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TheCarConnection.com Review

2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor
Just how goofy can SUVs get?
by Robert Ahl

Remember when SUVs where merely conservative, unadorned boxes? When their styling basically consisted of the nose from some pickup truck with a sheetmetal brick behind it? Yeah, those were the days… the grand, glorious, giddy mid- to late-Nineties and early 2Ks. Oh how we miss them so.

Now it seems every maker is conjuring up some sort of wild-looking SUV. Nissan has gone globular with its Murano and Infiniti FX45, Toyota’s 2003 4Runner front end looks like a Cylon helmet from Battlestar Galactica, the Volvo XC90 features an oversize caricature of traditional Volvo styling, and the Chrysler Pacifica is too… too… something. But it’s Mitsubishi’s new 2004 Endeavor that’s the most aggressively bizarre looking of the bunch.

Follow us, if you will and can, down and around this form. The Endeavor’s nose looks so much like a rhinoceros’s nose that you half-expect it to snort and charge. The headlights are big enough to throw off lumens the size of hams, the fenders carry more sculpture than the Uffizi, and the side mirrors look like shovels ripped out of a kid robot’s sandbox. It’s a design riot, but the Endeavor isn’t ugly -- it’s just busy. Busy like a honeybee that’s extracted all the pollen from a Ritalin.

Convention rules
Despite the sheetmetal and plastic antics that define the Endeavor’s outward appearance, mechanically it’s a thoroughly conventional crossover SUV. Its 108.7-inch wheelbase and 190.2-inch overall length means it’s about two inches bigger in both than a Honda Pilot. The 3.8-liter SOHC V-6 sits sideways in the engine bay, sending its power to a four-speed automatic transaxle to power either the front wheels alone or, through a full-time transfer case, all four wheels. The suspension is struts up front and a multi-link system in the rear. All this is familiar stuff: the basic building blocks of a bunch of other crossover SUVs.

The Endeavor’s iron-block 3.8-liter V-6 is derived from the Montero’s 3.5-liter and that engine itself is a stretched version of the company’s 3.0-liter truck V-6. The 215 horsepower from 3.8 liters isn’t particularly robust, especially considering the Pilot’s 240 horsepower or the Toyota Highlander’s 220-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6. Both the Honda and Toyota engines benefit from being more modern, all-aluminum designs featuring variable valve timing. However, the relatively big displacement does give the Mitsu a slight advantage in low-end torque over its closest competitors.

The Endeavor is slightly less aggressive inside than outside. The dashboard itself is dominated by a large center stack styled to resemble a portable stereo system, with the instrumentation under its own awning in front of the driver. The speedo and tach are easy to read and are lighted in blue at night. The ventilation and audio controls are oversize and easy to manipulate and the in-dash, six-disc CD changer that comes in the mid-line ES and range-topping Limited is appreciated (base LS buyers get a single CD player). An LCD display tops the dash-center arrangement, but it lacks a navigation system as an option.

A more significant omission however is a third-row seat. That limits the Endeavor to just five occupants, while Honda says eight can be crammed into the Pilot’s three rows (it helps if some are Verne Troyer or smaller). Still the Endeavor’s rather flat seats are comfortable and legroom in the second row is generous.

Mitsubishi has done a fine job with interior textures, like the pebbled and dimpled texture of the steering wheel and the soft feel of the vast dash pad. The seats are flat but comfortable, leg room is good — especially in back — and there are enough outlets to power a cell phone, computer, Xbox, maybe an iron lung.

Handling it all
Every Endeavor comes wearing 235/55R17 all-season tires that contribute to this SUV’s good on-road composure. It’s not a sports car, but as long as the driver doesn’t try and clip his subdivision’s apexes too abruptly, the Endeavor behaves predictably with nicely weighted steering. The ride is about as good as any in this class and that is pretty dang good.

The engine isn’t quite so happy. Its off-idle initial acceleration is good, but it starts gasping for breath as it reaches higher revs. The four-speed automatic behaves well, too, and the “Sportronic” manual shifting scheme adds some interest to the driving experience, but it seems a bit archaic now that five- and six-speed automatics have become more common.

This is the first SUV Mitsubishi has ever designed specifically for North America and it’s the first to be produced here as well. In fact the new platform upon which the Endeavor is built will eventually spawn a Galant sedan and Eclipse coupe to be assembled alongside the SUV in Normal, Illinois. As such it’s wider and more civilized for the light-duty demands SUV buyers ask of their suburban warriors. Mitsubishi is keeping the Montero and Montero Sport around for anyone who needs serious off-road ability.

Where Mitsubishi makes great progress with the Endeavor is in areas like the interior, where every panel and piece is nicely textured and operates with grace and ease. Where they still need work is in engine sophistication. The over-the-tippy-top aspects of the Endeavor’s styling are polarizing, but it’s probably better for Mitsu, which doesn’t have the towering reputation of Honda or Toyota, to be something to some people than nothing to all people.

The Endeavor goes on sale in February with the base two-wheel-drive model starting at around $25,000 and fully loaded cowhide-laden Limited likely cresting past $35,000. Those are competitive prices that, along with some of Mitsubishi’s legendarily aggressive incentives, should have buyers considering the Endeavor.
 

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Call Endeavor excellent, but ...

The only thing wrong with the 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor is the price, and so far, the marketplace doesn't even object to that.

2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor.

As a midsize sport-utility vehicle tailored to the way people really use SUVs, it's an excellent piece of work. But the test model was a midlevel XLS priced $32,000-plus, without leather or cargo net or fog lights, or DVD or skid control or third-row seat (not offered at any price). That's more like the level of premium pricing that, say, Toyota can command because of its good reputation. Nonetheless, Edmunds.com reports that Endeavor is selling at or near full sticker.

At $28,000, the all-wheel-drive XLS test truck would make more sense.

Pushing aside price as an issue, it's easy to rave about Endeavor.

Instead of making a car-based SUV more carlike, in the fashion of other crossover SUVs, Mitsubishi made the car-based Endeavor trucklike.

It looks like a truck, has a truck's firm ride, feels solid as trucks do and boasts a no-nonsense layout blessedly free of gimmicks. It comes across like a very good traditional, truck-based SUV.

Endeavor uses the chassis that'll underpin the next-generation Mitsubishi Galant midsize sedan this summer and the redesigned Eclipse sporty car a year later. Atop that hardware, Mitsubishi plopped a boldly styled truck body, instead of one that looks like a cross between a station wagon and a minivan.

Endeavor hits a sweet spot in size and features. Here's the good stuff noted during the test drive:

•Exterior. The bulges over the wheels add character and definition but aren't showy and immature. You can visually minimize the muscular haunches by getting a dark color or let them stand out by getting a light color.

•Interior. Cloth seats in the test truck were very comfortable. They'll probably feel a bit firm to many people, but that's one sign of a seat that'll keep your back and rump supported properly hours later, and Endeavor's seemed to. Finding a just-so driving position was easy, even though the pedals weren't adjustable and the seat didn't adjust seven ways from Sunday. Good basic design.

Knobs are big, well marked, logical. Yippee. Even the covers over the 12-volt plugs are hefty, making them easy to open without pinching a finger. That's a sign that Mitsubishi designers have at least one foot in the real world. One of the 12-volt plugs is switched through the ignition, as normal, and the others are hot all the time, in case you need to keep charging the cell phone without running the engine, or operate your beach toy inflator without starting the vehicle.

Rear-seat legroom is even more ample than the generous 38.5 inches suggest, and the cushion is a good height for adults, though adjustable backrests would improve comfort.

The rear seat is split approximately 60/40, and each portion folds separately, via a single latch, to expand cargo space.

The cargo hold has plenty of hooks to hang and tie things. And the tailgate window opens by itself, should you not need to swing up the entire gate.

•Handling. Nimble enough to be fun and easy-driving.

•Chemistry. The more you drive it, the more you like it, appreciating Endeavor's commitment to doing the basics right, and stylishly, while having the guts to forsake gee-whiz gadgetry and furbelows.

There are, of course, reasons Endeavor won't suit all, and some things Mitsubishi could improve.

•Seating. What you get is comfy, but do you get enough? Lack of a third row is a deal-breaker for some buyers.

Not that Mitsubishi should have stuffed a way-back row into Endeavor just to brag about it. But perhaps Endeavor's body or wheelbase could have been lengthened to handle another row. Endeavor is an inch longer than a Ford Explorer four-door, which does have a third row.

•Powertrain. The engine's generally satisfying, though more power's always welcome in a vehicle made to haul people and stuff. For Endeavor's premium price, though, you should get more than a so-so power rating from an engine that requires premium fuel to achieve it. The transmission's a four-speed in an age when even minivans sport five-speed gearboxes. A five-speed would wake up the engine a bit, and possibly could be tuned to avoid the four-speed's jerky downshifts.

In general, the powertrain is behind the curve on sophistication.

•Info display. It's the one home of silliness in the vehicle, using pictograms for airflow instead of simple arrows. And there's no trip computer mode, so you can't track your fuel economy easily, nor have an idea how far you can drive until the tank's empty.

•Steering wheel. A reasonable person could consider it mud-ugly. And the hard plastic surface won't appeal to all, though it's easier on the hands than it seems at first. The leather upholstery option gives you a leather-wrapped steering wheel and might be the (expensive) solution.

•Rear suspension. It hangs down in ugly fashion, threatening to snag any branch or rock en route to the fishin' hole. Mitsubishi cautions that Endeavor's for bad roads and bad weather, not true off-road use. You decide whether that path to the cabin in the woods is a bad road or no road at all.

•AWD. A transfer case with low-range gears would be welcome — but that would make it off-road capable and require beefier underpinnings, starting a price-boosting chain of upgrades.

•Track record. There isn't one. Endeavor's a newcomer, on sale only three months, using new hardware throughout. There are no crash scores or reliability ratings yet, which should give pause before handing over 30 big ones.

Still, judged purely as a modern transportation product of the highly popular sort for those who don't need a third-row seat or heavy-duty capabilities — in other words, for most SUV users — Endeavor's terrific.

•What is it? Midsize sport-utility vehicle based on car-style chassis but styled like a traditional truck-based SUV; available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD); manufactured at Normal, Ill.

•How soon? On sale since March.

•How much? LS FWD starts at $26,192 including $595 49-state destination charge ($720 in Alaska). LS AWD starts at $28,192. XLS: FWD, $28,492; AWD, $30,492. Limited: FWD, $32,292; AWD, $33,792.

Expect to pay full sticker price, or nearly so, Edmunds.com says.

•What's the powertrain? 3.8-liter V-6 rated 215 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, 250 pounds-feet of torque at 3,750 rpm, four-speed automatic transmission with Sportronic manual-shift mode. AWD models have full-time system that splits power 50/50, front/rear in normal driving; no transfer case with low-range gears.

Anti-skid and traction controls will be introduced later this year as options on Limited only.

•What's the safety gear? Normal array of bags and belts. Anti-lock brakes with brake-force distribution are standard on AWD and Limited models.

•What's the rest? LS comes with air conditioning; AM/FM/CD stereo; power steering, brakes, windows, locks, mirrors, cruise control; height-adjustable steering column; remote-control locks; driver's seat height adjustment; auto-off headlights; rear window defroster, wiper and washer; floor mats; P235/65-17 mud and snow tires on cast aluminum wheels; temporary spare.

XLS has upgraded cloth upholstery; six-CD changer with upgraded stereo; compass and temperature display; cargo cover; roof rack; chrome bumper trim. Limited has leather upholstery; sunroof; automatic climate control; body-color exterior trim; front-seat, side-impact air bags; tire-pressure monitor.

•How many? 80,000 first 12 months.

•Who'll buy? About 60% men, Mitsubishi says; married but probably no kids, about 37 years old, with $80,000 annual household income.

•How big? Slightly longer and wider than a four-door Ford Explorer SUV, but with less room inside. Endeavor is 190.2 inches long, 73.6 inches wide, 67.3 to 70.2 inches tall, depending on roof rack accessories, on a 108.7-inch wheelbase. Weight ranges from 3,847 to 4,156 pounds, depending on model.

Cargo space behind rear seat is 40.7 cubic feet; with rear seat folded, 76.4 cubic feet. Rated to tow 2,000 pounds (FWD) or 3,500 pounds (AWD). FWD models rated to carry 1,115 to 1,203 pounds of people, cargo and accessories, depending on model. AWD rated to carry 1,094 to 1,171 pounds.

•How thirsty? FWD is rated 17 miles per gallon in town, 23 on the highway. AWD is rated 17/21. Premium fuel is specified.

•Overall: Right look, right feel, wrong price.
 

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twelsh said:
Is it just me, or does the profile look suspiciously Jeep Grand Cherokeeish?
I was thinking the same thing.

I don't think it's a bad SUV but if I wanted a box on wheels, I wouldn't have gotten the Murano. :p
 

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I look at it and the first thing that comes to mind is, er, yawn.. :23:
 

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Edmunds site has a comparo with the Endeavor, the Pilot, Murano and the Highlander (winner of prior comparo). The Endeavor wins, Pilot second, and Murano 3rd.

BUT if you ignore the 2 subjective rating categories (in Edmunds defense, at least they clearly label them as such, but they are still weighted far too heavily in comparison to the 'hard' data) the Murano wins by a huge margin.

The reviewers just didn't like the styling and the 'feel' of the CVT, and it really showed in their subjective ratings (one is their personal opinion, and the other is their attempt to predict what the average consumer will think.... but it's really just their opinion counted twice).

Mitsu just can't match the features and safety, but does hold a tiny edge in acceleration.
 

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Personally I would NEVER buy a Mitsu car or suv. They have the worst "fix it again" reputation in the entire industry. Cheep parts = lower prices.

But don't just trust me, do a little research on Mitus cars and you will find a 75% dissatisfaction rate.
 

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I just think it looks strange-ugly. Mitsubishi made a good move toning down the busy moulding on the Montero this last year.

This vehicle seems kind of silly looking to me with the fender coming out and as high as they do. Just not visually appealing to me (wait did I say that already?)

And what about all these vehicles that are hardly indistinguishable from one another? How different is this from the Montero Sport, and why put out another vehicle at the same size/features, why why why? Actually the Montero Sport/Endeavor is about the same size as the regular Montero.

BTW, I have a 97' Montero. It has had absolutely no problems. Guess I am lucky. We test drove the Sport a few years ago and it was gutless with the same engine? I mean REALLY gutless. I don't know what they did to that engine with the Sport, but they did something.
 
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