SVO day, Jaguar New Zealand’s new Project
Performance and motorsport versions of vehicle brands always tend to go down well in little ‘ol New Zealand. It would appear that our thirst for top of the line, high-octane, exhilarating driver’s vehicles is virtually unquenchable and it’s something that Jaguar knows all too well.
As a brand, Jaguar (and Land/Range Rover for that matter) has been at the forefront of design and motorsport, and as if to solidify or underline this position, relaunched their SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) division in 2014, placing it inside a huge 20,000 m2 facility in the middle of ‘ol Blighty.
SVO takes the best of what JLR (Jaguar/LandRover) has on offer and moves them to another level. Performance, design, aerodynamics, you name it, SVO does it. The result is mouthwatering vehicles that almost defy the laws of physics. F-Type, F-Pace, Range Rover Sport all get the SVO, SVR (Special Vehicle Racing) treatment and now, Jaguar NZ are looking to celebrate these achievements by launching (what we hope will be an annual event) an SVO day at the track.
The invite was fairly low key, your everyday ‘come and spend a couple of hours in our SVR machines’ type of thing, but it turned out to be a gloves off (helmet on) affair with a very special guest - well two if you count racing car driver Simon Evans.
Simon aside, the star of the event was the Jaguar XE SV Project 8, you know, the fastest production four-door sedan in the World and yes, we were allowed to drive it.
An all-wheel-drive, 600PS (kinda like Horse Power), 700Nm (kinda like earth moving), 5L Supercharged V8 family saloon that pounces from 0-100km/h in just 3.4 seconds and has a top speed of 320km/h. Limited to just 300 hand-assembled models and we were allowed to drive it in anger around Hampton Downs racetrack (along with the other SVR models but I’ll maybe save that for another day).
So the Project 8 then. Our model came ‘track optioned’ so rear seats removed, racing harness for the passenger (a very brave Downforce employee and racing car driver to boot) and a big spoiler on the boot lid. It had also been lowered to meet the tarmac below.
Things got a little more serious when we were instructed to don a crash helmet, but the sun was shining and the Project 8 was purring so no need to be worried right?
The XE SV may be (unusually) Left-hand drive only, but the interior is very Jaguar familiar, not what I was expecting to see in a track monster. I’d like to say that there was a temptation to tune to my favourite ‘easy listening’ radio station and cruised the track, but no way no how. A dab on the accelerator to wake both the vehicle and I up, a move of the auto gearbox lever to sport and out of the pits we went.
The run out of pit lane to turn two was over in the blink of an eye, the Downforce team had set up brake and line marking cones on each corner but they all came at me in rapid fire succession. The V8 roared and the supercharger whined as turn three and four disappeared in the rearview, all without a hint of cohesion between the rubber and the road. Heavy on the 400mm carbon brakes for the sharp right-hander at turn five and a quick sprint to the dipper.
The Project 8 felt rockhard and unyielding at each and every turn. A long(ish) run to the sweeper, hard on the brakes again and the use of the entire track had me poised for the climb up to home straight, damn this sedan is fast. My last glance at the speedo before braking for turn one was 230km/h, the car is capable of going faster, my will to return it unscathed meant I wasn’t. In truth, the Project 8 felt a little light up the straight and I believe addition downforce fettling would have been required to make the top speed a smidge less unnerving, but I was more than happy with the pace, especially as we got to do it around 4 or five more times.
Speed, handling, performance and good looks all go hand in hand when it comes to creating a desirable vehicle and the Project 8 has all of the above and then some. At a starting price of $350,000 and as rare as hen’s pearly-whites it may be out of reach from most of us, however, around one-third of F-Type sales in NZ are SVR badged and we as a nation lead the world in per capita JLR SVR sales. Fingers crossed, this all equates to us having more SVO/SVR track days, I for one want another go!