Limited-run 200mph XE is a hard­core, track-honed four-door for the price of a supercar. So would you want one? (Hint: yes)

Autocar - - THIS WEEK - TESTED 24.5.18, POR­TU­GAL ON SALE NOW PRICE £149,995

Al­most a year has passed since Jaguar first showed off its steroidal arch war­rior at the Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed. We’ve seen videos of it tear­ing around race tracks, most no­tably that long and wig­gly one in a hilly cor­ner of Ger­many where it set what Jaguar says is a sa­loon car lap record. More re­cently, we’ve rid­den shot­gun around Good­wood cir­cuit and heard, in the words of the peo­ple who de­vel­oped the thing, ex­actly what it is that makes the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 so bril­liant.

Now, at long last, we’ll de­cide that for our­selves, in the south of Por­tu­gal, where we have ac­cess to the bril­liant Por­ti­mao race track as well as the tight, twisty roads that dis­sect the sur­round­ing hills.

Parked up be­neath Por­ti­mao’s con­crete pit building, the Project 8 looks right at home. Those flared arches with semi-porno­graphic cutouts, the jut­ting front split­ter and that un­apolo­getic rear wing all scream motorsport. In fact, the Project 8 looks like a tour­ing car that’s been driven so fast its door roundels have peeled off.

The Verbier Sil­ver car as­signed to track driv­ing du­ties today is about as racy as the Project 8 will get. It’s equipped with the op­tional £10,000 Track Pack, which junks the rear bench for a half roll cage and adds fixed-back car­bon bucket seats up front with four-point har­nesses, all of it sav­ing 12kg.

First, though, I’m guided to­wards the Va­len­cia Or­ange Project 8 that I’ll be test­ing on the road. On the very wet road, in­ci­den­tally. The rain is fine, but per­sis­tent. This car is not equipped with the Track Pack, so it has two seats in the rear rather than a cage, and ad­justable chairs up front. Think of it as the more rea­son­able of the Kray twins, which­ever one that was.

Even with­out the Track Pack, this Project 8 looks far too track­fo­cused to pos­si­bly work out on the road. But don’t be mis­led. Jaguar’s most hard­core pas­sen­ger car

works sur­pris­ingly well away from the flat ex­panse of a race track. With springs that are four and a half times stiffer than those fit­ted to a con­ven­tional XE, the ride is, of course, tight and firm. Sit­ting in a BMW M5 or Mercedes-amg E63 im­me­di­ately af­ter driv­ing a Project 8 would be like float­ing in a swim­ming pool on a lilo. How­ever, the Jaguar’s ride isn’t too un­yield­ing for the road. In fact, there’s enough com­pli­ance and bump ab­sorp­tion to deal with most road sur­faces. It’s far from cushy, but not un­com­fort­able, ei­ther.

Even when the test route turns onto an an­cient sin­gle-width back lane, as nar­row and gnarly as the worst British B-road, 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 un­driv­able 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 bends. Trac­tion is very strong, too, thanks to the clever four-wheel-drive sys­tem (see sep­a­rate story, p31).

What those spring rates guar­an­tee is a very sta­ble and solid plat­form, a level of body con­trol that no other su­per-sa­loon can come close to and as­ton­ish­ingly sharp steer­ing re­sponse. There can be no tougher test of a track-fo­cused car than a wet and hideously bumpy back road but, even in these des­per­ately chal­leng­ing con­di­tions, 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 he and his col­leagues set­tled on four- rather than rear-wheel drive. As he points out, they’ve put Jaguar’s big­gest and most pow­er­ful engine into its small­est and light­est car. Pook wasn’t in­ter­ested in building a tyre-smok­ing wheel­spin ma­chine.

This car is the lat­est lim­it­ededi­tion trin­ket from Jaguar Land Rover’s Spe­cial Ve­hi­cle Op­er­a­tions (SVO), the di­vi­sion that’s re­spon­si­ble for high-per­for­mance Svr-branded Range Rovers and F-types, as well as low-vol­ume spe­cials like the 2014 F-type Project 7. No more than 300 Project 8s will be built, all in

SVO has put Jaguar’s big­gest and most pow­er­ful engine into its small­est and light­est car

left-hand drive, with between 60 and 80 ex­pected to stay in the UK.

The car shares its body-in-white with all other XES, but the Project 8 is so com­pre­hen­sively re-en­gi­neered that it’s re­ally an XE in name only. The flared wheel arches cover tracks that are wider by 24mm at the front and 73mm at the rear. Only the lower sus­pen­sion arms are car­ried over. Ev­ery­thing else – up­per arms, springs, helper springs, dam­per units, anti-roll bars, knuck­les and any­thing else you care to point at – is be­spoke to this car.

Even the head­lights were re­lo­cated. The two light units, as well as the body­work around them, were dragged for­ward by 14mm to make space for the 20in Cup 2 tyres. “If we didn’t man­age to get those Cup 2 tyres to fit,” says Pook‚ “there wouldn’t have been a Project 8 at all. 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 did have to de­velop new bil­let engine mounts to stop the 400kg hulk from writhing around be­neath the light­weight bon­net. The engine de­vel­ops 592bhp and 516lb ft, de­liv­ered to the road via an eight­speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. Jaguar quotes a 0-62mph time of 3.7sec and a 200mph top speed.

The only pan­els the Project 8 shares with the reg­u­lar XE are the front doors and the roof. The bon­net is made from car­bon­fi­bre, sav­ing 3kg. Else­where, there are be­spoke car­bon-ce­ramic brakes with 400mm discs on the front axle that look like dust­bin lids, the wheels are forged, the dif­fer­en­tial in the rear axle is elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled so it can open fully on the way into a bend to re­duce un­der­steer and lock on the way out to give max­i­mum trac­tion, the dampers are adap­tive, the ride height is ad­justable for ei­ther road or track use and the front split­ter and rear wing, at full ex­ten­sion, gen­er­ate 122kg of down­force at 186mph.

This might well be the most com­pre­hen­sively re-en­gi­neered four-door per­for­mance sa­loon of all time. It ex­ists be­cause SVO wants you to know ex­actly what it’s ca­pa­ble of. “We built a car that all of us at SVO wanted to drive,” says Pook.

Time for the Verbier Sil­ver car. The sun has long since bro­ken through the gloomy clouds and the track sur­face is close to bone dry. Within two cor­ners, it’s clear that the Project 8 is un­like any other su­per-sa­loon. Of course, it is: no other su­per-sa­loon is this ag­gres­sive, or this ex­pen­sive. In fact, you very quickly re­alise that to dis­cuss the Project 8 in su­per-sa­loon terms is to miss the point. It isn’t one. It’s much more akin to a Porsche 911 GT3 RS or a BMW M4 GTS. It just hap­pens to have four doors.

The adap­tive dampers re­main more or less un­changed as you flick between the Com­fort and Dy­namic modes, but in the Track set­ting,

they switch to a much more ag­gres­sive map. Sud­denly, there’s less roll in the car, far less ver­ti­cal move­ment and even tauter re­sponses. On sticky-warm track-bi­ased tyres, the Project 8 finds enor­mous lev­els of grip, enough that you choose your turn-in speed and trust the front axle to find a way through the cor­ner. The steer­ing is in­tu­itive and un­can­nily pre­cise, the body stays al­most en­tirely flat and, through the apex, the car is per­fectly bal­anced. In quick fourth-gear cor­ners, you feel it rise onto the balls of its feet and sweep through from en­try to apex in the sub­tlest four-wheel drift, both axles slip­ping across the track sur­face at the ex­act same, in­fin­i­tes­i­mal rate, like an old rac­ing car. It’s one of the sweet­est sen­sa­tions in driv­ing.

Ex­it­ing a cor­ner, there’s sim­ply 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 the point it starts to lose trac­tion. What the Project 8 re­ally wants to do is sling­shot it­self away from the bend with no loss of for­ward mo­men­tum what­so­ever, 592bhp and 516lb ft rock­et­ing 1745kg of limited-edi­tion XE to­wards the next cor­ner with eye-widen­ing fe­roc­ity. The big car­bon stop­pers don’t ever fade, and with the four­point har­ness pin­ning you into the wrap-around car­bon seat, you feel ev­ery­thing, keyed in, at one, noth­ing pass­ing you by. You’re di­alled into the car in a way you’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced in any­thing with four doors and num­ber­plates be­fore. 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. To drive a very fast car today with a su­per­charged engine that feels more and more en­er­getic the harder it spins is like re­dis­cov­er­ing a for­got­ten favourite al­bum. Shouldn’t it al­ways be this way? The gear­box, fi­nally, isn’t the quick­est or most re­spon­sive auto, but it does its job well enough.

Never mind how fast it is, or how grippy the tyres are, or how flat the body stays in cor­ners. Those are merely the de­tails. What’s most im­por­tant about the Project 8 is that it is ab­sorb­ing, re­ward­ing and hugely good fun to drive. When diehard car guys are left to get on with it, the re­sults speak for them­selves.


Project 8 hooks its driver into the ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter just a cou­ple of cor­ners

It looks like a motorsport refugee and all those go-faster ex­tras, in­clud­ing that big rear wing, are fully func­tional

SVO de­cided against a light­weight, stripped-out cabin, al­though you can save 12kg from the in­te­rior with the £10k Track Pack It’s us­able and en­joy­able on the road, de­spite its firm, track-friendly set-up

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