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.