I’m not sure why Jaguar bothered to keep the letters ‘X’ and ‘E’ in the name of the XE SV Project 8. The relationship between this hyper saloon from JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations lot and the regular XE is so tenuous, it’s like comparing a human being to whatever fish it was we evolved from millions of years ago. Yes, there’s a link between the two, but they aren’t the same thing.
That’s because Project 8 goes far beyond your typical super saloon. Only around 25 per cent of it is shared with a regular XE, and in terms of bodywork, all that’s carried over are the front door skins. The new Touring version we spent the most time in may look slightly less unhinged thanks to the big rear wing being swapped for a little spoiler, but it still has zero chance of flying under the radar.
It has a 5.0-litre supercharged V8 filling its engine bay, which could only be squeezed in after the bulkhead and brake lines were shifted. The 265mm wide front tyres are 30mm fatter than the biggest front boots fitted to any normal XE, and to squeeze them in, the headlights had to be moved. The front track is 24mm wider, necessitating a new set of carbonfibre wings with 19mm arch flares. The rear, meanwhile, is a whopping 73mm broader than before. Along with adjustable dampers and motorsport-spec springs, Project 8 also has new billet suspension knuckles plus ball joints to replace conventional bushes.
I’m trying to think of other comparably radical transformations in the car world, and I’m struggling to think of many from the last few decades. Perhaps allusions can be made to the time MG Rover went bonkers and converted the front-driven ZT/75 to rear-wheel drive and installed a Mustang V8 under the bonnet, although that remained a weirdly old-fashioned waft-mobile even after the work was done. The Escort RS Cosworth also springs to mind. It had sweet FA to do with the C-segment family biffabout it shared a name with, but that’s because Ford made it by dumping an Escort-like body on a Sierra Cos-eh chassis and running gear.
The point I’m trying to make is that there is nothing quite like Project 8. Stuff like this just doesn’t happen normally. That there’s no cheaper, less extreme V8-powered ‘XE SVR’ lower down the pecking order merely makes this whole thing stranger. The next step down the XE ladder is propelled by a 2.0-litre inline-four, for Pete’s sake.
The sense of strangeness continues inside, where you’re presented with a cabin that’s much like any other XE. Sure, there are some badges and carbonfibre bits and pieces, but that’s your lot. A prod of the starter button soon confirms it’s a bit different to your neighbour’s XE D180. No four-cylinder engine note here - just the satisfying rumble of an eight-cylinder engine that’ll be going out of production very soon.
On the move, the XE SV makes its intent known from the off with a very firm ride. Speed bumps will need to be tackled slowly, and not just because of the big carbonfibre splitter at the front. At speed, though, the body control is amazingly resolved, with the car settling down quite nicely even after the worst imperfections.
The XE SV showcases JLR’s soon-to-be-dead V8 at its loudest, proudest and most powerful. The noise it ejects out of the quad tailpipes is pure, unadulterated filth, always accompanied by the whine of a supercharger. Its delivery may be more linear than that of a similarly powerful turbo V8, but Project 8 still feels scarily quick.
There’s a savagery to the throttle response, which goes nicely with the all-wheel drive system. It’s not especially interested in giving a feeling of security. Instead, the XE SV always feels on edge, the rear end lying in wait to get all frisky if you’re too greedy with the throttle on corner exit.
That does take quite a hoof-full, though - Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres ensure traction is plentiful. They also give the car lots of grip going into the corner too, but the SV isn’t as willing to carve through a set of tight corners as you might hope. That’s because it’s far from light; at 1757kg, it’s about 400kg heavier than the Porsche 911 GT3 RS it kinda/sorta rivals. It’s up for the task, but it requires a firm hand.
The weight’s not the only thing that bothers me - the other stumbling block in the way of the SV’s path to track day glory is the gearbox. It’s a ZF-sourced eight-speed torque-converter auto, and although the aggression has been upped, it’s no DCT. Reasonable downshift demands are sometimes denied, and the upshifts aren’t as snappy as you’d want in a car like this either. In the F-Pace SVR muscle SUV, it’s a perfectly good cog box, but here? Expectations are higher, especially given the price of this car. We’ll get back to that in a moment.
Despite its highly bespoke nature, the XE SV Project 8 is still limited by the platform and the parts Jaguar has available. And what was that about the price? Ah yes - it’s £149,995. With a little personalisation and some added options like the £10,000 Track Pack - which gives you a noisy rear roll cage and carbon bucket seats - you’re potentially looking at a car that’s three times as expensive as an Alfa Romeo Guilia Quadrifoglio.
Is it three times as good to drive? I don’t think so. But three times as special? Quite possibly. Project 8 may not make a whole lot of sense, but that’s half the appeal. I can’t fathom why it got the green light, but I’m glad it did. The only question is, do you want a wing or don’t you?