In 2010, Ford managed to sell just under 200,000 Escapes. Mitsubishi, by contrast, struggled to sell more than a few thousand of their Endeavor, a slightly larger but price competitive vehicle with the Ford. On this evidence, you might, not unreasonably, think that the Ford must be an infinitely superior product. Having handed back a 4 cylinder Escape and gone more or less straight to a 6 cylinder Endeavor, I have little doubt which of the two vehicles I enjoyed the more. It was not the one with the Blue Oval badge on it.
The Endeavor has been around for a number of years, but will not be familiar to Europeans, as this is a product from Mitsubishi’s Illinois factory, aimed at the North American market. Indeed it was the first vehicle from the firm under a program called “Project America”, which was all about designing a car that did not have to be compromised by the differing needs of global markets. Based on the same platform that underpins the current, and equally long running Galant, the Endeavor was first revealed in March 2003, though a similar looking concept vehicle, the SSU had been shown as far back as the Detroit Show in 1999, and it took over the role previously occupied in the range by the truck-based Montero Sport, as a mid-sized cross-over SUV . Sales targets were ambitious, as Mitsubishi hoped to sell 80,000 of them a year. In the first year they managed to sell 32,000, and there has been a steady decline in sales ever since. A mild facelift in 2006 did not change matters, and indeed no cars were offered to the retail market for 2009. Hertz clearly bought a number of 2011 models, as I saw a lot at their LAX facility in November, when they had just arrived on fleet, and now they seem to be scattered around the American south west. Although the car I rented sports California plates, I got it from Las Vegas airport, and I undertook a lot of driving in it in the couple of days during which it was in my custody.
For 2011, the range is simple. There are just 2 models: LS and SE. Both share the same 225 bhp 3.8 litre V6 engine, and both come as standard with front wheel drive, though the SE is also available with all wheels driven . My test car, although not sporting any badges to tell you, was clearly an LS. The LS has all the basics, but no more, really. There is air conditioning, an MP3 capable audio unit, cloth seats with lumbar adjustment, rear privacy glass and roof rails. The price difference between the two models is about $4000, which sounds like quite a lot, but there is a quite lot of extra value in the SE, which may well make it worthwhile. The SE adds climate control, an electric sunroof, leather seats and steering wheel, 8-way power adjustment for the seats, heated mirrors, navigation system and backup camera, a satellite radio and polished alloy wheels. Several of those would have been really “nice to haves” on the test car, as in the wilds of the roads leading to Death Valley, an AM/FM radio is useless.
Indeed, a leather steering wheel would have been nice, too. The rather hard and rough plastic item was one of the least pleasant aspects of the car. The whole interior ambience shows the age of the Endeavor all too obviously. The door casings are made from thin and hard plastic, and the rest of the dash looks the same. In fact, the main surfaces are made from the same sort of soft touch material as you found in the European second generation Focus. When the car was launched, it would not have been too much of an issue, but now it does all look a bit below par. The instruments are the same as you find in the Galant, with chrome rings around all three dials, and a long vertical listing for the selected gear ratio to the right of the dials. The controls for the audio unit and air conditioning were nicer than in the sister Galant, though, lacking the rather tawdry cheap plastic finish that so did not impress me in that car. On this car they are large, and easy to use. There is a separate display unit at the top of the centre of the dash, which shows the time and the selected radio station. Column stalks handle everything else that you need, with a stubby stalk to the right of the wheel for the cruise control, which was very easy to use.
The Mitsubishi comes with a 3.8 litre V6 engine, and after the rough old nail in the Escape, it was a joy to get into this car, and fire it up to hear the smoothness of a V6 again. If you ref it hard, it does get quite noisy, but in ordinary motoring, noise levels are commendably low and yet performance is ample to keep up with or beat the rest of the traffic. Not that there is much traffic on Route 95 once you get clear of Las Vegas. I set it on cruise control, and left it at a steady 70 mph. By so doing, the fuel economy was surprisingly parsimonious, as I travelled a long way before the gauge even moved at all. the tank holds 21.5 gallons, so fill-ups are not cheap, but as I averaged 25.1 mpg (US), I was not stopping much for more fuel. Another sign of the age of the design is that the standard automatic gearbox has but 4 speeds. The ratios are well chosen, with top geared highly enough for refined cruising, but not so that there is acceleration available, or ability to maintain a steady speed even on some fairly steep inclines. Thank the generous levels of torque, too, for this. By pushing the lever to the right, you can shift the gears yourself by flicking the lever forwards or backwards. There is some lean on the corners, but for a vehicle of this type, the Endeavor handles reasonably well, and was quite fun to hustle along some of the twistier roads of the test. The steering is appropriately weighted, with a modicum of feel, too. No issues with the brakes, and there is a foot operated parking brake should you want additional reassurance beyond what the transmission can achieve for you. With a high driving position, generous amounts of glass and some massive door mirrors, seeing out of, and around you was no problem with this car.
I spent many hours behind the wheel of the Endeavor, and thus can confirm the comfort levels of the drivers seat to be good. Adjustments in this model are all manual, with a series of steeped positions for the backrest, but I was able to get the perfect driving position, and the seat generated no aches despite the hours I spent on it. Space is definitely not lacking in the Endeavor, even though it is not a particularly large car by class standards. The rear seats should easily house three adults, with ample legroom and headroom available. The boot area is massive, though you have to go to the SE model before you get a load cover. Should that not be enough space, the asymmetrically split rear seat backs drop down onto the seat cushions to create a truly cavernous load area, with a flat floor. There is plenty of space in the cabin, too, with a particularly massive glovebox, and a very big central cubby under the armrest. There are also some commodious door pockets, with a moulding to take a full sized bottle, and there are smaller areas for odds and ends as well. .
Put a modern interior in the Endeavor, and ideally a six speed transmission, and you would have a car that should sell in far greater volumes than currently. That is not going to happen, as it is widely rumoured that the model will quietly die at about the same time as the Galant saloon and Eclipse coupe whose underpinnings it shares are also anaesthetised, with no direct replacement envisaged. If you find one of these in the rental stall with your name on it, you should certainly not be alarmed as it is actually quite a pleasant automotive companion for a few days. I rather liked it.