(first posted 4/7/2016) When Infiniti launched in 1989, Nissan’s luxury brand’s offerings consisted of the $38,000 Q45 flagship sedan and the $23,500 M30 midsize coupe. Initial sales were less than stellar to say the least, and Infiniti was still without a true entry-level vehicle. Enter the 1991 Infiniti G20.
Little more than a rebadged version of the Nissan Primera sold in Japan and Europe, the initially $17,500 G20 occupied the middle ground in price between Acura’s Integra and Lexus’ ES250. After six years of moderate success, Infiniti dropped the G20 from its lineup after 1996, in favor of the larger Maxima-based I30, which could better compete with the Lexus ES300 and Acura TL. But the G20’s absence was only a temporary affair.
Less than three years later, the G20 was back, now with multi-link beam rear suspension and on a 2-inch longer wheelbase. Front and rear fascias were updated, with redesigned bumpers and wider rocker moldings owing to a more contemporary appearance. That being said, regardless of any new sheetmetal, the overall look was very similar to its predecessor, looking like little more than a mild face lift of the vintage-1990 design.
The interior also featured a makeover, with a redesigned dash and door panels made of higher-grade looking plastics. The available extra-cost leather upholstery (for 2002, part of a $1600 package that included power driver’s seat, power moonroof and automatic climate control) also gained a more premium appearance, with seating surfaces now having perforations and a loosely gathered appearance.
Nevertheless, by its second go-round, the G20’s interior looked very dated and downmarket. The latter was especially true in models without leather and the mild sprinkling of fake wood trim, which looked barely a step above your everyday Sentra.
Speaking of the Sentra, all Infiniti G20s were still powered by the same 2.0L SR20DE inline-4 now found in upper-trim Sentras, producing an identical 145 horsepower and 136 pound-feet torque (initially 140 and 132, respectively, for 1999). Considering that curb weight had risen over the 1996 model to approximately 2,950 pounds (some 300 more than the Sentra SE with the same engine), power delivery was lacking, and not on par with cars Infiniti targeted the G20 against, such as the 3-Series and A4, or even the humble Sentra SE, which cost roughly two-thirds the price.
Even more was that the Sentra SE-R had 20 more ponies and still cost some $5K less. Regardless, handling of the G20 was generally cited as good for a compact front-wheel drive sedan, though overall, the car was unrefined for an entry-level luxury sedan at its $21-$25K price point. Especially considering that similarly-equipped, yet larger and V6-powered cars such as Nissan’s own Maxima and the Honda Accord could be had for similar or even less money than a fully-loaded G20, the Infiniti’s value proposition just seemed questionable.
And in the end, that’s what the second coming of the G20 was: a fine, well-equipped compact car, but one that was unconvincing of its luxury brand status, and largely uncompetitive at its price point. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that the G20 was brought back primarily as a placeholder model until the larger, more luxurious, and significantly more performance-oriented G35 arrived, giving Infiniti a clearer purpose in life, at least for the time it and its G37 successor existed.