Track-honed four-door goes like a scalded cat


AL­MOST A YEAR has passed since Jaguar first showed its steroidal-arched war­rior at the Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed. Since then it’s set what Jaguar says is a four-door sedan lap record at the Nur­bur­gring. But now, at last, we get to drive it at the bril­liant Por­ti­mao race­track in Por­tu­gal and on the twisty roads in the sur­round­ing hills. The Project 8 looks right at home at a race­track. Those flared arches with semi-porno­graphic cutouts, jut­ting front split­ter and tall rear wing all scream mo­tor­sport. The Ver­bier Sil­ver car as­signed to track du­ties is about as racy as the Project 8 will get. It’s equipped with the op­tional $17,960 Track Pack, which junks the rear bench for a half cage and adds fixed­back car­bon buck­ets with four-point har­nesses, sav­ing 12kg. First up, though, is the Va­len­cia Orange Project 8 I’ll be test­ing on a very wet road, in­ci­den­tally. This car is not equipped with the Track Pack, but even with­out it this Project 8 looks too track-fo­cused to pos­si­bly work on the road. But Jaguar’s most hard­core pas­sen­ger car works sur­pris­ingly well away from the track. With springs that are four-and-ahalf-times stiffer than those fit­ted to a con­ven­tional XE the ride is, of course, tight and firm, but not too un­yield­ing. There’s enough com­pli­ance and bump ab­sorp­tion to deal with most road sur­faces and while it’s far from cushy, it’s not un­com­fort­able, ei­ther. Even when the test route turns onto an an­cient back lane, the Project 8 hums along with im­pres­sive com­po­sure. The damp­ing re­ally is ex­cep­tional. It sk­il­fully pre­vents a firm ride from ever be­com­ing over­bear­ing. At no point does the car threaten to leap into the scenery. That’s the first sur­prise. The sec­ond is how well man­nered it is in these wet con­di­tions. A num­ber of high-per­for­mance cars would be close to un­drive­able in this rain on Miche­lin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, as fit­ted here, but the Project 8 makes them work. There is good turn-in bite and very sta­ble, con­sis­tent cor­ner­ing grip, which means you don’t feel at all ner­vous lean­ing on the chas­sis in cor­ners. Trac­tion is very strong, too, thanks to

the clever all-wheel drive sys­tem, and those spring rates guar­an­tee a very sta­ble plat­form, a level of body con­trol no other super-sedan can match, and as­ton­ish­ingly sharp steer­ing re­sponse. There’s no tougher test of a track­fo­cused car than a wet, bumpy back road, but the Project 8 gives you the con­fi­dence to press on. It’s all by de­sign. “We wanted to build a car that was ap­proach­able and friendly to drive at speed,” says ve­hi­cle dy­nam­ics man­ager David Pook‚“not some­thing that tried to bite you.” That’s why they set­tled on all-wheel drive. Jaguar has fit­ted its big­gest and most pow­er­ful en­gine into its small­est and light­est car and Pook wasn’t in­ter­ested in build­ing a wheel­spin ma­chine. This car is the lat­est lim­it­ededi­tion trin­ket from Jaguar Land Rover’s Spe­cial Ve­hi­cle Op­er­a­tions (SVO), the divi­sion re­spon­si­ble for hi-po SVR-branded Range Rovers, F-Types and spe­cials like the 2014 F-Type Project 7. No more than 300 Project 8s will be built, all in left-hand drive. It shares its body, front doors and roof with all other XEs (a car­bon-fi­bre bon­net saves 3kg), but the Project 8 is so com­pre­hen­sively re-en­gi­neered that it’s re­ally an XE in name only. Tracks that are wider by 24mm at the front and 73mm at the rear and only the lower sus­pen­sion arms are car­ried over. Ev­ery­thing else is be­spoke. Even the head­lights were re­lo­cated, dragged for­ward by 14mm (with the body­work around them) to make space for 20-inch Cup 2 tyres. “If we didn’t get the Cup 2 tyres to fit there wouldn’t have been a Project 8,” says Pook. “They were the only tyres that would have worked on this car.” Squeez­ing the 5.0-litre su­per­charged V8 into the en­gine bay was less of a strug­gle, but SVO had to de­velop new bil­let en­gine mounts to stop the 400kg hulk from writhing around. The en­gine de­vel­ops 442kW and 700Nm, de­liv­ered via an eight-speed auto trans­mis­sion, and Jaguar quotes a 0-100km/h time of 3.7sec and a 322km/h top speed. There are car­bon-ce­ramic brakes with 400mm discs on the front, forged wheels, the dif­fer­en­tial in the rear axle is elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled so it can open fully into a bend to re­duce un­der­steer and lock on exit to give max­i­mum trac­tion, the dampers are adap­tive, ride height is ad­justable for road or track, and the front split­ter and rear wing, at full ex­ten­sion, gen­er­ate 122kg of down­force at 300km/h. This might well be the most com­pre­hen­sively re-en­gi­neered four­door per­for­mance car of all time. “We built a car that all of us at SVO wanted to drive,” says Pook. Time for the Ver­bier Sil­ver car. The track is bone dry now and within two


cor­ners it’s clear that no other su­per­sedan is this ag­gres­sive. It’s more akin to a Porsche 911 GT3 RS or a BMW M4 GTS. It just hap­pens to have four doors. The adap­tive dampers re­main ba­si­cally un­changed be­tween Com­fort and Dy­namic modes, but in Track they switch to a more ag­gres­sive map and there’s less roll, less ver­ti­cal move­ment and even tauter re­sponses. On sticky track-bi­ased tyres, the Project 8 has enor­mous grip; you choose your turn-in speed and trust the front axle to find a way through the cor­ner. The steer­ing is in­tu­itive and pre­cise, the body stays al­most en­tirely flat and the car is per­fectly bal­anced through the apex. In fourth-gear cor­ners it sweeps from en­try to apex in the sub­tlest four-wheel drift, like an old rac­ing car. It’s the sweet­est sen­sa­tion. Ex­it­ing a cor­ner, there’s no power over­steer. If you un­set­tle the car on the way in and stand abruptly on the throt­tle pedal, you can make it drift, but it doesn’t come nat­u­rally. It doesn’t slide very will­ingly even in Track mode, which favours the rear axle right up un­til it starts to lose trac­tion. The Project 8 sling­shots out of bends with no loss of for­ward mo­men­tum, rock­et­ing to­wards the next cor­ner with eye-widen­ing fe­roc­ity. The big car­bon stoppers never fade, and with the four-point har­ness pin­ning you into the wrap-around seat, you feel ev­ery­thing. Track driv­ing is tor­ture for most road cars but the Project 8 is built for it. The en­gine has al­most as much char­ac­ter as it does power, and while the auto gear­box isn’t the quick­est or most re­spon­sive, it does its job well. What’s most im­por­tant about the Project 8 is that it is ab­sorb­ing, re­ward­ing, and huge fun to drive. When diehard car guys are left to get on with it, the re­sults speak for them­selves.

OP­PO­SITE TOP Project 8 doesn’t re­ally need four doors, the rear seat is re­placed by some handy roll bar tub­ing in­stead

TOP Hmm... A but­ton with a race hel­met and che­quered flag on it. That must be the fun con­trol switch

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