LOS ANGELES – It may seem minor, but the decision to revise the emergency brake lever in the redesigned ’17 Ford Escape is exemplary of the “inside out” approach engineers took in redesigning the popular CUV.

“We started with the center console,” says Milton Wong, chief program engineer, in a preview ahead of the unveiling of the fourth-generation Escape at the Los Angeles auto show. “We added a lot of space by removing the clunky emergency brake handle and replacing it with an electronic brake,”

By changing the e-brake and moving the shift lever forward and left toward the driver, engineers were able to open up considerable usable space in the console, for cupholders as well as the myriad phones, eyeglasses and other carry-on items that seem to be growing larger all the time, Wong says.

The interior redesign includes an all-new center stack with touchscreen buttons and hard knobs, backed by a new steering wheel with redundant HMI controls and access to SYNC 3 voice-activated controls.

“We want eyes on the road, hands on the wheel,” Wong says.

A “swing-bin” glovebox that opens like a shelf offers more functional storage. The interior is quieter thanks to added insulation and side acoustic glass, Wong says.

Building on the SYNC 3 hands-free interface introduced in the ’16 model, the ’17 Escape becomes the first Ford equipped with SYNC Connect, an optional cloud-based system that uses smartphone technology to provide remote starting and locking/unlocking, vehicle location assistance and vehicle maintenance status.

The front and rear styling is redone to give the vehicle a wider and more rugged stance, but is otherwise unchanged from the sleeker, more aerodynamic appearance introduced when the vehicle was totally overhauled for the ’13 model year.

Suspension is updated, with revised rear springs to retain strong handling while providing a more comfortable ride. Available driver-assist features include adaptive cruise control, active park assist, lane-keeping system and forward collision warning. A total of 12 around-vehicle ultrasonic sensors make the vehicle easier to drive and park.

Two all-aluminum EcoBoost engines are new, a 1.5L turbo I-4 and a 2.0L twin-scroll turbo I-4. Ford expects the 1.5L to produce 180 hp and 185 lb.-ft. (250 Nm) of torque, comparable to the current 1.6L turbo it replaces. The 2.0L generates 245 hp and 275 lb.-ft. of torque and replaces the current 2.0L 240-hp, 270 lb.-ft. (366 Nm) single-scroll turbo I-4.

Both turbo engines feature standard stop/start technology that Ford says provides a 4%-6% improvement in fuel economy in stop-and-go city driving. The base engine is the carryover 2.5L 168-hp, 170 lb.-ft. (230 Nm) I-4. The standard transmission with all engines is a 6-speed automatic, in front- or all-wheel drive.

The ’17 Escape is offered in three trim levels, S, SE and Titanium. Production begins this spring at Ford’s Louisville, KY, Plant.

Escape brand manager Kevin Schad expects continued strong sales of compact SUVs to both Millennials beginning to raise children and Baby Boomers downsizing from their larger SUVs.

Schad says CUVs aren’t suffering the same fate as their minivan predecessors: “There is no minivan backlash. They (Millennials) are driving what their parents drove.”

bgritzinger@wardsauto.com