As early as last summer, I started getting little ”heads up“ postcards meant to whet my appetite for Infiniti’s new G20 Touring sports sedan: ”Born in Japan. Educated in Europe. Now Available in America.“ Ever since the disappearance of the G20 in ’96, I’ve been awaiting the replacement that will give Nissan’s ”luxury division“ the entry-level contender it needs to bolster a thinning product line.
Thanks to the fanfare of its promotional pedigreenot to mention my wonderful stint in October with Infiniti’s mid-level I30 Touring sedanthe ’99-model G20t found me ripe for seduction. She vamped into my life all arrayed in sultry, sexy bodywork, including a pert little flip-tail spoiler. Even at rest, she crouched in hungry anticipation for the backroads. I sidled up, got in, sat down. OK, maybe the fuzzy-wuzzy velour upholstery was a small, subliminal disappointment; but Infiniti was touting this action-figure super-hero of a car as a BMW-beater for only $24,740, as tested. I’d cut ’em some slack for that.
I started ’er up and...thunk! What had hitherto appeared a comely lass with a come-hither glint in her eye was suddenly blemished by the automotive equivalent of crooked teeth and an over-generous underbite. Here I was, ready to rock, and a buzzy little 140-horsepower four-banger out of a Nissan Sentra econo-sedan started making all these anemic ”little engine that could“ promises. Well, she couldn’tand mated to a syrupy four-speed automatic transmission, she never really even tried. Here, instead of promise and poise, was just another dubious instance of underwhelming overhype. The shame...O, the shame.
I’m all the more stunned as I attempt to deconstruct the tragedy. Here, for instance, is a spec-sheet that shows increased interior dimensions that rival and sometimes even exceed those of the new (and itself larger) BMW 3-Series sedan. And there is a wheelbase lengthened to favor stability and handling. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes, a techie-sounding ”viscous limited-slip differential,“ big-boomer 100-watt Bose CD sound, full-auto climate controlall these and more are standard features in a car costing under $25,000. Promotional fanfare for amenities like these isn’t just recommended; it’s mandatory.
But there are deafening silences as well. Where’s the four-wheel independent suspension, huh? The old G20 used to have it; so where is it now? It takes more than pompous capitalizations and a trademark to conceal the true identity of the ”Rear Multi-Link BeamÅ“ setup for the rear suspension. It’s a solid beam axle, for crying out louda cost-cutter, pure and simple. ’Fess up, why dontcha? And while you’re at it, you might as well point out that there’s no traction control on the G20 eithernot for a car that can’t get out of its own way. As it is, a little wheel chirp now and then would be a satisfying symphonic release from the buzzy panting of this little engine that won’t.
This isn’t the first time for continental tastes to collide, of course. In Europe, the G20’s alter ego is a best-seller wearing the name of Primera. In Europe, too, Ford’s underappreciated U.S.-model Contour is a dazzling success as the Mondeo. But even BMW and Mercedes-Benz are savvy enough to protect their upscale cachet in the U.S. by limiting Yankee access to their pooter-motor entry-level cars for the European market. The fact that several thousand Euros think a 140-horse Primera represents an affordable bargain in an economy where ”petrol“ costs $3 per liter just doesn’t count for much in the land of purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain.
It pays not to get blindsided by the facts; and the fact is, Infiniti’s G20t is not a credible contender against the likes of BMW’s newly refurbished 3-Series sedan. A truly realistic assessment, however, can cut both ways. As a Camry/Accord/Taurus-fighter, the G20 does manage a little luster even without a V6 engine option. Strip away the $1,200 surcharge for the ”Touring package“; banish that god-awful optional automatic transmission, which adds an $800 fiscal insult to an already debilitating performance injury; and forgo the $950 moonroof if you must. The result would be a $21,790 five-passenger car that offers a whole lot of upscale extras.
Then consider such a price in light of the ”membership perks“ that accrue to an Infiniti customer. For example, there are the generous tiered warranty provisions of 4-, 6-, and 7-year terms for total, powertrain, and corrosion protection, respectively. There’s the 24-hour roadside assistance program, and the free loaner car during extended service jobs. Given the Infiniti Division’s generally laudable dealer reputation, a ”near-luxury“ compact car shopper could find much to like in an Infiniti relationship, especially if it distracts from the G20’s over-promised powertrain performance. And what better incentive to trade up and out, eventually, to a lively I30 or a stunning Q45?
There’s little in life that discourages as much as thwarted expectations. Sometimes a miscommunication between the ”expecter“ and the ”expected“ leaves both parties innocently scratching their heads wondering just what went wrong. But when the party of the second part, with calculation aforethought, promises more than it delivers to the party of the first part, it’s only fair to cry foul. It is painfully clear that Infiniti’s G20t is only a Euro-style hero sedan in its own mind. The image purported is at odds with the facts; and stern reality, as it must, soon dismantles a hopeful perception.
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