Mitsubishi Endeavor XLS AWD
While the segment the Endeavor competes in is mainstream, its design is anything but. Mitsubishi designers have crafted a cortex-stimulating, forward-thinking theme that refuses to blend into the SUV woodwork.

Though Mitsubishi was one of the first carmakers on the scene with a credible midsize SUV in the early '80s, its race-winning Montero never garnered many press accolades--or sales. In recent years, its pickup-truck-based Montero Sport developed a modest following based on low price and truck-tough styling. Late last year, Mitsubishi ventured into the realm of car-based SUVs with the compact, four-cylinder Outlander. For the '04 model year, the midsize V-6 Endeavor sets its sights on the sweet spot of the market.

The Endeavor is Mitsubishi's first mainstream car-derived midsize SUV. In fact, it's so new that the significantly larger '04 Galant sedan it's based on won't be introduced until later this fall. A rigid unitized body structure with hydroformed crossmembers and front and rear steel subframes form a solid basis for this new SUV.

All three Endeavor models, base LS, mid-level XLS, and range-topping Limited, are powered by a transverse-mounted version of the 3.8-liter/215-horse SOHC V-6 found in the full-size Montero. Though its power output isn't best in class, the throttle-by-wire engine develops a healthy 250 lb-ft of torque at an easy 3750 rpm, more than enough to get the Endeavor away smartly from rest without working up a sweat. In fact, from zero to 30 mph, the heavier Endeavor outaccelerated the 245-horse Nissan Murano in our testing. But at higher revs, the 3.8-liter V-6 gets a bit rough and noisy. The Endeavor's four-speed Sportronic automatic is the only transmission in our test group with manumatic shifting capability, great for holding gears in stop-and-go traffic or driving hilly sections. Endeavors with full-time all-wheel drive get an extra measure of surefootedness courtesy of a center differential with a viscous coupling. The system has a baseline 50/50 front/rear torque split. Like the Highlander, the system will deliver all available drive torque to one axle set, even if the other set of wheels loses traction.

Regardless of trim level, each Endeavor is available with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, with the front-drive LS model starting just under $26,000. Our mid-level XLS AWD test model stickered at $31,692.