On paper, the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 seems grossly overpriced for what it is. After all, Mercedes-Benz and BMW both offer more powerful sport sedans for nearly half the price; even notoriously pricey Porsche’s 550-horsepower Panamera Turbo starts more than $35,000 cheaper than the compact cat’s MSRP.
But to judge the Project 8 on its specs alone is to sell it short. It’s not meant to take the fight to E63s and M5s any more than a Porsche 911 GT2 RS is meant to take on a BMW M8. Instead, this limited-run Jag exists to show just how wild the cats of Coventry can get — with the resulting product feeling as though a bunch of JLR engineers got plastered and decided to build the ultimate WRX STI.
The Good: Jaguar’s XE sedan is one of the sportiest, most involving luxury compact sedans on sale — and shoehorning a 592-hp engine under its hood, not surprisingly, only makes it better. The chassis never feels overwhelmed by the power; the steering remains hefty yet naturalistic, providing quick reactions and a delightful level of weightiness while refraining from being light on-center the way many cars nowadays are. And the sound bellowing forth from both under the hood and out the quad trombones in back is the sort of music gearheads will someday wistfully tell our grandchildren who’ve never heard an internal-combustion engine about. The exhaust tips of mine were already blued with fury, and it wasn’t hard to figure out why; this V8 is every bit the sort of engine you rev for the hell of it every chance you can.
Video: 2019 Jaguar XE SV Project 8 Review
Who It’s For: Wealthy track rats who want a weekend ride that’s a blast to drive but still need some semblance of a back seat; Jaguar enthusiasts who want to strut in the company’s fastest, flashiest ride; automotive eccentrics who wouldn’t be caught dead in something as cliche as an Audi R8 for their $200K.
Watch Out For: With only 300 being made for the entire planet, finding a new one at this point might be difficult. (Still, Jaguar announced back in June that it planned on serving up 15 wingless Touring Edition versions, suggesting there remained some lack of demand for the car.) Should you cop one, though, be aware that the sporty bucket seats offer something of the worst of both worlds; they’re uncomfortably constraining in everyday driving, yet don’t offer the expected levels of lateral support when tossing the car around a track.
Review: With most cars on sale today, you can learn more than enough about them on public roads to ascertain how they drive. The Project 8, however, manages to leap into the rarefied realm of vehicles that need a contained safe space. (Fun fact: Its 592 horses make it the most powerful production Jag ever made, and a full 50 ponies more potent than the legendary XJ220 supercar.) Hence, a trip to Monticello Motor Club in New York’s Catskills region was required to provide a chance to push this killer kitty closer to its limit.
On the roads up there, in spite of the all-wheel-drive, it proved, shall we say, a mite squirrely on rain-slicked pavement. (Then again, the Jeep Gladiator driving along with me also got slideways on the same on-ramp, so that may have been more of a surfacing issue than a power-related one. And in all fairness, Jaguar did forewarn me about driving on damp surfaces.) But once on the open road, the Project 8 proved a fine, if firm, highway cruiser. The ride is harsh, as you’d expect from something with that wing; still, the dampers do a decent job mitigating the car’s tightly-sprung nature.
On the plus side, the combination of the snappy eight-speed automatic, the AWD grip and the thermonuclear powerplant means every passing zone and empty bend provides a chance to engage in an endorphin-spiking burst of speed. You can leave the gearbox to its own devices and let it crack off intelligent shifts, of course, but it’s even more fun to grab the polished metal paddles behind the wheel — chilled like highball glasses from the conditioned air flowing out of the nearby vents — and crack off the shifts as you like, savoring the nuances of every thousand rpm of the powerband: a little more low-end shove here, a bit more high-end rip there.
Once on Monticello’s 3.6-mile road course, however, there’s room to dial all the systems up to max attack and set the beast loose. Dropped into the midst of one of the private track’s member days, the Jag reels in more traditionally-sporty car with ease; I close the gap on a Ferrari F430 Spider within a mile, staying glued to it until it lets me by. (At which point a Porsche 911 GT2 RS that’s been eating everything from BMW M2 track cars to Lamborghini Huracans proceeds to clamp onto my ass before passing me like I’m standing still on the back straight, but hey.)
That, and a few more laps of trying to push the Jag around, are enough to illustrate a clear point: For mere mortals like myself, the Project 8 will almost always be more capable than we are. At 8/10ths in the dry, it feels well-balanced and impossibly grippy; any errant motions are well-telegraphed, and the power is plentiful enough that gear choice doesn’t matter the way it would in many other cars.
So I move to the starboard seat and hand the keys to Chris Duplessis, Monticello’s resident hot shoe and a former rally driver who makes The Stig look like a cosplayer. He knows the track better than his kids’ faces; whereas I’m hesitant to push things to 9/10ths here, he can climb into a car cold and go straight to Spinal Tap 11/10ths within half a minute. One turn in, and in spite of the hot tires, he has the Jag pointed sideways in a drift that would make Ken Block salute.
You really have to beat the hell out of it to make it slide, he says; there’s a hefty piece of understeer at the limit that you need to compensate for. But once you do, it’s tons of fun — fun enough to leave him nostalgic for the high-performance Jaguars that once were used for the track’s performance driving program. It is, he says, kind of like driving an all-wheel-drive rally car. In other words, like an STI.
Verdict: The Jaguar XE SV Project 8 will all but certainly wind up being the sort of car to command a hefty price on websites like Bring a Trailer a few years down the road: limited in number, eye-catching, engaging to drive. Yet in some ways, in this day and age — when 600-plus sedans are shockingly common and high-end OEM track attackers increasingly easy to find — it oddly blends into the scenery. (Not literally, of course — that yuge wing alone would be enough to suck in gazes, let alone the other mighty aerodynamic elements, deep-jawed front fascia and the black-graphics-over-electric-blue-paint of my test car.)
The Project 8 is not the best car for the money; it is not the fastest, the most outlandish or the most entertaining. But it is fascinating: While every other carmaker was building its track rats out of coupes, Jaguar went and made one out of a sedan. It may fall a few paces behind the maddest street-legal race course runners out there, but none of them will let you pick up your kids on the way home and give them the ride of their lives.
2019 Jaguar XE SV Project 8 Specs
Powertrain: 5.0-liter supercharged V8, eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Torque: 516 pound-feet
0-60 MPH: 3.3 seconds (manufacturer claim)
Top Speed: 200 mph (manufacturer claim)
Jaguar provided this product for review.
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