Infiniti's G20 looks like a European Touring Car Series racer, and has the high-winding engine and sharp, enthusiast-friendly handling to match. In fact, its Continental suspension tuning has earned rave reviews. Driven hard, the G20 makes nearly anyone feel like a hero.
Yet G20 offers a good value, costing less than an Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series. (It's priced closer to an Acura Integra or a Honda Accord EX.) Infiniti's network of dealers has earned a reputation for treating customers well. Like other Infiniti products, the G20 comes with roadside assistance, a four-year/60,000-mile warranty and other service benefits.
G20 Luxury ($21,395); G20 Touring ($24,095)
Infiniti G20 was designed and engineered in Europe and thoroughly tested on Germany's challenging old Nurburgring racing circuit. G20 is sold as a Nissan overseas and it can't quite match the sophisticated, upscale looks of the other vehicles in the Infiniti showroom, particularly the mid-size I30. It's also getting a bit long in the tooth at this point, and an all-new model to replace it is on its way.
Still, a big air dam, sporty side skirts and alloy wheels give the G20 a sporty demeanor. The G20t, particularly, looks a little like something you'd see on Speedvision in one of those European Touring Car races. Side-marker lights serve as a reminder of its European heritage.
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. And yet in spite of its spacious interior, the G20 doesn't feel like a big car.
Built alongside the Infiniti I30 at the high-quality Oppama, Japan, assembly plant, the G20 seems to be screwed together well.
Sports car fans will like G20's interior. When trimmed in cloth, as in the G20 Luxury, the interior is smartly designed and highly functional, but not really, well, luxurious. But adding leather changes the basic Nissan-like interior to that of an upscale sedan befitting the Infiniti badge.
Firm, comfortable seats minimize fatigue. They held me 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.
This car is sold as the Nissan Primera in Europe and our first impression of the Infiniti G20 was of a well-engineered Nissan sedan.
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. A tight autocross circuit was set up to further test handling. Over and over, we drove the Infiniti G20 along with an Audi A4 1.8T and a Mercedes-Benz C230 through the autocross and around the road course.
Our impression: 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 front-drive Audi A4's turbocharged engine. Without Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive 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 its multi-link rear suspension. This suspension is designed to aid recovery during sudden changes of direction. Meanwhile, the G20's multi-link front suspension, similar to that of the last-generation 300ZX, contributes to the G20's snappy steering. Relatively soft springs and shocks prevent harshness, while anti-roll bars maintain firm and stable cornering. The rack-and-pinion steering feels very direct, allowing the driver to place the car in a corner precisely.
G20 also handles bumpy corners extremely well, something we learned on a 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. We found the Bridgestone tires on the G20t offer much better grip and sharper steering response than the standard 195/65R15 Firestone Affinity all-season tires that come on the G20 Luxury; differences in ride quality are negligible.
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 Nissan's 145-horsepower, 2.0-liter, 16-valve, dual overhead-cam four-cylinder engine, also found in the Nissan Sentra SE. Though a solid engine, it's rough and noisy when compared to a Honda/Acura engine and lacks power at low rpm. This engine offers responsive performance around town, but downshifting is required for quick acceleration because all the power is in the upper rev range. 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.
Enthusiasts will prefer the Touring model, while others may have trouble justifying the extra $2700, especially when all of the Touring's convenience features are available on the Luxury model for just $1500. The limited-slip front differential that comes with the G20 Touring does reduce wheelspin, but that isn't a big problem on the G20. Most G20s will be sold with automatic transmissions
Infiniti's G20 will be appreciated most by driving enthusiasts, but anyone would benefit from its precise steering, stable braking and sure-footed handling. This is a sports sedan with performance that lives up to the Infiniti name.