First Drive

2019 Jaguar XE SV Project 8 First Drive Review | Cat track fever

Boy racer or classic hot rod? The XE SV Project 8's a bit of both

2019 Jaguar XE SV Project 8
2019 Jaguar XE SV Project 8 / Image Credit: Jaguar
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  • Trim
    SV Project 8
  • Engine
    5.0L Supercharged V8
  • Power
    592 HP / 516 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Automatic
  • 0-60 Time
    3.3 Seconds
  • Top Speed
    200 MPH
  • Drivetrain
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    3,847 LBS
  • Seating
  • Base Price
It doesn't take long for the cognoscenti to spot me. At stoplights, street corners, and parking lots, the 2019 Jaguar XE SV Project 8's swollen bodywork and park bench-sized tail attract the fanboys like iron to a magnet. My Velocity Blue tester is one of the few Project 8 cars in the States, and I can't remember the last modern Jaguar with so much head-turning charisma.

If you're not up to speed, the Project 8 is Jaguar's surprise salvo into sedan madness. And Jag didn't half-ass it, either: it's Jag's biggest engine – a 592-horsepower, supercharged 5.0-liter V8 – stuffed into their smallest steed, the compact XE. Think Aston Martin V12 Vantage, AC Cobra 427, et al. Aiding downforce is a wing that delivers 269 pounds of downforce at 186 mph, so much that Jaguar had to reinforce the trunklid to prevent it from denting at high speeds. There's a flat underbody for reduced lift, and lightweight carbon fiber and aluminum body panels replacing all but the front door skins and roof. The purposeful theme is carried into the cabin, with snug racing buckets up front and seating limited to four.

The boy racer cues bely some serious equipment. It's 68 lbs lighter than the next-lightest SE, the 380-hp S AWD supercharged V6. There's also a whole lot of tightening throughout, from the spring rates to the firmer engine mounts. In fact, the stiffening feels like it's been cranked to 11 – even in Comfort mode, the ride is taut and sometimes jarring, never quite feeling at ease enough. If you dig feeling every last ripple in the tarmac, it's wonderful, but anyone seeking a wallowy, coddling ride will find the Project 8 too much.

The Project 8's razor sharp feedback begs you to drive on public roads like you're lapping Nardo or the Nürburbring – two of the circuits where the car was developed. But despite its legit origins, dicing such an overtly extroverted car through traffic can also be an enormous social liability. Go-fast sticker graphics? Check. Ginormous wing? Yep. Banana yellow brake calipers? Duh. This is weaponized transport for the street, enough to make the meekest driver look like he or she has something to prove.

The Project 8's Alcantara-trimmed interior compliments the aggressive exterior, as do the snug-fitting seats, which use magnesium frames for weight savings (non-U.S. markets go a step further, with carbon fiber seats with four point harnesses). Squeeze the accelerator, and the XE responds with a shove and a snort even from low RPMs. The sensation is signature supercharger: a linear wall of power that just pulls and pulls, unlike the peaky crescendo of turbocharged mills. The unmistakably guttural, mechanical sound of the supercharger becomes downright uproarious when the active titanium exhaust system's four outlets open up fully. Crisp shifts from the ZF eight-speed provide an exclamation point of engagement at higher RPMs.

While Jaguar says the Project 8 is the brand's first car to feature a dedicated track mode, even the milder settings feel sufficiently aggressive for most spirited drives. The thick-rimmed steering wheel's quick ratio provides great feedback through the fat 265mm Michelin Pilot Cup 2s, although the steering in Race mode is too heavy at low speeds. The suspension has been reworked with race-inspired hardware, including stiffer bushings and even stiffer ball joints on the rear upper control arms. Aiding the car's flat, glued-down behavior is an all-wheel-drive system and an electronic rear differential that, together, allows it to lay down its 516 lb-ft of torque with ease. The carbon ceramic brakes are the first Jaguar stoppers to feature F1-style silicon nitride wheel bearings. Bite is responsive and strong, though we noticed some squeaking at lower speeds.

A limited run on Los Angeles freeways shows the Project 8 is actually fairly comfortable despite its stiff ride. In fact, our biggest misgivings about the XE didn't relate to its performance or seat comfort, but rather its long-in-the-tooth infotainment screen, which made it feel behind the times despite its thoroughly modern performance. It's also strange that U.S.-market cars get the same heavy panoramic class roof as a regular XE – you'd expect a lighter slicktop for a performance-focused car.

While the XE is neither cushy nor smooth, it isn't supposed to be. This is about as focused a sport sedan as you'll find, one whose performance priorities are painstakingly clear. In fact, the Project 8 set a Nürburgring Nordschleife record for a four-door with a time of 7:21.23, which is 11 seconds quicker than the previous record holder, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. You should consider, however, that this was essentially the only superlative claim that could enable the Project 8 to stand out in this competitive crowd, especially considering its based on a now four-year-old car with a looming mid-cycle facelift. But here's the kicker: the Project 8 comes with a stunning asking price of $187,500, and with production limited to 300 units, it's sure to appeal mainly to the sort of über-enthusiast with money to burn who buys limited-edition, limited-run cars reflexively.

The XE Project 8 obviously doesn't make a case for itself as a performance bargain, but it does represent a profile-raising hot rod four-door making waves in an era in which sedans are going extinct. It's wild, charismatic, and definitely niche. There's no getting around the fact that its architecture, electronics, and dynamics lag behind the latest from Audi RS, BMW M, and Mercedes-AMG, and yet it claimed a Nürburgring record and with it perhaps even greater bragging rights. So despite its imperfections, the Project 8 intrigues and impresses because it takes on a boldness we wish more carmakers embraced.

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