LOS OLIVOS, Calif. -- Stagecoach Road, a zigzag course cut through the Santa Ynez Mountains near Santa Barbara, traces back in California history to the era of horse-drawn buggies. Although paved today, the endless series of twists and bends on the old stage route tests the dexterity of any modern vehicle.
It's no contest for the Endeavor wagon from Mitsubishi, however, because this vehicle -- organized to direct all engine power not to the rear wheels as would a conventional truck-based sport-utility vehicle (SUV) but to the rollers up front which also steer -- quickly demonstrates an easy-to-drive attitude with uncommon agility.
This capacity of the front wheels to both steer and propel the machine is a characteristic which sorts Endeavor to the category of a crossover utility vehicle (CUV).
Consider a CUV as one vehicle which fits into more than one category in terms of function, format and style. It combines traits of a car and a wagon, even a minivan.
For Mitsubishi's mid-size CUV, the crossover concept blends the manners of a refined luxury sedan with the elevated stance and cargo capacity of a boxy SUV and the cabin flexibility and interior efficiency of a minivan.
It's easy to drive like the sedan because its rigid unibody structure and all of the handling hardware -- such as an independent suspension for all wheels and responsive rack and pinion steering -- match mechanical equipment on a front-wheel-drive (FWD) car rather than a rear-wheel-drive (RWD) truck and the typical SUV derived from that truck.
Yet in format it resembles a sizeable sport-ute and can carry a wagon's load of cargo, while the spacious passenger compartment comes with plush and comfortable seats arranged in two rows for up to five riders and there are fancy amenities aboard.
Endeavor -- continuing the first-generation design and badged for the class of 2008 -- marks a second CUV for Mitsubishi, which also builds the compact-class Outlander.
Compared against Outlander, Endeavor measures larger in scale, as it fits in the mid-size class of wagons with a wheelbase of 108.7 inches and an overall body length of 190.2 inches -- versus Outlander's 105.1-inch wheelbase and 182.7-inch length.
Also, it stocks a more powerful and sophisticated six-pack powertrain.
Mounted transversely up front, Endeavor's V6 displaces 3.8 liters with a cam on top and four valves per cylinder. This is a free revving plant containing a cold-air induction system with multi-point fuel injection and throttle-by-wire controls.
It generates up to 225 hp at 5000 rpm with torque reaching to 255 lb-ft at 3750 rpm.
The four-speed automatic transaxle contains an adaptive controller linked to a computer that learns a driver's habits and manipulates shift patterns to suit the driving style. Then slide the shift lever laterally into a side gate for the Sportronic manual mode, where fore-aft stick action bumps up or down the gear ladder one notch at a time.
Two trim variations for Endeavor are available with FWD orientation or an optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction system.
Models with the full-time AWD equipment employ a spider gear and viscous coupling in the center differential to divide the engine's muscle equally between front and rear wheels.
That way, all four tires get a grip on pavement and work together to deliver steady and predictable traction even in slippery spots.
The unitized steel chassis underpinning Endeavor is a versatile structure designed to accommodate FWD and AWD vehicles.
With hydroformed components and firm cross members plus subframe sections fore and aft to increase strength and rigidity, the framework serves as a firm foundation to support the suspension equipment.
Endeavor also has a broad track with the wheels pushed out to 63 inches.
With the wide stance and that long 108.7-inch wheelbase, the wheels on corners of the chassis contribute predictable stability for the wagon when it's steered along a twisty route like Stagecoach Road.
The suspension employs MacPherson struts up front with a compact multi-link arrangement at the rear tied to gas-charged shocks and coil springs. A low profile for rear links ends up carving out more cargo room in the cabin because the design fosters a lower floor level.
Big 17-inch aluminum wheels mounted with 235/65R tires elevate the ride height.
The rack and pinion steering system comes with a speed-sensing hydraulic power steering pump that maximizes the power boost at parking-lot speeds but increases the friction for highway cruising.
Brakes, also with power assistance, consist of vented front discs and solid rotors at the rear.
An anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD) and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) show up on the list of standard safety hardware for every Endeavor, and all 2008 issues also score Mitsubishi's active skid and traction control (ASTC) system to stem tire spinning and thwart lateral vehicle sliding.
Distinctive styling for Endeavor's exterior package features sharply chiseled forms in strong geometric shapes with undulating slabs around wheel wells forging character lines on the flanks and the face fitted with an imposing split-port grille plus big corner headlamp clusters.
Four large side doors provide access for riders to the cabin, which has two bolstered bucket seats in front of a bench for three but with the rear seatback split 60/40 and foldable to expand the cargo compartment.
The sculptural styling for Endeavor's exterior extends into the cabin with a dramatic design for the dashboard featuring metallic finishes on the jut-out central column of controls and an instrument cluster with large round gauges washed by ice-blue LED bulbs.
Endeavor's trim designations are the deluxe LS and sporty SE. The LS comes with cloth fabric covering seats and black bumpers on the body plus a rack on the roof and lots of equipment in the cabin including air conditioning and power controls for windows and door locks. Enedavor SE edition covers the seats in two-tone leather and adds body-colored bumpers, mirrors and door handles, plus a sport-touch steering wheel with audio controls.
Optional gear clusters in packages like a Special Edition Extra Value Package (Rockford Acoustic Design premium audio kit with six-disc CD changer and MP3 player), the Tow Package, Leather Plus Package, Navigation Package and a Sunroof Package.