Jaguar’s XE SV Project 8 takes a rather extreme approach to the supersedan recipe than most, but has an equally extreme price tag to match

Here is a supersaloon in the Lotus Carlton mould: big, bold and brawny, but able to deliver a sledgehammer hit of performance without sacrificing character and tactility at the altar of effectiveness. The ingredients may be similar to recent German efforts – V8 engine, all-wheel drive, sumptuous cabin – but it manages to feel like the project of passionate engineers rather than bean-counters.

That’s not to say the Project 8 is perfect; far from it. It’s horrendously expensive for a start, as well as being perilously heavy. As parent company JLR struggles in several markets, the emergence of Project 8 does have a worrying ‘dying days of MG Rover’ feel to it too, but it’s reassuring to know Jaguar can still surprise us now and then.

More recently, Jaguar has followed up the original Project 8 with the Touring variant – mechanically similar to the caged, bucket-seated car that arrived first, but shorn of its rear wing and with full cabin trim. It’s perhaps the best expression of Project 8, more in keeping with Jaguar’s long-standing values but every bit as potent and engaging as the more track-focused car.

Engine, transmission and technical details

Both Project 8 and Project 8 Touring use the most potent development of Jaguar Land Rover’s 5-litre supercharged V8. How potent? Try 441kW at 6500rpm, and 700Nm of torque at 3500rpm.

Containing that power is an all-wheel drive system. Disappointed? Well, much as rear-wheel drive might have been amusing, it’d also have turned the rear tyres into vapour rather than traction. In normal conditions there’s a sensible 50/50 torque split front to rear, but the set-up can still send up to 100 per cent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels alone in certain circumstances.

The standard and sole transmission is the usual eight-speed automatic, which has been adapted to suit the Project 8’s performance, and delivers quicker shifts than elsewhere in the JLR range. Controlling it is an F-type-style pistol-grip lever and a pair of paddles behind the steering-wheel spokes.

It only takes a glance to notice the visual changes between the XE and the Project 8, and only the roof and front door skins are shared between the two variants. Like the XE there’s an aluminium substructure, while the aforementioned panels are also aluminium, but everything else – bonnet, bootlid, front and rear wings, bumpers – is carbonfibre, in an effort to shed weight. At 1745kg at its very lightest, it’s lighter than, say, a BMW M5, but far from the 1620kg of the less exotically constructed Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

The body kit does at least reduce aerodynamic lift – to the tune of 206 per cent compared to the standard XE – and a wider track (by 24mm up front and 73mm behind) improves stability further. Suspension is double wishbone at both ends, but beefed up for the Project 8 with stiffer bushes, ball joints and thicker anti-roll bars.

Performance and 0-100 time

Project 8 overcomes its weight to post a 3.3-second 0-100kmh time and, in Track spec, a 321kmh top speed. Touring models are equally capable off the line, but without the downforce provided by that rear wing, top speed has been limited to 300kmh – still rapid, obviously, but not quite so headline-grabbing.

The manner of the car’s performance is more important than the sheer numbers, though, and we can confirm it feels blisteringly fast. You’re conscious of piloting a large, heavy object, so the Project 8’s acceleration has that slightly unhinged, physics-defying feeling of all big, heavy cars that overcome their mass through traction and sheer grunt.

Jaguar’s V8 has never sounded better, either. Supercharger whine has largely been consigned to the history books – it’s still there, but no longer so audible – but the Jag’s exhaust note hits with the consistency, volume and heart-stopping power of artillery fire. Throttle response is keen right from the off, and acceleration doesn’t abate, from the first few revs above tickover, all the way to the red line.

Project 8’s brakes are more than up to the task of dragging circa 1.8 tons back down to sensible velocities, but a little more pedal feel wouldn’t go amiss, just for some extra reassurance.

Ride and handling

Even a basic, entry-level Jaguar XE is a fine-handling thing, so the SVO engineers clearly had a useful starting point for their supersaloon project.

What’s most surprising is that the Project 8 actually rides well – it’s supple, controlled, and rarely troubled by poor surfaces. You’d not want to ferry dignitaries around in the back, but by the standards of most performance cars and even plenty of supersaloons, it’s quite liveable. The tyres do generate plenty of roar, and the vocal V8 always finds a way of permeating the cabin, but otherwise refinement is good, too – wind noise is minimal and you feel effectively cocooned from the outside world.

This refinement doesn’t come at the expense of involvement. Like the regular XE, the Project 8 steers well – it’s sharp off-centre with good weighting to lean against, even if actual feedback is largely absent until you begin working the tyres harder. Better still, the rest of the car moves in tune with that first steering input, giving Project 8 impressive agility. Good front-end grip helps here, and while you can unstick the rear tyres if you’re brutal, the tractive efforts of all four wheels gives the car effective cross-country pace.

With so much power on tap and the all-wheel drive system always ready to send power rearwards, Project 8 is adjustable on the throttle too – though it’s something you’d be more inclined to explore on track than the road, given the car’s size and the commitment needed to unstick the rears. And it’s certainly fun on track, but nor, with so much weight to carry around, does it feel completely natural. Antony Ingram