Infiniti has reintroduced its G20 to the U.S. market with a highly tuned suspension. This car has been selling well in Europe the past few years where it has received rave reviews for its handling characteristics. The UK's Car magazine called it "one of the 10 best handling cars in the world." We're also impressed with the handling of this car.
This car is sold as the Nissan Primera in Europe and our first impression of the Infiniti G20t was of a well-engineered Nissan sedan. When trimmed in cloth, the interior is smartly designed and highly functional, but not really luxurious. (It looks more upscale with leather.) Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, found in the Nissan Sentra SE, is a solid engine, but it's rough and noisy when compared to a Honda/Acura engine and lacks power at low rpm.
Our opinion took a 180-degree turn at the racetrack, however. We quickly found the new Infiniti G20 a better companion for driving fast than either an Audi A4 or a Mercedes-Benz C230. Infiniti's new sedan inspires confidence and makes its driver feel like a hero.
Infiniti sold the G20 here from 1991 to 1996, then stopped importing it into the U.S. During the past two years, it has been redesigned, re-engineered and thoroughly tested on Germany's challenging old Nurburgring racing circuit. And it's being re-introduced into what Infiniti hopes is a more receptive U.S. market.
The market for so-called near-luxury cars has been growing. Meanwhile, Infiniti's prestige has grown with its I30, Q45 and QX4 and a network of dealers that have earned a reputation for treating customers well. (Infiniti took the top score in the 1996 J.D. Power and Associates Customer Satisfaction Index and scored second in 1997. Like other Infiniti models, the G20 comes with roadside assistance, a four-year/60,000-mile warranty and other service benefits.)
Built alongside the Infiniti I30 at the high-quality Oppama, Japan, assembly plant, our G20 seemed to be screwed together well. The I30 earned J.D. Power's highest Initial Quality Survey award last year and Infiniti says the G20 receives the same paint and build process.
This new G20 is longer and more luxurious than the old one. Stretching across a 102.4-inch wheelbase, the G20 is slightly smaller than an Integra sedan, but offers more front and rear passenger space and a bigger trunk.
In spite of its spacious interior, the G20 doesn't feel like a big car. It's much sportier than the previous model and looks the part with a big air dam that fills mirrors, sporty side skirts and alloy wheels. Side-marker lights serve as a reminder of its European alma mater.
Sports car fans will like the interior. Firm, comfortable seats minimize fatigue. They held us in place at the racetrack and played a supporting role along the western slopes of Washington's Cascades and on the winding roads around Mount Si.
Oriented around the driver, the interior is functional and attractive. Cloth lowers the price of admission by $1,500, making it more attractive to intended buyers, but the leather interior is more luxurious.
Two well-appointed models are available, G20 and G20t, with few options to buy.
G20 starts at $21,490 (all prices include $495 destination charge), but it doesn't look like a base model. It comes with ABS, cruise control, power windows and locks, a 100-watt Bose AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo with six speakers, and all the other features associated with luxury performance sedans.
For $22,990, the G20t touring model adds a viscous limited-slip differential, sport cloth interior, leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic temperature control, fog lights and rear spoiler. Enthusiasts will prefer the G20t, while others may have trouble justifying the extra $1,500. The limited-slip front differential does reduce wheelspin, but that isn't a big problem on the G20.
High-performance 195/60R15 Bridgestone Potenza RE92 tires come standard on the G20t and are a no-cost option on the base G20. We found the Bridgestones offer much better grip and sharper steering response than the standard 195/65R15 Firestone Affinity all-season tires; differences in ride quality were negligible.
An optional automatic transmission is $800. The leather interior, power sunroof, power seats, an HVAC filtration system and a HomeLink system that will turn on your lights and open your garage door comes in a package that can be added to the standard model for $1,500 or to the touring model for $1,200. Heated seats can be added to the leather package for $420.
G20 offers a good value. The Audi A4 ranges from $24,290 to $34,230, while a BMW 318ti with a Sport Package costs about $25,000. An Acura Integra 4-door sedan ranges from $20,435 to $22,835, while a 2.3-liter Honda Accord EX 4-door with leather retails for about $22,345.
Infiniti G20's best feature is its flawless execution of the driver's wishes. It's easy to drive well, whether winding through the Cascades or hot-lapping at Seattle International Raceway.
The latter is an amateur road racing circuit near Kent, Washington, that features a long straightaway followed by a high-speed sweeping turn that leads into a tricky, technical back section. Infiniti brought an Audi A4 1.8T and a Mercedes-Benz C230 to the track for comparison. A tight autocross circuit was set up to further test handling. Over and over, we drove the cars through the autocross and around the road course.
Our impressions: Infiniti's new G20 is much easier to control at the limit. In most cars, charging into a high-speed turn then abruptly lifting off the throttle in the middle of the corner can cause a spin. Do this in an Infiniti G20 and it simply tucks in and takes a tighter line through the corner with far less drama. We don't recommend driving at the limit on the street, but the G20's highly refined manners would be a major asset in an emergency situation. We tried every driver mistake in the book and the rear wheels would not let go of the pavement.
By comparison, the Mercedes C230 felt big and heavy and required more skill to work through the course. Wheelspin prevented us from fully using the A4's turbocharged engine. Without Audi's quattro system, we encountered trailing-throttle oversteer entering corners and understeer when powering out of them. Driving technique can tame the A4's traits, but it's easier to maintain composure in the G20.
Part of the secret to G20's great handling is a new multi-link rear suspension designed to aid recovery during sudden changes of direction and a front multi-link suspension, similar to that on the 300ZX, that contributes to the G20's snappy steering. Softer springs and shocks prevent harshness, while anti-roll bars keep it firm and stable. The rack-and-pinion steering feels very direct, allowing the driver to place the car in a corner precisely.
It also handles bumpy corners extremely well, something we learned on a recent test drive through Washington, D.C. Rough pavement and potholes will not throw this car off line in fast, sweeping turns. That's a big benefit on long commutes in major metro areas.
This car is extremely stable under hard braking. The brakes never overheated at the racing circuit and they worked just as well in the Cascades. Apparently, Infiniti's work at Nurburgring paid off. A second-generation antilock braking system comes standard and helps the driver maintain steering control under hard braking.
Under the hood is an evolutionary version of Nissan's 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter, 16-valve, dual overhead-cam four-cylinder engine. Noise, vibration and harshness have been reduced, but it still isn't as smooth or quiet as a Honda/Acura engine.
Infiniti's G20 engine is responsive around town, but downshifting is required for quick acceleration because all the power is in the upper rev range. Horsepower peaks at 6400 rpm and maximum torque (132 foot-pounds) develops at 4800 rpm. Fortunately, the engine revs freely to 7000 rpm and provides good acceleration in the upper ranges. It also nets an EPA-estimated 31 mpg when cruising on the highway.
Most G20s will be sold with automatic transmissions, but we highly recommend the smooth-shifting manual. The clutch pedal is light and shifting is quick and easy.
Infiniti's new G20 will be appreciated most by driving enthusiasts, but anyone could benefit from its precise steering, stable braking and sure-footed handling. This is a sports sedan with performance that more than lives up to the Infiniti name.
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