The imminent debut of the 2004 Endeavor crossover sport-ute will mark the launch of Project America--not a nefarious Dr. Evil plot to conquer the United States but Mitsubishi
's plan to develop and build its core products in the U.S. of A.
Slated for sale only in North America, the Endeavor--engineered in Japan but styled in Southern California and built in Normal, Illinois--is also the first Mitsubishi to ride on an all-new platform that will serve as the basis of the next-generation Galant, Eclipse, and Eclipse Spyder.
The Endeavor, priced from $25,000 to $35,000, slots into the Mitsubishi SUV lineup between the lightweight Lancer-based Outlander and the macho Montero and Montero Sport. Although sales are expected to split evenly between front- and all-wheel-drive vehicles, all Endeavors will come with a fully independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and the soul of a sedan.
As the latest entry in the "Is it a truck or a car?" segment of the market, the Endeavor will butt bumpers with crossovers such as the well-entrenched Toyota Highlander, the highly regarded Honda Pilot, and the daring Nissan Murano. So how is the Endeavor going to meet its ambitious sales target of 80,000 North American units during its rookie season?
"Style and attitude," says Pierre Gagnon, president and chief executive officer of Mitsubishi Motors America. Or, as Mike Krebs, vice president of product planning, puts it: "As great as the Highlander and the Pilot are, they have a tendency to disappear in parking lots."
Based on the bold SSU concept vehicle, the Endeavor sports a wide-track, high-boy stance reminiscent of the BMW X5. You can see some Eclipse in the prominent wheel arches. If you look closely enough, you also can spot a box-end wrench motif; not for nothing is the design theme called "geomechanical."
Like many Asian vehicles, the Endeavor features an interior inspired by home-audio equipment and sci-fi imagery, with lots of sculpted forms, shiny surfaces, and ice-blue LED instrument lighting. But, unlike the Honda Pilot, it has no third-row seat. Instead, Mitsubishi maximized legroom for rear-seat passengers and fashioned a cargo area big enough to accommodate a four-by-eight-foot sheet of plywood or a pair of mountain bikes.
The Endeavor is powered by a 3.8-liter SOHC V-6--a refined, bulked-up version of Mitsubishi's proven 3.5-liter V-6--rated at 215 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque, mated to a four-speed manu-matic transmission. The Endeavor is comfortable in the fast lane, and, like most crossovers, it fares better in the twisties than it does in the boonies.
The all-wheel-drive Endeavor lacks the low range that's de rigueur for serious off-roading, but, thanks to a stiff chassis, seventeen-inch wheels, and a strut-type front and multi-link rear suspension, the car is surprisingly surefooted and composed during brisk cornering. Torque steer--an annoying trait of front-wheel-drive Endeavors--is absent in AWD models, which use a viscous coupling in the center differential to achieve a 50/50 torque split.
Is Mitsubishi's bold new crossover going to conquer America? Unlikely. But it certainly won't want for allies here in the States.