Jaguar's E-Pace may be a junior crossover, but it is fiercer, sharper and louder than its F-Pace big brother
Cub with claws The fun and engaging E-Pace has the latest rendition of Jaguar's Touch Pro infotainment system with voice control and a multi-function steering wheel. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Jaguar may be positioning the E-Pace as its cub crossover, but if you think the car is a timid kitten, you have got another think coming.

The test car, looking like a compressed F-Pace, is powered by a familiar 2-litre turbo engine paired with a less familiar nine-speed autobox. The powertrain sends 249hp and 365Nm to all wheels sited at four corners of the compact crossover. Even though it does not have the lightweight aluminium construction of its bigger brother, the smaller E-Pace pounces energetically and growls angrily.

It hits 100kmh in seven seconds, although at times it feels quicker. With an exhaust note which is a pared-down version of the Jag F-Type's booming tailpipe concerto, the E-Pace is a fierce little feline out to impress.

On many counts, it succeeds. The car is noticeably more engaging than the F-Pace, with a difficult blend of hot-hatch "chuckability" and SUV -ish ride quality.

Its steering is direct and its chassis responds swiftly to inputs. Yet, there is a small degree of nervousness at the helm, with the car appearing larger than it really is.

Then there is the gearbox. Tightly spaced in the first four to five cogs, it gives the E-Pace an urgent quality remiss of SUVs. But, alas, it is not a very smooth tranny, prone to downshift judder - especially after an enthusiastic application of the throttle.

The good thing is that it is fairly efficient in transmitting whatever the modest engine can churn out. So much so that you rarely have to select the sportier drive mode. It is only when you need a sustained ballistic burst that the normal drive mode appears a tad lacking.

Still, it is more fun than the F-Pace. Jaguar probably meant it to be this way too. Inside, the car sports a joystick gear lever found in the F-Type coupe - not the rotary control the F-Pace employs.

Taking centre stage in the cockpit is the latest rendition of Jaguar's Touch Pro infotainment system with voice control. A multi-function steering wheel offers easy and intuitive access to a variety of functions, including adaptive cruise control.

Less accessible though is the car's electric parking brake button, which is sited at the bottom of the dash on the right side of the steering column. Without an auto-hold function, it makes stopping at the lights a little less convenient. Siting it next to the gear lever would have been much better.

The test car is a First Edition, which is based on Jag's R-Dynamics pack. Three unique colours, 20-inch satin grey wheels, soft grain "Windsor" leather with red stitching and an ebony suede headlining set this version apart. Most of these features are fine except for the suede, which is a mite old-fashioned for an otherwise hip and modern car.

Against its rivals, the cub is bigger and roomier than the Audi Q3, and nearly just as sporty as the BMW X2. Even if it is a little pricey (the substantially bigger X3 is just 5.8 per cent costlier), this Jag should do better than the F-Pace because it is fun and funky.