Road cars: Jaguar steps up a gear

…and prepares to launch its most powerful car ever

It’s been a busy month for Jaguar. Most notable among its announcements is the XE SV Project 8, the second limited-numbers car to be produced by Jaguar’s Special Vehicle Operations – its in-house skunk works. Like the 2014 F-type-based Project 7, the XE uses a boosted version of the well-known Jaguar 5-litre V8, tuned suspension and bodywork modified to reduce downforce.

The car is particularly interesting because despite having been launched in 2014, the XE has been curiously absent from the compact super-saloon battlefield and, unlike the F-type that had V8 power from new, Jaguar has until now resisted putting its biggest engine in its smallest car.

But now that decision is made, Jaguar is not going to run the risk of being outgunned by any pesky BMW M3 or Mercedes-AMG C63 so has tweaked its stalwart supercharged V8 to give 592bhp, far beyond the output of any similar rival car. Significantly, it also makes the car the most powerful Jaguar in history. In order to harness all that power Jaguar has decided to use four-wheel drive, running through a modified eight-speed automatic transmission.

The Project 8 will have been revealed publicly at the Goodwood Festival of Speed when you read this, but at the time of going to press no performance figures had been given. That said, it doesn’t take much time with the calculator to figure out that with that power, its likely weight and all-wheel-drive traction it’s going to be rather rapid off the line. I predict a 0-62mph time of 3.3sec.

Just 300 Project 8s will be built and there is no news yet on pricing, though anyone expecting change from £100,000 is probably going to be disappointed.

In the meantime Jaguar Land Rover has opened its new ‘Classic Workshop’, a £7-million facility in Coventry dedicated to restoring, repairing and servicing any of its products that are more than 10 years old. However, it will also find and revive its own cars and sell them on in probably better than original condition under its ‘Reborn’ programme. Classic Works has already announced that it is working on the rebirth of early Land Rovers and Range Rovers and has recently committed to resurrecting 10 Series 1 Jaguar E-types.

The business sense behind the plan is obvious: JLR has watched for decades as specialist companies have thrived repairing and restoring old Jaguars. Classic Works can not only charge a premium because it offers a genuine factory restoration, but can also make a margin on the parts business, of which it already has a catalogue comprising some 30,000 items. Whether it will then implement another programme validating the originality of old Jags and Land Rovers similar to Ferrari’s lucrative Classiche scheme remains to be seen.

Finally, and more prosaically, Jaguar has unveiled an estate version of its mid-sized XF saloon. The XF Sportbrake is slightly more spacious than the car it replaces, offering up to 1700 litres of luggage space, some way behind the Mercedes-Benz E-class estate, but otherwise absolutely on par for the class. The car comes with the usual suite of petrol and diesel engines plus a choice of manual and automatic transmissions and rear- or four-wheel drive. Prices start at £34,910, some £2610 more than asked for the XF saloon.

McLaren’s summer drop-top

McLaren’s promise to unveil a new car (or derivative thereof) every year remains on track with the unveiling of one of the industry’s less well-kept secrets, the 570S Spider.

The hard-top roof is similar but not identical to that used in the 650S Spider but still folds away under neat buttresses in 15sec flat and at speeds of up to 25mph. A bigger rear spoiler helps balance the airflow over the car so that no additional penalty in lift results from the convertible roof.

The Spider weighs 46kg more than the closed 570S, giving it a kerb weight almost identical to that of the fastback 570GT. As with the 650S, the carbon-fibre tub requires no additional strengthening because the roof was not a structural component and the suspension remains similarly unchanged. And while there is a performance penalty to be incurred, if you can detect a 0.1sec loss of pace from rest to 124mph, you’re probably a highly sophisticated computer programme and not a human being.

The Spider is on sale now priced at £164,750, almost £20,000 more than its fixed-head sister.

Much speculation remains concerning 2018’s new McLaren. We know the three-seat super-luxury BP23 hypercar will be with us in 2019 and, with the 720S being last year’s offering, the smart money is on an ultra-lightweight, hardcore 570S, a little brother to the super-successful 675LT limited edition. It is likely to have at least 600bhp and a focus on the race track first and the public road second.

China helps Lotus blossom

For Lotus the agony of decades of underfunding may soon be over. Chinese multinational Geely has bought a controlling interest in the company and is expected to provide significant investment. The company has a good track record with Volvo, which it bought from Ford in 2010, and also owns the London Taxi Company and has made an unspecified seven-figure donation to the Bloodhound SSC Land Speed Record Project.

Geely’s plans for Lotus are not yet known and change should not be expected any time soon: it took five years from acquisition for an all-new Volvo to hit the market. Nor, of course, is it a given that the change will be entirely positive: Lotus was owned for many years by General Motors, then the largest car company in the world, and even that kind of backing failed to turn it into a major player on the global sports car stage. Remember too that just because a parent company does well with one acquisition, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it will do the same with another. BMW has worked wonders for Mini and Rolls-Royce, but it killed Rover stone dead.

Nevertheless, the news has brought hope to Hethel of a kind that will have been in very short supply of late. Geely’s arrival is likely to have been too late to affect the fundamental design of the all-new Elise Lotus has been working on for years, but its money should nevertheless arrive in sufficient time to influence its engineering and construction.

It will be fascinating to see where Lotus goes with Geely. It seems unlikely that it will stay forever as a low-volume manufacturer of comparatively affordable sports cars because selling small numbers of cars at a modest margin is a double whammy in terms of profitability. But progressing into the big time will bring the company into direct competition with Porsche, and it remains to be seen if even a properly built and engineered Lotus has the brand equity to rise to that particular challenge.

Shades of a Phantom

Rolls-Royce has teased a couple of images of its all-new Phantom, which it promised to unveil in full on July 27. The shots reveal only that the iconic RR grille and flying Eleanor Thornton remain in play, which we could probably all have guessed anyway.

Industry gossip, however, is potentially more enlightening. There’s a strong view that the new Phantom is not going to be a small evolutionary step but a conceptual giant leap, perhaps as big as the one BMW made when it first launched the old Phantom in 2003. It is believed that Rolls-Royce takes the view that the Phantom is unique in the marketplace – the Bentley Mulsanne occupying a different, more sporting territory – and it intends to play to those strengths. Expect, therefore, a new level of opulence, space and visual presence.

It will be interesting for another reason too: if the rumours are true and Aston Martin is about to relaunch Lagonda as an ultra-luxury brand to rival Rolls-Royce, this will be the first time they get to see what they’re really up against.