By Jeremy Cato
Infiniti re-invented its G20 sports/luxury sedan for the 1998 model year, and the luxury division of Nissan certainly (continued) to get the quality right. I say “continued” because the G20 throughout the 1990s always boasted very good quality. Note, though, that despite being well built, the G20 was not sold in Canada every model year during the ’90s. That is, the first G20 was sold in Canada from 1991-96, then there was a gap for ’97 and ’98 when no G20 was offered. So in a sense, the G20 was re-launched in ’99. Now Infiniti has launched an all new “G”, the G35.
But this is about the 1999-2002 G20, which is a far cry from the ’96 G20 – and not just because the newer G20 has four cupholders, versus absolutely none in the ’96 and older car.
This Infiniti model was created to compete against the likes of BMW’s 318i and the four-cylinder Audi A4. To do so, Infiniti made a number of upgrades to the ’99 car versus the ’96 car:
- redesigned the rear suspension;
- beefed up the tires and brakes;
- tinkered with the computer brain in the four-speed automatic transmission;
- muffled noises in all sorts of places;
- strengthened the body structure and improved build quality accuracy while modernizing the styling;
- and stretched the whole package by 69 mm (2.7 in.) in overall length and 50 mm (2.0 in.) between the wheels-not to mention making the doors bigger, the trunk deeper and the seats more comfortable.
What has changed the least, in fact, can be found under the hood: the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine as the ’96 car, with four valves per cylinder operated by dual overhead camshafts. This is an efficient powerplant, smooth enough, with lower emissions, and at 140 horsepower, it falls between the 133 horsepower four-banger in the 1999 318i and the 150 horsepower turbocharged four in the 1999 A4.
I should point out that Infiniti engineers did change the engine mounting in ’96, so that engine-to-body vibrations were reduced by two to three decibels at idle compared to ’96. When pushed hard, the ’99 engine is much less raucous than its predecessor.
So what’s it like to drive? At highway speeds, the 1999-2002 G20 does feel solid, yet this car is also very easy to drive quickly over twisty stretches of blacktop. Infiniti has always played up the G20’s sportiness, but take note that this is a front-wheel-drive sedan with plenty of understeer dialled into its suspension design. That understeer makes it almost impossible to bring around the rear end, even if you do something very silly, like slamming on the brakes deep into a sharp corner. Do that and the G20 will simply plough, not swap ends.
Other driving notes: steering is sharp as a pin, the whole suspension package holds the road and controls body motions nicely, and the brakes (with standard anti-lock) are sure and strong.
The four-speed automatic transmission (standard on the Luxury G20, optional on the Touring version) serves up virtually shock-free shifts and Infiniti officials have long claimed the transmission’s computer programming reduces hunting between third and fourth gear on long hills. The automatic, though, robs the G20 of a fair measure of fun and sportiness, so the five-speed manual is my choice even though I’d like crisper shifts.
Inside, the cockpit is larger and roomier than competitive 318i and the A4 sedans. The seats, in particular, are of what Infiniti calls a “low fatigue” design. Essentially that means the stitching and foam pattern under the fabric (or optional, logo-embossed leather) is designed to hold passengers in an ideal, posture-proper way. The instruments are clear, the controls easy to use and the standard automatic climate control is powerful. The Micron air filtration system is a bonus for anyone with allergies.
Styling? Wedge-like and flat-sided. But from a visual perspective, there’s nothing here that says “must have it.” A nearly-new G20 may not have astonishing good looks, but in most other respects this is a very good used car. Be forewarned, though, prices continue to hold up quite well.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.