The Ford Escape cross/utility vehicle no longer can be described as a “cute ute,” as Ford Motor Co. opts to take the popular CUV in a more aggressive direction for the ’08 model year.

The new model is set to debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week.

Based on the same platform as its predecessor, the all-new ’08 Escape borrows exterior styling cues from its larger siblings, the Ford Explorer and Ford Expedition SUVs.

Ford says the styling changes evoke a stronger family resemblance to its SUV lineup and “embodies Ford’s tough truck heritage.”

Although the ’08 Escape looks like an SUV, it retains the car-like driving characteristics that have made it a leader in its segment. Ford engineers have carried car-like attributes into the cabin as well, with reduced noise, vibration and harshness.

To further reduce noise levels, Ford has ditched the engine-driven hydraulic gear used in most power steering systems in lieu of an electric motor, which it says doesn’t drain power and efficiency.

Compared with the previous model, the ’08 Escape is 12% quieter on the highway and 20% quieter in high-velocity crosswinds, Ford says.

In line with the auto maker’s corporate environmental policy, the ’08 Escape boasts seating surfaces composed of 100% recycled materials, which Ford says “is believed to be the first U.S. automotive application” of such materials.

The new Escape will be offered with two powertrains – a base 2.3L inline 4-cyl. that produces 153 hp and a 3.0L V-6 that cranks out 200 hp. The I-4 version is available with either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 model comes only with the 4-speed automatic.

The ’08 Ford Escape Hybrid will receive the same interior and exterior modifications as its gasoline counterpart.

bpope@wardsauto.com