The Project 8 is a car that's hard to love at first. Asking it to play nice in traffic is like asking Gallagher to simply dice a watermelon -- this car is constantly goading you to give it hell and unleash its V8 power. It's an absolute menace, and at its best when driven like one.
Only 300 of these XE SV Project 8 sedans will be sold globally, each one a hand-built creation that showcases the best of what Jaguar can engineer into its performance cars. The wide, wonderful body panels are all unique to the Project 8; only the door innards and roof are shared with the standard XE. The honeycomb air intakes are punched right into the body panels, and a vast majority of the exterior bits are made from carbon fiber. The long front splitter will have you crawling when exiting every driveway, and the flat, rear diffuser extensions collect the pebbles those meaty rear tires kick up. That huge, rear wing might look like it's been ripped off a Subaru WRX STI Type RA, but it's adjustable, and provides increased downforce to keep the XE's rump where it belongs at higher speeds.
Power comes from one of my favorite engines: Jaguar's supercharged, 5.0-liter V8, with the wick turned up to deliver 592 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. Jaguar claims the XE Project 8 will accelerate to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and crest 200 mph on the top end. An eight-speed automatic transmission fires off quick, crisp shifts when you're in full-on attack, yet smoothly and imperceptibly fades into the background when you're just cruising on the highway.
But again, daily driving is not what this car does best. Even with Comfort mode engaged, you still feel every bump and pavement imperfection. Toggle the drive setting to Sport and the powertrain livens up nicely, but the suspension gets even stiffer. Track mode, meanwhile, is so incredibly harsh that Jaguar's PR team emailed me before my loan of this car and strongly recommended I not use it on the street. Just for kicks, I did, and can confirm that their logic is sound.
Thank goodness, then, for the smooth, canyon roads just north of Los Angeles. Out here, the Project 8 is a goddamn dream. It attacks every corner with fantastic poise and tenacity, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires offering seemingly endless grip as I push harder and harder through turns. The chassis that was at first too taut for commuting is now perfectly honed to keep the Jag flat and balanced through corners, with tons of feedback making its way up through the suede-rimmed steering wheel.
The Project 8 combines all the power delivery characteristics of a balls-out muscle car with the sort of tactility you'd expect from a track-ready performer. You can feel the sedan's weight transfer through the steering wheel. The all-wheel drive system isn't so overprotective that it won't let the rear end step out when provoked. The huge, 15.7-inch front and 15.6-inch rear carbon-ceramic brakes offer unrelenting stopping force with no overly grabby tendencies. And if you don't drive this thing with the sport exhaust activated, you're a fool.
It's hard to find real fault with the Project 8 from a performance standpoint. It is a wonderful canyon-carver; a ferocious beast that never lets you down when driven hard. I love just about everything about the Project 8 treatment, right down to its carbon fiber extensions. I'll admit the leaping-cat graphic treatment is not exactly my style -- OK, I hate it -- but I also kind of applaud Jaguar for doing something so visually uncivilized.
My problems with this car aren't representative of the Project 8 treatment, but rather, the XE itself. Don't forget, this car is based on the pre-refresh 2019 model, so it doesn't benefit from a number of the 2020 model year updates that make the XE a much better overall package.
Wild and crazy as the exterior styling is, I wish Jaguar would have done more to the XE's cabin for Project 8 duty. It largely carries over unchanged from the standard XE, aside from the addition of lightweight, supportive front bucket seats and some additional soft-touch materials. A two-place interior layout with a roll cage, carbon-fiber seats and racing harness is available for Project 8 sedans in other countries, but can't be ordered in the US.
That means you're left with the same lackluster cabin as any other XE, with not-so-great plastics and those three-tier front door panels that only serve to make the interior feel more cramped than it already is. With the front seats adjusted to accommodate average-sized adults, the rear compartment lacks legroom, and the small back doors make the car hard to get in and out of.
In-car technology is handled by Jaguar's InControl Touch Pro system, housed on a 10-inch screen in the center stack. This system is as hit-or-miss here as it is in any other Jaguar -- it's colorful and bright, sure, but is often laggy and unresponsive to commands. A digital instrument cluster is also standard, with reconfigurable displays, but it, too, lacks the modernity of similar tech from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and others.
Of course, no one's buying the XE SV Project 8 for its comfort and convenience features. And no one's buying it because it's a bargain, either. You might want to sit down for this part: The 2019 Jaguar XE SV Project 8 costs $187,500, not including $995 for destination. That means it's $112,900 more expensive than the aforementioned Mercedes C63 S. It costs as much as a Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
There is absolutely no rational reason to buy the Jaguar XE SV Project 8. But then again, there was no rational reason for Jaguar to build it in the first place. I can't fault any well-heeled buyer for plunking down on the chance to own something so loony and lovable. I might not understand why someone would pay this much for one now, but in 30 years when I'm drooling over a well-kept Project 8 at some car show, I'll be glad they did.