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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There's a smug mindset at work in America that thinks the middle ground is no longer good enough. Listen to politicians, talking heads, celebrities, fashionistas and bloggers, and you'll see it. Extremism is taking hold in every facet of our lives, from our music to our TV shows, the politicians we are asked to vote for and even the clothes we're expected to wear.

Thankfully, the middle ground holds, and it's a wonderful place to be. And, believe it or not, there's a crossover SUV that embraces that American heart: the 2020 Ford Escape.

Welcome the fourth generation of the Ford Escape, offered for 2020 with two gasoline-powered drivelines and a new hybrid model. Totally redesigned for the new model year and wrapped in tastefully aerodynamic sheet metal, the new Escape wears variations of modern Ford styling cues, including a trapezoidal grille capped by the brand's classic blue oval badge. It's far more inviting than the third generation's awkwardly off-putting angular design motif, one that lived on well past its sell-by date.

Pleasingly modern and handsome, the Escape's cabin lacks the adolescent Gameboy design feel prevalent in too many cars these days. Its grown up, with a modern, sophisticated instrument panel, anchored by a center mounted flatscreen - 4.2 inches on S models, 8 inches on others - and a dazzling full-color 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in front of the driver. As in other Fords, the user interface is easy to figure out. Nevertheless, material quality is nothing special, and there's not much difference in feel regardless of trim level, be it S, SE, SE Sport, SEL and Titanium. Also, some buyers may find the push-button starter hard to reach, as it's placed on an angled part of the instrument panel. Others may find the rotary transmission dial takes some getting used to, but it frees up a lot of interior space.

But there's much to admire, with comfortably high seats with good head and legroom up front and generous rear seat legroom, superior to many competitors. Credit the rear seat that has six inches of fore-and-aft seat travel to adjust for more people or more cargo. Once underway, the cabin is very quiet with negligible wind or road noise, except on the very worst surfaces thanks to insulated front window glass.

Power comes from three different drivelines.

A 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic are standard on base S, SE and SEL models. Rated at 181 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque, it's offered with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Optional on the SEL and standard on the Titanium is SEL a 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine rated at 250 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. All-wheel drive is standard. Ford also offers new Hybrid models, including a standard and plug-in variant, with a driveline rated at 200 horsepower and mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission.

Performance is satisfactory with the base 1.5-liter engine, and effortless with its larger 2.0-liter sibling. Ironically, the hybrid's 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine is the Escape's largest gas engine, but it has a gruff sound that's out of character. That said, performance is satisfying, even in fuel-sipping Eco Mode. And when it comes to filling the Escape's tank, it won't break the bank - as the Hybrid returned a class-leading 45 mpg without much effort.

Regardless of engine, transmission behavior is exemplary, offering up quick shifts just when you need them. That said, manual mode seemed slow to respond. Body lean is very well controlled, coming on only as you start to reach the limits of adhesion. Steering is nicely weighted, with a touch of road feel, although there seems to be a little too much play on-center. The hybrid's extra weight can be felt in corners, but it enhances the Escape's overall feel. Bump absorption is impressive, with no rebound and little to no body motion over bad surfaces. The Escape feels beautifully balanced and agile, returning a relaxed, refined driving experience.

As you'd expect, such driver assistance features as blind spot warning, cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, a rearview camera, and hill start assist are standard. Parking assist, adaptive cruise control, and evasive steering assist are optional.

The redesigned 2020 Ford Escape has an elan and sophistication that seems to have escaped the previous version. With its handsome, conservative good looks, perfect size and up to date tech package, it should have little trouble reaching buyers before rather Escape to other brands, not to mention those who find ripped jeans the dumbest fashion statement since the polyester leisure suit.

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2020 Ford Escape

Base price: $24,885

Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 181/190

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 27/33 mpg

Fuel required: Regular

Wheelbase/Length/Width: 106.7/180.5/74.1 inches

Cargo capacity: 33.5-65.8 cubic feet

Curb weight: 3,299 pounds

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. Readers may send him email at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.

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