Lancer World Championship rally cars, but with their SUVs in the manic Paris-Dakar Rally Raid desert race. SUVs have been a big part of the company’s world-wide sales success too, although what ROW (Rest of World) knows as Pajero or Shogun, we know as various forms of Montero.
But Mitsubishi also understands that Rally Raid performance – heck, even off-road performance – isn’t what sells SUVs here. It’s luggage space, passenger space, high seating position and towing capacity. Oh yeah, and a tough-guy image.
Mitsu has correctly read that consumers are slowly beginning to understand that a truck-based SUV isn’t the best way to get what they need and want from an SUV. So Mitsubishi has two new SUVs – the smallish Outlander, already on sale, and today’s subject for show-and-tell, the all-new Endeavor, scheduled for launch later this year.
Both are car-based, Outlander on the Lancer, and Endeavor on Mitsubishi’s Project America platform, designed, engineered and built in North America, primarily for domestic consumption. This versatile set of mechanicals will also underpin the next-generation Accord/Camry-competitor Galant sedan and Eclipse Spyder and Coupe sports cars, coming within the next twelve months.
Total North American content in Endeavor is about 75 percent – the engine and transmission come from Japan, just about everything else is sourced here.
Click image to enlarge
Despite the passenger-car DNA, Endeavor has been given a definite truckish look, with big wheels and tires, huge fender flares, and gigantic, I’ll-eat-your-children air intakes. Contrast this to Nissan’s futuristic and uniquely-shaped Murano, similarly-sized, similarly priced and aimed at a similar market segment.
Endeavor is also the first SUV I can recall that tells it like it is – Mitsubishi says Endeavor’s styling “exudes the intimidating attitude… that attracts Mitsubishi buyers”.
“Intimidating”. Great; just what we need more of on our highways.
The interior is configured for five seats only, as Endeavor’s design team figured that you couldn’t engineer a meaningful third row of pews in a vehicle of this size anyway, so you’re better off without. Good call.
The mechanical packaging does allow Endeavor to offer an interior package not only superior in most dimensions to that of direct competitors like Lexus RX300, Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, but not far off that of much bigger SUVS as well. Width between seats is particularly generous; no bumping-of-elbows in this vehicle.
Click image to enlarge
The interior is a nice combination of funk and function – ergonomics are fine, with easy-to-read gauges and easy-to-use knobs and levers, while the design and materials look modern, and stop just short of being flashy. Storage pockets, mesh nets, cup holders and a dual-level centre console with a lower bin big enough for a laptop computer or purse provide lots of
oddment space. Multiple 12-volt outlets can power the personal electronics of today’s driver.
A single-touch lever split-folds the rear seat back almost completely flat in 60/40 proportion, to increase available luggage space. The resulting floor is wide enough to handle a four-foot wide sheet of building material, and the rear hatch opens wide enough to actually make this feasible. The rear hatch glass opens independently of the hatch itself, making it easier to load smaller objects, or to stack grocery bags so they don’t spill their contents onto the parking lot. I think Ford’s Taurus wagon was first with this, but it’s always welcome.
The car-like nature of Endeavor’s oily bits is suggested by the transverse placement of the engine, an enlarged 3.8 litre version of Mitsu’s existing 3.5 litre V6. Horsepower is a modest 215 at a very modest 5,000 r.p.m. Torque – more important in any real-world scenario, but especially for a heavy-duty family vehicle – peaks at 250 lb.-ft., at 3,750 r.p.m. Whenever the peak torque number is higher than the horsepower number, you’ve got a flexible motor. More important, Endeavor’s V6 delivers over 210 lb.-ft. from about 1,100 r.p.m., right up past the power peak to 5,250 r.p.m.
With guts like this, you barely need gears at all, so Mitsu has settled for a four-speed automatic, with “Sportronic”, Mitsubishi’s label for manual gear override capability. The money they’ve saved by not going to a five-speed has been wisely applied to a real four-wheel drive system, a permanently-engaged design with front and rear axles connected by a viscous coupling. Wheelspin at either end automatically locks up the coupling, diverting torque to the
The full-time nature of this system means you’ve always got all four wheels helping you out of whatever trouble you’re in the process of getting yourself into, unlike many competitive vehicles whose “too-late” systems often don’t react quickly enough. I took the Endeavor onto almost exactly the same stretch of Pacific Coast beach that, um, beached the Murano a month earlier, and Endeavor just cruised out, sans tow truck.
Suspension is by car-like MacStruts at the front and a multi-link set-up at the rear, specifically designed to enable that low, flat load floor. This bestows upon Endeavor better dynamics than you’d expect from a vehicle of this nature. Ride quality is particularly noteworthy, being markedly smoother over exactly the same east-of-Santa Barbara mountain roads that I drove in the Murano. If an SUV on this platform can ride and handle like this, it bodes extremely well for the up-coming Galant and Eclipse.
Three trim levels – LS, XLS and LTD, with the usual upgrading in luxury equipment and trim materials, and each offered in front- or four-wheel drive versions – are on the palette. Prices haven’t been finalized at time of writing, but Mitsubishi can read the competitors’ price sheets too; expect a range of about $25,000 to $35,000 US. In Northern Pesos, that will
probably translate into mid-thirties to mid-forties.
For a non-SUV type like myself, I’d prefer Endeavor if it didn’t look so much like a truck.
Because it isn’t a truck. It’s a versatile, powerful, smooth-riding, nice-handling vehicle than can be a lot of things to a lot of people. The marketing dudes are calling things like these “cross-over” vehicles. Sure – can you say, “station wagon”, boys and girls? I knew you could.
Whatever – when Endeavor hits the showrooms, it will make the family vehicle purchase decision that much tougher.