First Drive: 2018 Jaguar XE SV Project 8
Behind the wheel of Coventry's record-breaking sports sedan
If only all press launches were this casual and this honest. I've just arrived at the new hotel that sits alongside the fabulous Autódromo Internacional do Algarve and run straight to dinner. Instead of dozens of journalists, engineers and PRs, our group is small, nobody is wearing a name badge, and there are no carefully devised seating plans. Talk is of 997 GT3s, M4 GTS, Camaro Z/28s, and a Ferrari 812 Superfast that our colleague Chris Walton of Motor Trend had just tested. Just a bunch of enthusiasts getting geeky.
The car we're here to drive is the 2018 Jaguar XE SV Project 8. Which, it strikes me, is a result of a bunch of enthusiasts getting geeky. The project was conceived and carried out by Jaguar's SVO department and follows a tried-and-tested hotrod formula: Take the biggest, most powerful engine in the range and stick it into the most compact bodyshell. The result is an XE powered by a 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 that makes 592 hp at 6,500 rpm and 516 lb-ft from 3,500 to 5,500 rpm. Top speed? 200 mph. Sounds hilarious, right? The thing is, SVO wanted to create a halo car with a really hardcore track focus. The engine is just the start…
With absolute performance in mind the Project 8 adopts the all-wheel-drive system from the F-Type SVR, complete with the rear e-diff and torque vectoring by braking on both axles. It's been completely retuned for the Project 8 and programmed to work with its heavily revised chassis. Project 8 benefits from new and much stiffer front uprights, two-piece upper wishbones that can be shimmed to provide camber adjustment, rubber bushes have been replaced with ball joints and there are now helper springs all round, too. The dampers are still continuously variable and switchable between Comfort, Dynamic, and Track settings, but you can also choose between two ride heights (if you have a set of spanners handy) depending on whether you're driving on road or racetrack.
There's so much more, but rather than run down the many, many changes I suggest you just look at the pictures for an insight into how comprehensive a transformation it is from XE to Project 8. The headlights had to be moved an inch and a half forward in order to fit the huge front wheels and tires; there are new front fenders, hood, rear doors, rear wings and fenders; and the exhaust is now made of titanium. The front track is 0.9-inch wider, the rear track 2.9-inches wider, the massive carbon-ceramic brakes save 40 pounds in weight, the carbon fiber hood saves a further 6.6 pounds, the front splitter can be by extended 2.4-inches and in combination with the rear wing in high downforce mode, Project 8 produces 269 pounds of negative lift at 186 mph—I told you it was geeky. Just 300 of these monster sedans will be built—all left-hand drive—each priced at around $187,500.
The result of all this incredibly detailed work is a new lap record for four-door sedans at the Nürburgring—a tasty-sounding 7 minutes and 21.23 seconds. "There's more to come, too," says David Pook, Project 8's Vehicle Dynamics Manager. "That time was set on the last lap of the last day before the 'Ring closed for the season. The car has evolved since then and it probably wasn't the perfect lap. I reckon we could knock another few seconds off. I hope we get to try…"
There's a lovely underlying determination in everyone involved with Project 8 and a mark of their confidence is that over dinner they ask me to have a go at setting a lap time around the Autódromo. "The fastest sedan lap around here is currently a BMW M3," explains Dan Connell, Head of PR for SVO. "Wouldn't it be nice to leave with a record?" In the next few minutes I throw out all the best racing driver excuses I've heard—"I don't know the track… Hmmm, the surface is probably still green… I've had a bit of a fever… I'll need to dial-in to the ca," and many more. "You'll be fine," says Dan.
Come morning talk of lap times has disappeared and I'm plonked in the passenger seat with Mr. Pook. He'll do a few laps and then we'll swap places. Immediately Project 8 feels absolutely nothing like an XE and calls to mind cars like those we discussed last night. The way the car changes direction reminds me of the M4 GTS, the noise is Z/28 overlaid with manic supercharger whine, and the track appears to be coming at us at GT3-type pace. It's intense but also extremely composed—the four-wheel drive system clearly provides fantastic traction.
Our car has the optional Track Pack, which means two-seater configuration with a rollcage in the rear. A sedan with two seats and a cage. Pretty cool, huh? Sadly, it'll only be available as a four-seater in the US. Anyway, with the massive 265-section front and 305-section rear Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s nicely warmed up, it's my turn.
Even rolling down pit lane Project 8 feels pretty sensational. I jink left and right and the steering response is fast and precise. The damping feels taut but it doesn't have the harshness of an M4 GTS and the brakes have a lovely reassuring immediacy. What's great is that it feels sharp but not jumpy. The rate of response of all the controls feels perfectly in harmony. It's a confidence-builder.
Out on the track that impression only grows. Project 8 turns with beautiful accuracy and resists understeer so well for a roughly 3,900-pound front-engine machine. You get into turns quickly and then the four-wheel drive system allows you to get on the power nice and early. Somehow the booming V-8 soundtrack and sedan shape lead you to brace yourself for a big helping of exit oversteer, but it never really materialises. Yes, you will feel the rear wheels start to overspeed and the beginnings of a yaw angle, but as soon as it arrives, the four-wheel drive rebalances things and you simply thump out of the corner fully hooked-up with that angry engine set free to shriek and howl to the rev limiter.
Thankfully this poise is matched by a tolerance for exploring other cornering techniques. So, should you want to play with the balance you can trail brake in to the apex to set the rear free and use the instantly available torque to steer the car with some pretty lurid angles. To have a four-wheel drive system that provides such stability but also allows the driver to dictate the balance of the car with throttle and braking inputs really is the dream and Project 8 juggles that dichotomy expertly.
It's over too soon, but there's another Project 8 waiting in the paddock with four seats and a ride that's 0.6-inch higher in optimum road spec. To be honest I didn't hold particularly high hopes for its chances of shining away from a smooth racetrack. Surely to control all that weight so effectively on track requires spring rates and damper settings that will feel crazily stiff on the road? As it turns out, not really.
Of course, Project 8 feels pretty uncompromising compared to something like an E63 S but while the ride is firm it's also brilliantly damped. The car doesn't rattle over bumps but rather parries them effectively, the wheels don't skip or hop but instead trace the surface neatly. At lower speeds you get to appreciate the lovely steering feel once you're into the meat of a turn (it feels a little vague just off centre), the fantastic mid-range throttle response, and the rapid-fire shifts of the 8-speed automatic gearbox. It feels wickedly naughty but also carries finesse. I'm impressed.
I arrived back at the circuit thinking that the Project 8 finally delivers a no-holds-barred drivers' car for Jaguar. The F-Type Project 7 was more about the look than the drive, but this feels like an engineering exercise first and foremost. Is it a match for something like a GT3? Well, ultimately it's still bigger, heavier, more compromised, and in terms of ultimate feel, accuracy, control, and speed, it would have to give best to the Porsche. But for people with a big collection already I can see where Project 8 might fit in. It's extroverted but useable, it looks outrageous but can back up the aesthetic with genuine track ability and endurance, and it's just a damn cool concept made real.
It's fast, too. Yes, they fitted a VBOX and made me do a lap. Here goes my renewed list of excuses—it was my 9th lap in the car (and first without a passenger) on a circuit I don't know at all well, we didn't have time to fiddle with tire pressures, and we were under strict instructions to get off the track as quickly as possible. Anyway, that M3 did a 2.10.70—and in the Project 8 I managed a 2.03.49. For further context, some bloke called Walter Röhrl did a 2.03.88 in a Cayman GT4 around here while journalist and Top Gear host Chris Harris managed a 2.02.02 in a 991.1 GT3. The Project 8 is quite the sedan.
2018 Jaguar XE SV Project 8 Specifications
|ENGINE||5.0L supercharged DOHC 32-valve V-8/592 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 516 lb-ft @ 3,500-5,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|L x W x H||185.6 x 81.7 x 55.9-56.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.3 sec|
|TOP SPEED||200 mph|