Jaguar XE SV Project 8 First Test: Exclusive and Extreme

The Jaguar XE SV Project 8 has an insatiable appetite for breaking records. First, it shattered the four-door production sedan lap time at the Nurburgring with a time of 7:21.23. That’s 11 seconds quicker than the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, the former record-holder and our 2018 Car of the Year. Then, just last year, MotorTrend pro racer Randy Pobst set a production sedan lap record of 1:37.54 at WeatherTech Laguna Seca, eclipsing the 1:38.52 set previously by a 2016 Cadillac CTS-V.

What else would you expect from a Jaguar XE that looks like it’s been injected with massive amounts of steroids and carbon fiber? With a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 cranking out 592 horsepower, the Project 8 is also Jaguar’s most powerful roadgoing car to date.

But in light of these accomplishments, Jaguar insists that it’s a worthy roadgoing car as well. That’s right—despite the bespoke bodywork, the pavement-sniffing splitter, and the massive wing out back, “compromise was not in the nature of this product,” according to one of the Project 8’s lead engineers. And you know what? They’re right. Out on the road, the Project 8 is comfortable—even practical. Although EPA estimates fuel economy to be 16/22 city/highway, we observed an indicated 25 mpg during extended stints on the freeway. This fearsome cat is also a cuddly kitty.

Then again, it had better be. The base price of the Project 8 is a blood-chilling $188,495. That’s far more than such four-door performance heavyweights as the BMW M5 ($104,595), the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S ($105,395), or the Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid. It’s more than twice the price of the aforementioned Alfa, which starts at a comparatively thrifty $75,590. None of these models, however, can boast a claimed 200-mph top speed. So there’s that.

Our Velocity Blue tester featured a slew of options that were thoughtfully included at no cost. Some were appreciated, such as the 825-watt Meridian sound system and the trick 20-inch wheels, whose design resembles reverse five-spokes. We could have done without the giant cat vinyl decal gracing the flanks of the sheetmetal, however. And for a record-breaking sports car, the front seats are a letdown. While the upper portion cradles the torso nicely, the bottom offers no lateral support to speak of. Outside of North America, buyers can choose a two-seat Track Pack option that offers carbon-fiber shells with four-point harnesses. Lucky.

Still, there’s that monstrous engine. It’s the only V-8 ever to grace the engine bay of an XE, here mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission driving all four wheels. And this V-8 slays. In our acceleration tests, the Project 8 leapt off the line to reach 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and cleared the quarter mile in 11.4 seconds at 122 mph. Road test editor Chris Walton had nothing but praise for its straight-line ability. “Super fast but no harsh shifts, glorious sounds including the ‘furp’ between gears. Love this thing to pieces.”

Braking was equally as impressive, with the Project 8 needing only 104 feet to stop from 60 mph. Walton noted that there was “very little dive in the most aggressive drive mode, but some lightness in the rear of the car [when braking] from 100 mph.” We would soon discover that there was a solution for the dive, though frustratingly, we weren’t able to fully exploit it.

One of the most interesting things about the Project 8 is that it offers not one, but two Track modes. The first is software based: A push of a button on the console quickens steering and throttle responses and permits more leeway in the stability control thresholds.

The second Track Mode requires some hands-on tweaking to the suspension and aerodynamics. The front splitter is extended, the rear wing’s angle is adjusted, and the ride height is lowered 0.6 inches through adjustable coil springs. Despite needing some tools, it’s still a fairly straightforward operation, but Jaguar insisted on handling the adjustments themselves in-house before trailering it to the track. Most Project 8 owners should be able to make these changes on their own.

This was exciting. Our plans were to lap the Project 8 exclusively in Track mode and conduct instrumented testing in both Street and Track modes to see how they differed. (The push-button Track mode was used for both.) We were especially curious to see if the lowered setting reduced dive during heavy braking.

Pushing the button was easy. The instrument panel confirmed our choice with a neat helmet-shaped icon on the display, though Randy was disappointed by the lack of information. “I couldn’t get any gauges up. I was surprised in the Track mode with the little helmet up that there were no gauges, no temperatures. I was curious on the fourth lap if the engine was getting warm … and I couldn’t find it.”

By: Derek Powell, June 3, 2019

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