I’m assuming you have all heard of Jaguar Land Rover’s (JLR) relatively new Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division? Not least because of a certain Harry Metcalfe, one of top UK motoring magazine Evo’s founders, now acts as a consultant for SVO. But I bet you don’t know the scale of this skunkworks outfit. It is not some after-hours club made up of a dozen engineers cramming V8s into everything they can find. In fact, it is part of another larger group, confusingly called Special Operations, which consists of a 500-strong team headed up by former CTO of Williams Advanced Engineering, Paul Newsome.
Special Ops has numerous subdivisions, of which Heritage and SVO are the most exciting. Heritage supplies parts, servicing and restoration for older models, while the latter is set to be some kind of AMG-meets- Mulliner, offering high performance and ultra luxury. SVO’s work has delivered the Range Rover Sport SVR, the Range Rover SVAutobiography (not confusing at all, is it?) and there are rumours of an extreme off-road sub-brand called SVX to come in the near future.
If all this sounds rather complicated for us simple folk used to clear propositions like BMW’s M division, just think of SVO as the people who take JLR products and then transform them so they are faster, sexier and more extreme, or simply drown them in luxurious fittings. One more thing: they also do limited-edition models that are the ultimate expression of SVO’s vision (or is that ‘visions’?).
Anyway, this is finally where the F-Type Project 7 comes in. Phew. Just 250 will be produced, costing £135 000 (about R2.8m) apiece, and it’s the first halo product to demonstrate the resources and skills of SVO in one bespoke package. And here it is, in the cool, crisp morning air in Pamplona, northern Spain.
I have a few reservations, but despite myself, I can’t help thinking the Project 7 looks pretty special. The faux D-Type stuff might not be to everyone’s taste, but there is certainly a drama and vigour to this car that is over and above a standard F-Type. Crucially, the Project 7 is much more than just a cosmetic makeover. With a unique drivetrain calibration, revised spring and damper settings, as well as new suspension components and a lighter kerb weight, it promises a much sharper, more aggressive, locked-down driving experience. Of course, the F-Type R Convertible is a real hoot, but there are times when you do crave greater precision and feedback, and less wheelspin. The Project 7 addresses all of these issues.
The first few kilometres roll quietly under the Project 7’s wheels and it all feels very familiar. The lightweight seats pinch a bit tighter, there’s more swirling air whipping around thanks to the cut-down windscreen, and the V8 crackles, booms and roars more vehemently than ever.
However, the fluid ride isn’t edgier at all, the steering is super direct, but still lacks gritty feedback, and I have to admit, I’m a bit taken aback that it doesn’t feel completely different.
The front spring rate went up by 80%, there are unique suspension knuckles to create 1.5° of negative camber instead of the regular F-Type’s 0.5°, and there are also new and much more uncompromising Continental ContiForceContact tyres… So where’s the added focus and aggression?
One thing that isn’t in doubt is that the Project 7 is a seriously rapid vehicle. The drivetrain is similar to the F-Type R’s, but with more boost pressure, the five-litre V8 is supercharged, and it’s good for 422 kW at 6 500 rpm (18 kW) and 680 Nm from 2 500 to 5 500 rpm (the same peak figure, but spread over a wider range). This makes the Project 7 the most powerful road-going Jaguar ever.
It is said to be good for 300 km/h and does 0–100 km/h in 3.9 seconds. It’s also noisy – and riotously so – reporting sharp explosions on the overrun and emitting a loud crack every time the Quickshift ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox delivers a punchy upshift.
It has been reprogrammed to be faster and more assertive, and while it does have impeccable manners, for the most part, there’s a definite edge of physicality to the shift quality.
To find a match in the chassis for this new edge to the drivetrain, you need to select Dynamic mode – and this is where the Project 7 takes on a different strategy. Throttle mapping, damping, steering weight and ESC settings are all still affected, but the distinction between the surprisingly laid-back Normal mode and Dynamic mode is wider. Newsome says, ‘The Project 7 rides with more compliance than the F-Type in its default setting, but ramps up body control and accuracy much more aggressively in Dynamic mode. On smooth Spanish roads, the difference isn’t night and day, but you do sense a new tension in Dynamic.’
We’re heading to the Navarra circuit and the roads en route are usually empty. They sweep in broad strokes for miles before they bunch up, winding along a valley and then up into the hills. On the faster stretches, the Project 7 starts to assert its new-and-improved character. With its sharp front end, it’s actually quite difficult to cleanly carve around gentle sweepers in just one perfect arc, but once you have become acclimatised to its responsiveness, there is more mid-corner grip to lean against and a greater sense of the tyres really biting the road. The turn-in agility also goes some way to hiding the Project 7’s mass, but at a claimed 1 585 kg, it’s still a chunky sports car.
As the road bunches up, the added agility and grip crystallises into something that’s tangibly different. The Project 7 gets into corners a little more accurately, but more noticeable is the fact that the tyres hang on for longer, rather than falling into oversteer as soon as you touch the throttle. This is partly because the throttle is much more progressive, but there’s undoubtedly more stability and traction too. Though, that does not mean the car’s adjustability has been sacrificed in the name of grip. In fact, you can steer the car more accurately with the throttle inputs now, not just bonfiring the tyres, but gently tweaking its line instead.
With the F-Type R, you tend to jump way over the limit almost by accident, but the Project 7 allows you to define that limit and hover close to it more consistently. Unless you are a professional drifter, it is a more satisfying and realistic way to enjoy driving a road car.
Even so, the DNA of the F-Type is clear and the Project 7 is still
an exuberant thing to drive quickly, always teetering on the edge of oversteer, and the tyres are only ever another millimetre of throttle away from melting into a wheelspin. There just isn’t the mechanical grip of, say, a Mercedes-AMG GT S, nor quite the control and sense that the car really wants to carry speed and pick apart the road ahead. It is an all-enveloping experience that bombards you with noise and keeps you busy behind the wheel, but I arrive at Navarra still to be convinced that the Project 7 goes far enough to set it apart from the F-Type R, as well as match the breathless speed and accuracy of an AMG or creamy poise of an Aston V12 Vantage S.
The circuit layout we’re using starts with a fearsomely fast gentle right then flows into a much tighter right-hand complex that forces you to trail brake. The Project 7 tackles it with assurance, blending into the fast turn with real stability in fifth, and then allowing you to get on the brakes and turn harder right as the next third-gear turn approaches. The rear tyres do eventually slip wide as the car is slowing and turning, but they do not snap into terminal oversteer. With a calm correction, it’s still quite possible to hit the apex and then rocket out on to the following straight.
SVO is keen to talk about the Project 7’s aero-efficiency, and it’s rather easy to imagine the new front splitter, rear venturi tunnel and fixed rear spoiler are helping here. Drag is lower than on a regular F-Type Convertible when the top is stowed; however, now there’s real downforce as well. Into the tightest corners, the front tyres begin pushing wide, so keeping exit oversteer in the neat-and-fast variety proves very difficult indeed. As sticky as the tyres may be, the sheer enormity of the torque always seems to defeat traction.
SVO has made the rear of the car softer in relation to the front in order to keep the inside rear wheel firmly on the ground and driving hard, but the electronically controlled limited-slip differential still struggles to turn torque into forward motion. And once the tyres are hot, the tension will dissipate from the chassis and you are left with a car that is happy oversteering like mad, but simply can’t replicate the excitement of the best cars at this price.
In the end, the Project 7 presents a conundrum. I won’t pretend that I didn’t enjoy the exuberance of the experience, the sublime noise, and supreme adjustability and performance. And I definitely didn’t have any unrealistic expectations of an accurate GT3-humbling road and track car. But, somehow, it just did not quite give the bite and clarity of feedback I had hoped for. It takes the F-Type experience to a new level and
I suspect the edge I’d wished for may be more evident on more ragged roads, but here it doesn’t quite deliver the substance to fully back up the style.
Of course, the Project 7 is sold out and so it does not need to compete with, say, the 911 Turbo Cabriolet, but that limited build was a chance to unleash a new sort of F-Type, rather than polish its already fine attributes – to channel the D-Type properly with a raw and exciting car that will compromise without apology in order to deliver something quite unique. The Project 7 is a whole lot of fun, but it isn’t quite that car.
- Engine: V8, 5 000 cc, supercharged CO2
- Power: 422 kW @ 6 500 rpm
- Torque: 680 Nm @ 2 500 – 5 500 rpm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive suspension
- Brakes: ARB brakes carbon-ceramic discs, 398 mm front, 380 mm rear, ABS
- Wheels: EBD wheels, 20” front and rear tyres 255/35 ZR20 front, 295/30 ZR20 rear
- Weight: 1 585 kg power-to-weight 253 kW/ton,
- Top speed: 300 km/h (limited)