Classic CARmentary: 1999 Infiniti G20t

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

At the end of this review, I effectively compare the G20 to the Mercedes C230 and (1998) BMW 318i.  All three cars were chasing the same buyers.  As the owner of a Nissan Sentra, the as-tested price of the G20 still seemed too high to me even though it was about $2,000 less than the base BMW and a whopping $7,000 less than the base Mercedes.  I believe it is because stand-alone luxury brands have a distinct advantage.  Cadillac can try to out-BMW BMW all they want, they will never be BMW as long as Chevrolet and Buick exist.  When someone tries to move up to a Cadillac and sees the same turn-signal and wiper stalks as the Malibu they just traded in, something is lost.  It’s even more so with Lincoln, which for most of the 21st century has been little more than a re-badge of various Ford vehicles.

I’m not sure how Audi is able to overcome the stigma of the engineering and component sharing with Volkswagen.  Maybe it’s because water-cooled Volkswagens were always considered more premium than your basic Ford or Chevrolet?  As for Lexus, I think their popularity has more to do with getting a luxury car with Toyota quality than any type of aspiration, and even that has its limits.  I see a whole lot more GLAs than UXs.  Feel free to disagree.

The following review was posted on December 21, 1998.

I can’t help but feel that the new Infiniti G20 got a raw deal. The G20 was Infiniti’s first entry-level car, but its bland styling and high price failed to generate much interest, and the car was discontinued after 1996. Infiniti has re-introduced the G20 for 1999 with similar styling and a higher price, and this will assuredly doom this otherwise excellent car.

The G20 is essentially the top-of-the-line version of the Nissan Primera, a mid-size car smaller than the Altima that is not sold in the U.S. Thanks to a longer wheelbase, there is a larger cabin and more cargo room. Visual changes are highlighted by a larger C-pillar and the trademark Infiniti split grill, and our Touring model came with handsome spoked alloy wheels, fog lights, and a silly rear wing. The interior is stark and sporty in the European tradition. Amenities are sparse, however, with climate control the only indication that this is a luxury car. The very comfortable front seats grip in all the right places and do a good job of keeping you in place when the road gets twisty. Rear seat room is still tight, and that larger C-pillar results in a small opening to the 14.2 cubic-foot trunk.

Powering the G20 is the same 140-horsepower, 2.0 liter four cylinder engine that powered the previous model and can also be found in the entry-level, subcompact Nissan Sentra SE. As the G20 is several hundred pounds heavier than the Sentra, the sensations are not same, but the engine is smooth almost to the redline and provides decent power even with the optional four-speed automatic. Handling is superior, with little body lean in turns and a firm but not uncomfortable ride.

The G20’s biggest problem is image. BMW and Mercedes can get away with charging a fortune for small, four-cylinder cars because they are not trying to shake the image of a mainstream companion brand. Everything about the G20 screams Nissan, and anyone who’s ever driven a Sentra will instantly recognize all of the controls, including the steering wheel. There’s a lot to like about the G20, but not for the price Infiniti’s asking.

For more information contact 1-800-826-6500


Type:Four-door Sedan
Engine:140-horsepower, 2.0 liter inline 4
Transmission:Four-speed Automatic
EPA Mileage:22 city/28 highway
Tested Price:$24,740