The Infiniti G20 is back, rising from the dead for a return engagement this fall as the non-luxury model of Nissan's luxury division. The G20 is a sporty sedan aimed directly at BMW 3-series fans, but at a more moderate price. It serves as Infiniti's
"entry-level" craft and replaces the former G20 that was axed a couple of years ago. The new G20, like the former model, hits the mark in many respects, providing a midpriced car that benefits from a load of standard luxury equipment as well as
Infiniti's vaunted customer service. But also like the former G20, the new model suffers from a lack of engine power, which wouldn't be so bad, except that it shares its four-banger with less-prestigious Nissan subcompacts, leaving one to ponder
whether this Infiniti is just a dolled-up Nissan after all. Indeed, the G20's not even a new car, being basically a rebadged Primera, which Nissan has sold in Europe for the past two years. And why is it that Nissan/Infiniti, currently enduring
a dismal sales year and struggling to get some notice for its moribund product line, would reintroduce a car with such generic styling? From some angles, the G20 looks like a BMW. From others, like a pint-size Volvo. Or even G20's country cousin, Sentra.
Come on, designers, you want the G20 to step out from the crowd, not blend into it. Just look at Chrysler's comeback from the very brink: Much of its newfound success can be laid at the feet of stylists who were not afraid to push the design envelope
to the limits. The result is booming sales and a company that's the envy of all, enough so that Mercedes-Benz would get down on one knee and propose merger. That's the kind of leading-edge styling that the G20 should be strutting. The same kind
of stuff that made the world take notice of the little Altima just a few years ago. As it is, the G20 fails to excite. Plenty of people will like this car, especially because of its excellent handling and driveability. But no one's going to look at
this car and say, "Gotta have it." It's too bad, because the G20 has a lot going for it. With a five-speed stick shift, one can wring some juice from the dual-overhead-cam, 2-liter engine as it climbs in rpm. Performance is smooth all the way up to
its steep 7,000 rpm redline, which along with its fine handling makes the little sedan feel like a well-turned-out sports car. Where the engine feels weak is in the lower rpm, such as when coming out of a sharp corner. Though I didn't try one with
automatic, I'd imagine the performance would be disappointing. Handling and driving character have been improved greatly with a stiffer chassis and better suspension components. Though the former independent rear suspension has been replaced with a
beam axle, the G20 proves to be an aggressive performer when it comes to twisty roads, combining flat, balanced cornering with a compliant, comfortable ride. The Touring version I drove was set up with lower-profile
tires, limited-slip differential, fog lights and a jazzy spoiler. The interior is comfortable and roomy, for a small car, though tall drivers might find legroom kind of tight. The G20 is a few inches longer and wider than its predecessor, which seems
to have created more space inside. The cabin feels well-thought-out and nicely designed, seemingly more European than Japanese, probably because of its Primera roots. The optional leather seats in our test car were smooth and supportive, though
black-leather seating is not really a great option in this summer climate. The whole interior was done in basic black, which seemed a bit stark and also contributed to a hot reception after being parked for a short time in a Phoenix parking lot in
triple-digit temperatures. The Bose stereo system was also very hot, and an excellent value as standard equipment. The G20's only directcompetition is the Acura Integra, which holds a similar position as moderate-priced entry into a Japan
ese luxury marque. The Integra has been endowed with more style and character, though it's not as tight and sporting as the G20. Overall, the G20 is a good little car, well-equipped for the money, and as driveable as many of the upper-crust
Europeans. Too bad Infiniti didn't give it a bit more engine. And too bad the designers didn't see fit to give the G20 the distinctive styling that it deserves, something that would make people turn and take notice, something that would shout: "Hey,
I'm back!" 1999 Infiniti G20 Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive. Base price: $22,495. Price as tested: $26,865. Engine: 2.0-liter in-line four, 140 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, 132 pounds-feet of torque
at 4,800 rpm. Transmission: Five-speed stick shift. Wheelbase: 102.4 inches. Length: 177.5 inches. EPA fuel economy: 23 city, 30 (est.) highway. Highs: Great handling. Well-equipped. Super stereo. Lows: Generic styling.
Limited engine power. Blase image.