New Car Reviews

Comparison: 2010 Jaguar XF Premium vs. 2011 Infiniti M56 Sport

When it comes to $50,000 luxury sports sedans, there is the German triumvirate, and there’s everybody else. Of the others, two in particular take a surprisingly similar tack in presenting an alternative. One is Jaguar. This brand, with its long and low styling, elegant interiors, and graceful dynamics, has always been a sensualist’s choice. Infiniti has generally been more of a Japanese BMW than a Jaguar, but for 2011 it has redesigned and redefined its M sedan, and in so doing has moved toward what can only be described as a very Jaguar-like ideal.

Take one look at the M’s new longer, lower, and wider exterior, and it’s clear that Infiniti designers were going for something feline. The undulating lines, long hood, and cab-rearward proportions are far from a Teutonic, form-follows-function design aesthetic. Indeed, next to the slinky, catlike Infiniti, the Jaguar is rather bland and staid.

Infiniti carries the flowing, organic shapes to the M’s interior, which is sumptuous and of unfailingly high quality. Infiniti’s combination of a large touch screen, a multifunction controller, and distinct buttons builds in a lot of redundancy that makes it extremely easy to use. Look out over the hood, with its twin swells, and the M conveys an impression of size. The front seats (sports seats in our sport-package-equipped example) hold you snugly in place yet are still comfortable when you’re just cruising. The rear bench has plenty of room, and its high cushion affords a good view forward.

The Jag’s cabin is more intimate, with a greenhouse that curves inward and a wide center console. Rear passengers might just call it cramped, due to limited legroom. The look and materials are London-modern; the stereo and climate controls sacrifice ease of use for sleek appearance, and the slow-motion touch screen tries one’s patience. The leather chairs are comfortable, but they’re also slippery and flat. This particular XF was equipped with the Portfolio option package, which takes the interior up a notch with its suedelike headliner and contrasting stitching; too bad it does nothing to upgrade the plastic bottom spoke of the steering wheel.

When it comes to powertrain philosophies, these two automakers are very simpatico. Both the XF and the M buck the trend toward engine downsizing. Infiniti still offers a V-6 (now 3.7 liters, in the M37), but it tossed out the old 4.5-liter V-8 in favor of a new, direct-injected 5.6-liter unit. Output has surged from 325 hp to 420 hp, and torque jumps by 81 lb-ft to 417 lb-ft. As you might expect, acceleration is strong, with 60 mph reached in 5.1 seconds and 100 mph in 11.6. You might not expect fuel economy to improve, but it has, to 16/25 mpg city/highway. At least part of the credit goes to a new seven-speed automatic that replaces the previous five-speed. The M56 has a drive-mode selector switch that offers a choice of snow, eco, normal, or sport; in anything but sport, the computer chips try to get you to feather-foot the throttle, and they are reluctant to let the transmission downshift. Naturally, we left it in sport mode.

Jaguar has also recently brought out a fresh, larger V-8. In the 2010 XF, the new 5.0-liter V-8 replaced the old 4.2-liter in all but the base car; for 2011, every XF will get the 5.0-liter. The Jag’s bigger engine also ushers in a major power increase, with output going from 300 hp to 385 hp in normally aspirated form. With only six forward speeds, the Jaguar falls short of the Infiniti’s highway fuel economy by 2 mpg but matches its city figure. With both gearboxes, we liked the transmissions’ ability to match revs on downshifts and to hold a manually selected gear indefinitely. Like Infiniti, Jaguar offers a sportier transmission and throttle calibration, but even in the standard setting the XF’s throttle tip-in is very aggressive.

Ultimately, though, the XF’s response isn’t quite as frenetic as the M56’s. 60 mph arrives in 5.5 seconds and 100 mph in 12.6 — although the Jag is half a second quicker from 30 to 70 mph. And the direct-injected engine emits a wonderfully throaty growl when you step on it. If you want more performance, Jaguar still has more to offer, in the form of the supercharged, 510-hp XFR. But that car — in the grand tradition of BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, and Audi RS6 models — costs silly money (try $80,000), something that the Japanese automakers still don’t go for.

Speaking of prices, our 2010 XF Premium ($57,000) started within a whisker of our M56 ($58,415), which is a 2011 model. Both cars stayed within $1500 of each other when optioned up — the XF at $63,875 and $64,980 for the M56. Both were equipped with navigation, a rearview monitor, park assist, keyless ignition, Bluetooth, and heated and cooled seats, as well as the expected amenities, so the value proposition is a wash.

With better straight-line performance, slightly better gas mileage, a roomier interior, and a more highly styled exterior, the Infiniti would appear to have beaten the Jaguar at its own game. And for many buyers, it has. But really keen drivers will want to read on, because this match isn’t quite over yet.

While both our Jaguar and our Infiniti had driver-selectable modes that control throttle and transmission mapping, in neither of our test cars did those selections extend to the suspension (Jaguar does offer that capability but for the XFR only). That was fine with us, however, because we’d rather not have to switch back and forth between ride and handling; we always prefer a chassis that does everything well. In this case, that’s what the Jaguar XF delivered.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the Jaguar, with its nineteen-inch wheels, rides better than the Infiniti does with its twenty-inch footwear that is part of the M56’s sport package, which also brings to bear a firmer suspension. The difference in ride quality between the two cars isn’t dramatic, but the M56 gets knocked around a bit on patched, lumpy two-lanes, while the Jag is slightly more effective at taking the edge off sharper bumps.

We expected the M56 to make up the difference in cornering, but that wasn’t the case. Both cars are tremendous athletes-a key component of their grand-touring personas. But while the M56 offers tons of grip and very quick responses, it also feels heavy and not particularly confidence-inspiring. We lay the blame for the latter on the four-wheel active steering (4WAS) — a longtime Nissan fascination — which is another component of the sport package. The 4WAS can steer the rear wheels in phase with the fronts, and you can actually feel it work, but the unnatural response makes for turn-in that’s almost too aggressive. The 4WAS is also supposed to lighten steering efforts, but the M56 actually has a pleasing heft to its helm, although we did wish for more feedback.

The Jaguar’s steering, by contrast, was a little too light, but that’s about the only flaw in this cat’s chassis. Even without the adaptive suspension or the active rear differential (again, both exclusive to the R), its movements are absolutely fluid, as the suspension seems to naturally transition from compliant to firm as it loads up. The car’s response is very predictable, and it seems to be happier the harder you push it. The Jaguar feels much smaller than the Infiniti from the driver’s seat, which is what you want when the road tightens up and the shoulder is ragged. Finally, if you want to get really enthusiastic, the Jaguar’s stability control will let out some slack with its more lenient sport setting, but the Infiniti’s electronic helper is either off or on, and when it’s on it can be very intrusive.

With the new M56, Infiniti almost certainly was trying to build a BMW (after all, the 5-series and the Mercedes E-Class are the big kahunas in this segment). But Infiniti ended up with a very good Jaguar-shapely, sporty, luxurious. In the end, though, the M56 Sport may just be trying too hard. In an M56 minus the sport package — with its four-wheel active steering, sport suspension, and twenty-inch wheels — the M’s catalog of superiority would almost certainly put it over the top. But between these two cars, the XF proved to be the better Jaguar — a sensualist’s choice that stands in pleasing contrast to the German sport sedan’s hegemony.

2010 Jaguar XF Premium

Price: $57,000/$63,875 (base/as tested)
Engine: 32-valve DOHC V-8
Displacement: 5.0 liters (305 cu in)
Horsepower: 385 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 380 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drice: Rear-wheel
Steering: Hydraulically assisted
Suspension, Front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, Rear: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes: Vented discs, ABS
Tires: Continental ContiProContact
Tire Size: 245/40HR-19
L x W x H: 195.3 x 73.9 x 57.5 in
Wheelbase: 114.5 in
TRACK F/R: 61.4/63.2 in
Weight, Dist. F/R: 4180 lb, 52.1/47.9%
EPA Mileage: 16/23 mpg

0-60 mph: 5.5 sec
0-100 mph: 12.6 sec
0-110 mph: 15.2 sec
0-120 mph: 18.1 sec
0-130 mph: *
0-140 mph: *
0-150 mph: *
1/4-mile (sec @ mph): 13.9 @ 106
30-70 mph passing: 5.4 sec
peak g: 0.62 g

70-0 mph: 176 ft
Peak g: 0.98 g

L/R: 0.84/0.82 g

Speed In Gears
1: 36 mph
2: 64 mph
3: 98 mph
4: 121 mph
5: 121 mph
6: 121 mph
7: n/a

*limited to 121 mph

2011 Infiniti M56 Sport

Price: $58,415/$64,980 (base/as tested)
Engine: 32-valve DOHC V-8
Displacement: 5.6 liters (339 cu in)
Horsepower: 420 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 417 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
Steering: Hydraulically assisted, 4-wheel
Suspension, Front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, Rear: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes: Vented discs, ABS
Tires: Bridgestone Potenza RE050A
Tire Size: 245/40WR-20
L x W x H: 194.7 x 72.6 x 59.1 in
Wheelbase: 114.2 in
Track F/R: 62.0/61.8 in
Weight, Dist. F/R: 4163 lb, 54.9/45.1%
EPA Mileage: 16/25 mpg

0-60 mph: 5.1 sec
0-100 mph: 11.6 sec
0-110 mph: 14.2 sec
0-120 mph: 17.1 sec
0-130 mph: 20.3 sec
0-140 mph: 24.6 sec
0-150 mph: 31.1 sec
1/4-mile (sec @ mph): 13.6 @ 108
30-70 mph passing: 5.9 sec
peak g: 0.62 g

70-0 mph: 166 ft
Peak g: 1.04 g

L/R: 0.87/0.87 g

Speed In Gears
1: 43 mph
2: 66 mph
3: 105 mph
4: 152 mph
5: 157 mph
6: 150 mph
7: 150 mph

Buying Guide
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0-60 MPH:

6.6 SECS


16 City / 25 Hwy

Horse Power:

300 @ 6000