Long before there were bros revving their G37s, there was the Infiniti G20, the first of Nissan’s entry-level cars for their luxury marque. Though it was largely forgotten as a rebadged P10 Nissan Primera, mostly because of its un-luxury-like front-wheel-drive layout, this was no Lexus ES. This was an actual performance car with advanced technology under the skin.
Back when it came out in 1991, Motorweek reviewed it like any other car, which is fair. However, it mostly glossed over the main thing that made the car special, its advanced multi-link front suspension, a first for a front-wheel-drive car. As a result, the car was among the best-handling front-wheel-drive sedans of the era, greatly reducing the understeer and improving sportiness while maintaining a comfortably smooth ride.
The review also spends a lot of time pining for a V6, and laments the fact that the 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is shared with “the top Nissan Sentra model.” That model was the Sentra SE-R, and the motor was a naturally aspirated SR20DE. It was developed as a serious performance car, and was campaigned in touring car races in Japan and Europe.
The all-aluminum four returned a respectable 24 city, 32 highway mpg too, while capable of 0-60 sprints in 8.2 seconds. It started at $17,500, and rang in at $20,350 loaded, which meant it cost only $1,000 more than an Accord SE.
Because of the Infiniti name, though, Americans were eager to question its legitimacy as a luxury car. While it sported Infiniti’s famously high-quality paint and a well-made interior, the front-drive layout and engine — even though it is arguably one of Japan’s greatest fours — failed to flatter those who bought based on badge.
I had a P11 (’02 G20) as a family car for years, and it did the job well except in two areas – the leather on the interior was super hard and tended to rip seams in the seats, and the car isn’t really big enough for 2 adults and 2 kids in car seats. As I understand, the main difference mechanically was the rear suspension went to a beam as opposed to the multi-link trailing arm setup in the P10.
Looking back, I wish I had kept it, because its replacement (an M35x) hasn’t been as hassle free or simple to maintain as the ol’ G20.
Problems with an M35? I would love to hear more since I have one. Problems I have noted have been cosmetic: cracks in the dash skin (pretty common, it seems) and falling headliner. Leather on the seats, steering wheel, and shift knob have held up very well. Only repair has been a failed thermostat.
All the typical problems of the early VQ – oil consumption, oil gallery gaskets, leaky power steering pump
The M35-specific problems I’ve had are: iffy wheel bearings (all of them have been replaced over the run of 150k miles), short-lived dampers (and if you have the AWD model, be prepared to shell out for OEM replacements, as there are no aftermarket alternatives), Nissan-specific unicorn blood transmission fluid (which you should replace every 30k).
The G20 (Primera, itself a luxury version of the Nissan Pulsar) would’ve been better accepted as an entry-level Infiniti if they had decided to bring over a mid level car below the Q45 (President), and that car should have been the Nissan Laurel, the luxury brother of the bad boy Skyline, which Nissan didn’t want to do for whatever reason.
They wised up about the Skyline finally in 2003 and Infiniti has benefited ever since.They realized their mistake early on about not having an mid-level car when the M30 (Leopard) coupe couldn’t get people in the door, so they changed the M30 into a four-door coupe called the J30 (2nd generation Leopard J Ferie), but the four-door coupe, while innovative, wasn’t yet ready to be accepted.
Spot on comments. I had a C31 Laurel Medalist turbo in Japan the same time the C33’s were out. What would have made this car a standout is that it had the prerequisite power (NA I-6 or Turbo), huge room for a Japanese car and rear wheel drive. It had boxy good looks and could have spanned the gamut between luxury and performance. B-pillar-less crash testing would have spelled its doom however. And while older Americans will remember hardtops with fondness, those hardtop memories would not carry over to Japanese design.
Nissan could’ve also upped the timeline introduction of the A31 Cefiro, which got delayed until 92 when the A32 (Infiniti I30) arrived. Plus, the A31 was RWD/AWD,shared with the Laurel, Skyline and 4 door Leopard, but the A32 was front drive, shared with the Maxima.
Which brings up another question. The Leopard was first introduced in 1980 as a coupe and sedan. The second generation was introduced in 1986 as a coupe only, then the third generation in 92 was a four-door coupe only. It looks like they were doing their usual Toyota surveillance, and trying to copy everything Aichi was doing.
I have a belief, born out of truthian (or Trumpian) facts that Nissan did not really know how to build a sports sedan. Yes they had the Maxima/Bluebird/810 but the Skyline, Laurel, Gloria, and Cherry were all based on Prince. Even the Leopard is an amalgamation of these Prince cars (minus the Cherry). Nissan wants the market share might of Toyota, but at their Princian heart, they are Mazda. The Q45 was an attempt to return to that, but bad marketing and the end of the Bubble Economy put the final nail in that coffin.
It seems to me that Nissan is always vacillating between these two extremes, generic luxury (minus world class execution) and laser focus niche, that always seems to catch them out of pocket.
P.S. A31 Cefiro’s are a hidden gem. Seems like Australia has looted the mainland for every last vestige of these maximum Maxima’s!
I’ve always believed that Infiniti was the renamed Prince Motor Company, that was for 20 years Nissan Prince Japanese dealership. This explains how Nissan could offer the Skyline (coupe) and Fairlady (hatchback), the Cedric/Gloria, the Sunny/Cherry(Pulsar) and the Bluebird/Laurel.
I really wanted one of these, and back in ’95 cross-shopped it against the Altima. We ended up getting the Altima, which seemed like a better value for money. But I really liked the G20.
I think it failed because Nissan/Infiniti didn’t market/treat it as their entry-level Infiniti, like Lexus did with their ES250. Imagine shoppers’ disappointment when they learn it was FWD, “oh, it’s just a tarted up Sentra”. I remember the tv commercials; it was always “the sportier” Infiniti. I assume Toyota/Lexus worried about the same pushback (“it’s just a tarted-up Camry”) with their first gen ES, which is why they publicly “admitted” it was only a stopgap until a proper “bridge” (not “entry level”) model could be designed. In retrospect, it may have been Toyota’s upfront admission that tainted the G20. And don’t forget the Cadillac Cimarron…
When the second gen ES came out, Toyota made it very clear that they designed the ES first and discontented it to make the Camry, instead of the other way around. It sold like hotcakes.
Until this article, I didn’t know about the advanced multi-link front suspension. But, even if I did, i still would have thought,, “oh, it’s a tarted up Sentra.”
“the first of Nissan’s entry-level cars”
I dunno about that. The first of Infiniti’s entry level cars, sure.
I always liked these and at one point it was on my short list of cars to buy but I ended up with a Mazdaspeed 3 instead
The G20s are very nice! I remember back in the days meeting up with a bunch of G20s, Sentras, 200sx (the fwd ones) and NX2000s owners and going cruising. G20.net, nissanforums and sr20forums were good places for info.
I remember when I moved to SF, I was invited to Freakmont (Fremont) Nissan meeting. I loved this era because it was a variety of Nissans and not just 240sx dominant.
I really miss these times…
The Honda Civic/Prelude/CRX had double wishbones before the Primera/G20.
Yeah I thought the same thing. As early as 1983 in the case of Prelude.