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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 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.