It was a hot, humid day. Traffic on the Kennedy Expressway was bumper to bumper in the evening rush hour. We reached for the knob to adjust the air conditioner downward a couple of degrees when the horizon dipped a foot to theleft.The rear wheel of the Ford we were test-driving chose that moment to attempt an entrance into the express lanes while the rest of the car was traveling in the locals. Then there was the time we took a shortcut home along some seldom-traveled country roads when the fan belt broke, the battery went dead and not a soul was in sight as the clock struck 10 p.m. and the thermometer touched 10 degrees below. And we can't forget the time we were tooling along in a Chrysler when the back of the Corinthian leather seat expired, and we found ourself cursing Mr. Montalban from the prone position at 55 miles per hour. Needless to say, some vehicles run better than others, and you sometimes wish the manufacturer would forget it lent you the car. (American Motors Corp.once did, and it wasn't until we called and noted that we had just had the oilchanged that the company came to retrieve the car.) Other times, even before the tow truck arrives, you're ready to call the manufacturer and issue your surrender. Then there are times when you find yourself in a car in which nothing fallsoff, nothing stops working, nothing leaves you stranded-but nothing really impresses you, either. Such was the case when we got our hands on the new Infiniti G20 sedan. The new 1993 1/2-or, as Infiniti calls it, the 1993.5-G20 solves some of the problems of the old model. That original G20 felt cramped, while the new one feels spacious although the dimensions haven't changed; the original was low-tech, while the new one is high-tech with driver- and passenger-side air bags plus anti-lock brakes; the original was rather dull in appearance, while the new one looks a bit moreappealing, though you might be hard-pressed to put your key in the lock of theright car if you're parked alongside a Civic or Corolla sedan. So what's the gripe? The 1993.5 is dull. The 2-liter, 140-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine teamed with a 5-speed manualseemed anemic despite exhaust sound effects meant to leave you with the perception that you are reaching the red line on the tach when you still are below the legal speed limit. The G20 with 5-speed delivers 24 miles per galloncity/32 m.p.g. highway. The problem we had with the G20, Infiniti's lowest-cost entry-level car, isthat the midlevel Infiniti J30 sedan has spoiled us. The J30 has set such a high standard for other Infinitis that the G20 pales in comparison, despite being about $15,000 cheaper. The midsize G20 is loaded with goodies, but we couldn't put our finger on one feature that made it stand out in the crowd. Bumpers and side moldings arebody-colored, rear-seat headrests are adjustable. The air conditioning doesn'tha ve ozone-killing chlorofluorocarbons. All-season tires are standard. There'sa cargo net in the trunk, and wheels are a decorative cast alloy. There also are illuminated vanity mirrors, power and heated dual sideview mirrors, tinted glass, rear-window defroster, carpeted floor mats, AM stereo/FM stereo radio, tilt steering, power antenna, power windows, power door locks, cruise control, power steering, four-wheel independent suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars, four-wheel power disc brakes with ABS, driver- and passenger-side air bags and remote trunk and fuel-filler door release to name the more popular standard equipment. Basically it's a functional sedan that blends in with the crowd. What makesthe car stand out is the price tag, a hefty $20,600 base price before options. Our test car added a leather package for $2,000 that included leather interior appointments along with a leather console armrest, power seats, powersunroof and keyless remote ntry. With a $450 freight charge, the car stickered at $23,050. Buick, in comparison, offers a special-edition full-size LeSabre for about $19,000, a special-edition midsize Regal for about $18,000 and a special-edition midsize Century for about $15,000. Pay $23,050 for a name or $15,000 to $19,000 and keep the change? When you compare window stickers, it seems like all that whining by U.S. carmakers over Japanese competition and level playing fields and quotas and taxing imported cars as trucks may have been a bit unnecessary.
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