First Look: 2018 Jaguar XE SV Project 8

You are looking at the most powerful Jaguar ever built. A compact XE sedan stuffed full of 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 produces 592 hp and 516 lb-ft, can power beyond 200 mph, and hit sixty in just 3.3-seconds. It’s called Project 8, just 300 will be handbuilt at SVO’s new engineering facility, and it costs from $170,000 (est.).

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Those are the headlines. Scratch beneath the surface, and there’s so much more: The latest Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes; manually adjustable ride height with a ‘Road’ and 0.6-inch-lower ‘Track’ position; adjustable aerodynamics; radical changes to every panel of the bodywork except the roof and front door skins; unique and rear-biased logic for the Intelligent Driveline Dynamics all-wheel-drive system. Jaguar Land Rover’s SVO department has left no stone left unturned in the development of their latest ‘Collector’s Edition’, it seems.

But it’s not the hardware, the evocatively swollen fenders, or the video playing on big screens of the car scratching around the Nürburgring to a heavy V-8 beat overlaid with the demented whine of a supercharger that really has me excited. The biggest statement for me is when Mark Stanton, Director of SVO, says that Project 8 has ditched Jaguar’s usual philosophy of ‘duality.’ Forget to be able to serenely float down to the mall. Project 8 is about excitement and lap times, about carbon fiber and titanium, about the Nürburgring and Laguna Seca. No excuses, no compromises, no duality.

Walking around Project 8 slightly agog at its rippling physique and gorgeous 20-inch deep-dish alloys wrapped in Michelin Cup 2 tires, I’m inclined to believe it. This is a car with an unbelievable presence. Okay, so perhaps the logic of a circa-3,900-lbs sedan built with track driving in mind is slightly twisted… but you’ve got to love the commitment to the concept.

Stuart Adlard, Vehicle Engineering Manager, takes us through the details that make the Project 8 so track-capable and so much more extreme than even their first Collector’s Edition, the F-Type-based Project 7. “It’s the first car we’ve built where lap times were a key project target,” he says. “And we wanted it to be durable, too. You should be able to drive it to the track, push it really hard, and then drive home. So it’s about outright capability, but cooling was also incredibly important.”

Hence the gaping lower grille and the signature panels on either side of it that feature dozens of multiple lozenge-shaped mini-intakes, the unique carbon-fiber hood with a great cooling duct cut into it, and the adoption of a rear diff cooler. Of course, the airflow is optimized for downforce as well as cooling the mighty engine and drivetrain. The adjustable front splitter can be extended 60 mm, and the rear wing also has two angles of attack. In the most extreme ‘Track’ configuration Project 8 produces 269 lbs of downforce at 186 mph. A flat floor and re-profiled trunk underfloor that feeds air to a rear diffuser also contribute to this figure.

Mechanical changes to the suspension focus on lateral stiffness and control. There are unique knuckles machined from billet, split front wishbones with a shim system to allow for greater camber control, a new rear upper arm assembly that utilizes ball joints instead of rubber bushes, and new anti-roll bars. Interestingly, Project 8 retains Jaguar’s Continuously Variable Damper system, but adjustable spring platforms create two ride height settings – Road and Track. SVO felt that introducing two or three-way adjustable suspension (where you can click on the various bump and rebound settings, as featured on the BMW M4 GTS) created too many variables. That Cup 2 rubber is 265-section at the front and 305-section outback.

Their confidence in the setup they’ve developed is further reflected in the tuning of the four-wheel-drive system. It’s more rear-biased than ever and can only ever send 30 percent of torque to the front wheels, but they haven’t gone down the route recently chosen by AMG for the E63 and BMW for the next M5 of creating a rear-drive only ‘drift’ mode. “The setup is about going fast,” explains Adlard, “but it’s still fun. We’re very happy with the balance, the torque vectoring (by braking), and the all-wheel-drive system. It’s there to help the driver, but, crucially, this is still a DIY car, and you really have to drive it.”

In the U.S. and Canada Project, 8 is strictly a four-seater, with magnesium-framed ‘Performance’ front seats and a unique rear configuration with more lateral support for passengers. Alcantara abounds, and the XE’s usual rotary gear selector is replaced with a more focused pistol-shifter. There will also be a two-seater Track configuration featuring carbon fiber seats, four-point harnesses, and a half roll cage in other markets. All Project 8s will be left-hand drives.

That headline 592 hp at 6,500 rpm and 516 lb-ft from 3,500 rpm to 5,500 rpm is liberated by more boost pressure from the supercharger plus revised intake and exhaust systems. The titanium exhaust system saves weight and creates a distinctive, angry sound. The 8-speed automatic gearbox remains but revisions to the shift strategy create a more positive, forceful feeling even if the 200-millisecond shift time is no faster than standard. “You’ll see when you drive it that this is a very different sort of Jaguar,” explains Adlard. “Even compared to the SVR models or Project 7. It’s a showcase for SVO’s capabilities, and it’s created a real buzz amongst the team. To get to create a car with such freedom is just fantastic.” His grin is nearly as wide as Project 8’s pumped-up hips at this point.

Jessica J. Underwood
Subtly charming explorer. Pop culture practitioner. Creator. Web guru. Food advocate. Typical travel maven. Zombie fanatic. Problem solver. Was quite successful at developing wooden tops in the aftermarket. A real dynamo when it comes to exporting glucose in Bethesda, MD. Had moderate success managing action figures in New York, NY. Set new standards for selling crayon art in Salisbury, MD. In 2009 I was getting my feet wet with sock monkeys for the underprivileged. Spoke at an international conference about merchandising toy elephants in Nigeria.