The unmatched, untamed ‘XE SV Project 8’ is just the beginning, says Jaguar

To get the full scoop on the XE SV Project 8, Digital Trends sits down with SVO executives in this exclusive interview.

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is on a new product tear, expanding each brand’s portfolio to compete more directly with BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Lexus, and Audi. Yet for all its new models, it’s JLR’s own in-house performance division – Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) – that’s generating the most buzz. Jaguar’s E-Pace and Land Rover’s Range Rover Velar may bolster the bottom line, but it’s the XE SV Project 8 that’s lighting fireworks from hay-strewn rooftops.

If you aren’t versed in SVO’s latest terror-mobile, be sure to read up on the Jaguar XE SV Project 8. Executive summary: Project 8 is a 592-horsepower, 200-mph, track-focused version of Jaguar’s new compact sport sedan. With only the XE’s aluminum-chassis and front doors as carryovers, the Project 8 is a ground-up extreme performance effort – the first assembled entirely at SVO’s new headquarters in Warwickshire, England. To learn more about the most powerful road-legal Jaguar ever – and SVO’s master plan – Digital Trends sat down with Dave Foster, SVO Advanced Product Creation Manager and Dan Connell, SVO Head of Global PR & Communications.

Digital Trends: What is the significance of the XE SV Project 8 for Special Vehicle Operations? What kind of statement is SVO trying to make with this car?

Dan Connell: “It’s just the most exciting time for Jaguar Land Rover that SVO is able to do this kind of thing. Special Vehicle Operations was created three years ago; in that time we have delivered some incredible halo products. It started with F-Type Project 7 – a successful forbearer to this car. We also have the Range Rover Sport SVR, Range Rover SVAutobiography, and the F-Type SVR. This core group of products has helped Jaguar Land Rover reach new levels of performance, luxury, and capability.

Project 8 is very different, even than Project 7. Project 7 was a design concept with engineering. Project 8 is the first time we’ve done real performance engineering for Jaguar. The F-Type SVR is a wonderful thing, but it’s a daily driver supercar. This car (Project 8) was built to set lap times. Project 8 is a grand statement that says Jaguar can do ultimate performance; it will also be the first product completely assembled by the SVO team in the U.K. It’s not a production line car, it is: ‘shackles off – create the best thing you can.’

Digital Trends: What were some of the challenges and opportunities afforded by the Project 8?

Dave Foster: “This was an chance to have a blank canvas. When we tried to conceive a project like this, we looked at the F-Type SVR and realized its parts weren’t suitable for what we were trying to create. So we took a body shell and started over. The first challenge was to accommodate a V8, then to accommodate massive tires, to configure adjustability for the track, to use carbon fiber extensively and in ways we haven’t before, and to work with the design team to embrace our engineering goals.

“This is shackles off; it is a track car you can use on the road, not a road car for the track.”

We also had to balance VMax (top speed) versus naught to 60 mph times. Usually we build a car to do one or the other well, but Project 8 had to do both, which came down to the aero. The front splitter we can move, the rear wing we can move, allowing us to go between a track mode and a VMax mode. The brakes were another challenge; these aren’t F-Type brakes, they’re a new composite material (CCM) with SRF brake fluid for longevity of performance.

As a result of all this, it is a track car you can use on the road, not a road car for the track. Engineers were able to be engineers, to be the enthusiasts they want to be.”

How would you compare the Project 7 to the Project 8 (as end-to-end endeavors)?

Dan Connell: “Project 7 was originally designed by Ian Callum’s team to be something special, not another series production car. It was a design exercise with an engineering boost, limited to 250 units worldwide. Another interesting thing about that car was the list price of £135K in the U.K. – which was unheard of for a modern Jaguar. Now, if you were to find one for sale, it would be well over £200K. So we know that was both successful, and that there’s demand for those type of products. The Project 8 is the next step, but it is the most extreme performance Jaguar ever, and not just inspired by unique design.

You mention the Project 7s price tag do you feel like theres a threshold for SVO product pricing? Whats too much for an SVO-engineered model?

Dan Connell: “It’s important to look at it from a car perspective. The reality is: the amount of engineering that has gone into that car could not be replicated, for the same price, by an individual. While it is a significant price, that is what it costs for a manufacturer to do it, so we don’t see price as an obstacle. Customers are absolutely getting what they pay for. It will be about what the market and what the client wants.”

How does an SV Project car (project 7, project 8) compare to an SVR product, like the F-Type SVR or Range Rover Sport SVR?

Dan Connell: “These (Project models) will always be collectors’ cars. We haven’t mapped out the next 10 years of Project cars, but we do know they will be collectors’ pieces.”

Since the Project 7 precluded the F-Type SVR, are we to assume the Project 8 will lead to an XE SVR?

Dan Connell: “That’s a fair question. When we consider what SVO should be to JLR, we actually feel there’s more demand from our customers for something like the XE SV Project 8 — you know, extreme performance — than for a V8-powered XE SVR road car, so there aren’t grounds for one right now.

How would you compare SVO to other luxury tuners like BMW M, Mercedes-AMG, Audi RS? What makes SVO unique?

“Why not pick the lightest thing you can start with and put the biggest engine you’ve got in it?”

Dan Connell: “I honestly believe that SVO is the most exciting performance market business in the world. Now we are inspired by M and certainly AMG — not just because of their products, but because of how they’ve incorporated engineering into racing — but we have an opportunity to reach a much broader spectrum of clients. If you think about Land Rover, which created the luxury SUV segment 50 years ago, it now has more top end competitors than ever and more opportunities for SVR performance versions. For me, the key word is distinction – excellence and difference – which is something we can provide.”

How is SVO thinking about Land Rover versus Jaguar products? Which products are more appealing for SVO tuning, or are there specific segments of each brand that youre eyeing?

Dan Connell: “The simple answer is that we have 600 designers and engineers at SVO who all consider the inherent strengths and weaknesses of a Jaguar or Land Rover product to make a truly special SVO product. From that perspective, it doesn’t have to be only Jaguar for SVR or only Land Rover for SVX. It’s more about considering what we want from each SVO and picking the right JLR product to do that.”

Dave Foster: “It keeps me busy, because for every one SVO product we’ve picked, we’ve probably looked at six alternatives. That huge cross-section of vehicle lines means I could be looking at 35, 45 different projects to pick just one.”

At what point is the hand-off between JLRs engineering team and SVOs team? Does SVO assist on any standard Jaguar S cars, or visa-versa on SVOs SVR or Project cars? Where is the line drawn?

Dave Foster: “There’s communication every day between JLR and SVO teams, and we (SVO) will go in and try to influence those products to deliver the targets we need in the future. We can’t always go back and re-engineer the complete car. We’ve had the luxury that XE has been designed so well, that we’ve been able to dive straight into the performance element. The lightweight structure of that car is brilliant, which is part of the reason we picked it. Why not pick the lightest thing you can start with and put the biggest engine you’ve got in it? We do that for every car. We’re always making sure the business is thinking about this so we can add in performance later rather than putting a band-aid on anything.”

Jaguar is now involved with Formula E, so does that influence SVOs thinking about electrified performance?

Dan Connell: “The business (JLR) is, so absolutely. Everything the business is doing we have to consider as well.”

What was the focal point of the Project 8? Obviously its a combination of many factors, but there was probably one central element over all: was it weight reduction, aerodynamics, engine performance?

Dave Foster: “It’s dynamic performance, getting the car set up for fast lap times. Specifically, we needed to maximize grip, which meant fine-tuning aerodynamics and reconfiguring the car to accommodate the wheel and tire package. Keeping the engine cool was another focus – that V8 wasn’t designed to fit in the car, so we had to change things like A/C lines, brake lines, etc. Fortunately, the design team has listened to the engineers; that car is designed around engineering function. More than one specific thing, it’s numerous little things to enable track performance.”

Is there anything you really want Digital Trends readers to know about SVO or Project 8?

Dan Connell: “The key is: we will definitely launch a new SVO product each year for the foreseeable future, so this is only getting bigger. We have these core halo products: SVR, SVAutobiography, and, in the future, SVX, and then we’ll continue to build these from-scratch Project cars. Jaguar Land Rover Classic business is roaring now too. We just introduced the XKSS in Los Angeles. We just opened the Classic Works office in the U.K., which is fit to maintain the 1.5 million classic JLR vehicles worldwide. There’s a lot to look forward to from SVO.