It was a cordial but tactical message, a smooth bit of PR suggesting that my Jaguar XE SV Project 8 test car might be a smidge extreme for public use in its most aggro setting. “Track mode,” the e-mail warned, “is a true track calibration for smooth race courses, making the ride far too stiff for Southern California roads.” With a record-busting Nürburgring time of 7:21.23, a full 11 seconds quicker than the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, what else would I expect?
The lowered, tightened, and muscularized Jaguar Project 8 is indeed a hard-core performer, a ballsy attempt to inject serious performance cred into the compact XE sedan. Heavily bespoilered and exuberantly tattooed with (optional) go-fast decals, this hand-built model crams Jag’s mightiest mill—its 592-hp, 5.0-liter supercharged V-8—into the carmaker’s teensiest body. Gone are the workaday body panels, replaced with flared carbon-fiber and aluminum skins that help make it 68 pounds lighter than the supercharged V-6–powered S AWD version that puts out a piddling 380 horses.
Complementing the burly powerplant are upgraded supporting players: a new carbon-ceramic brake system with F1-inspired silicon nitride ceramic wheel bearings for reduced unsprung mass and clearer steering; an active titanium exhaust; a flat underbody; and an adjustable rear spoiler that Jaguar says produces as much as 269 pounds of downforce at 186 mph. The British automaker says the benefits of building only 300 units of this car meant the chassis tuning continued right up to production, including increases in spring damping and engine-mount stiffness, as well as refinements to brake-pedal modulation. In addition to all that, the spec sheet indicates a zero-to-60-mph time of 3.3 seconds and a nice, round, supercar-like Vmax of 200 mph.
First impressions following my first turn of the wheel? The vivid sensations and stark sharpness are frankly shocking, in spite of the aforementioned communiqué and eye-opening ’Ring time. Relentlessly stiff even in its softest suspension setting, the low-riding XE communicates every nook and cranny on L.A.’s famously lumpy road surfaces. And yet in a weird way, the immediacy is refreshing. Maybe because it feels like the XE’s wheelbase has been magically shortened, or perhaps because the XE rides on an aging platform and yet somehow manages to transcend its limitations—as it should, considering its bulked-up, slimmed-down approach. Toss it into a corner, and there’s no fat, no slop to speak of. None. Damping is managed via continuously variable shocks, although ride height can be dropped a further 0.6 inch for track use. Yikes. Even in the “high” position, the protruding carbon-fiber front lip makes it all but impossible not to scrape the nose when exiting pretty much any driveway anywhere. Take that, high-powered SUVs: This sedan thinks it’s a supercar.
Whipping through the hairpins and tight corners of Malibu’s lightly trafficked canyon roads reveals an incredibly solid chassis feel, and the directness means every move you make is with utmost confidence. There, the car felt alive, biting into corners and spitting out of them with prodigious grip and stability. Some of this can be put on the tenacity of the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber, but a fair amount is also due to the electronic rear differential, which gets its own dedicated oil cooler. Though you’ll notice a touch of driveline binding at parking-lot velocities, the Project 8 is fluid and fleet at speed, with the anodized paddle shifters responding to taps quickly as they trigger the ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission. The six-piston carbon-ceramic stoppers are predictably capable, hauling the Project 8 down extremely quickly.
In light of the obsessive performance enhancements, our only real complaint is that all U.S.-bound Project 8s are equipped with the heavier—and thus center-of-gravity-raising—glass panoramic roof due to that setup’s already established crash and rollover-worthiness. The U.S. version also cannot be had with the optional roll cage; it deletes the rear seats and increases torsional rigidity by a claimed 27 percent.
Although it begs for closed-circuit shenanigans, I didn’t have the opportunity to track this Jag. But it was hilarious to peacock around Southern California’s freeways and city streets with its hilariously extroverted aesthetics; from its bold sticker set to its ducted carbon-fiber air intakes and massive rear wing, there’s a lot of visual posturing going on here. But from the comfort of the well-bolstered driver’s seat, it’s easy to forget the Project 8 looks like it wants to live its life one-quarter mile at a time, mostly because the subdued and somewhat dated interior plays against type. Since I wasn’t thinking about braking zones or clipping apexes, I was able to focus my energy on the Project 8’s everyday aspects.
The cabin features the usual purposeful carbon fiber and macho bits of Alcantara, as well as some long-in-the-tooth legacy hardware, including the not-quite-there InControl Touch Pro infotainment system and the very familiar switchgear. The brakes are perhaps overpowered for the street, with some low-speed squeaking betraying their racy focus. Which brings us back to the warning about the Jaguar’s XE SV Project 8 road manners.
Yes, it’s probably too fierce for daily use, but isn’t that the level of dedication every self-proclaimed enthusiast says they strive for in their vehicle? Then again, there’s the price: $188,495 including destination, a mighty sum for a performance sedan based on an entry-level car. If you’re one to gripe about the Project 8’s infotainment system, this low volume four-door isn’t for you. But if you marvel at a handmade, sky’s-the-limit exploration of how far a sedan can be elevated, firmed up, and finessed into something that stretches far beyond its initial mission, have we got a low-volume, high-dollar British screamer for you.
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 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
||16/22 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||185.6 x 76.9 x 56.5 in|
|0–60 MPH||3.3 sec (mfr)|
|TOP SPEED||200 mph (mfr)|