The Infiniti G20 is here, but don't expect to see any ads depicting rocks, trees, ocean waves and fanciful prose that attempts to explain the meaning of life and how this car just might help you find it.
Infiniti, the luxury car division that Japan's Nissan launched last year, went the Zen route in introductory ads for its $38,000 Q45 sedan. The campaign provided plenty of fodder for stand-up comics but not so many sales.With the G20, Infiniti's $20,000 "entry-level luxury" car (how's that for an oxymoron), the marketing gurus junked the car-as-sacred-shrine approach in favor of the old-fashioned method: photos of the car and copy that describes its merits.
And they are many. Infiniti created the G20 for much the same reason Acura created the Integra, Mercedes created the 190E "Baby Benz" and BMW created its "3-Series" of entry-level cars: It can get mighty lonely in a car showroom when your only models cost double the annual income of most families.
Then, too, there's the desire to create brand loyalty. Presumably, today's G20 buyers will scramble up the corporate ladder in a few years, at which point they will trade it in on a Q45.
For the record, Infiniti also sells the M30 sport coupe, a two-door derivative of the sold-only-in-Japan Leopard, which has been pretty much ignored although a convertible M30 slated for debut next month might perk things up.
But it's the new G20 that will have to create once and future Infiniti loyalists. Is it up to the challenge? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it is . . . but then I don't have a lot to lose if I fall out of the tree.
Perhaps the toughest thing about marketing the G20 is going to be defining its market niche. At just under $20,000, it's more expensive than Honda Accords, Acura Integras and Mitsubishi Galants but cheaper than Lexus ES 250s, 3-Series BMWs and Audi 80s and 90s - a gap that may or may not need to be filled.
The most obvious conflict is with Infiniti parent company Nissan's own top-of-the-line model, the Maxima, with which G20 goes pretty much head-to-head pricewise.
The Maxima is a larger car with a six-cylinder engine that has been marketed by Nissan as "the four-door sports car." The G20 carries the cachet of the Infiniti nameplate and sports a new multivalve, two-liter, all-aluminum, four-cylinder engine that delivers 140 hp and revs happily all the way to 7500 rpm.
With that engine and a high-tech, multilink front suspension that is a first for a front-drive car, the G20 is also trying for the high ground in the sports sedan market.
From a driver's standpoint, the G20 provides as nice a compromise of luxury appointments, large interior in a small package, sporting performance and tasteful design as you're likely to find in today's overcrowded marketplace.
But one person's "tasteful" is another's "boring" and the G20 has gotten pretty ho-hum reviews in the national car mags for its bodywork. Nobody really has anything bad to say about it, just not much good. The rap is that this $20,000 luxury sedan looks pretty much like the great mass of $12,000 to $18,000 imports and domestics that fill your average parking lot.
I agree that the G20 probably won't make your neighbors green with envy, but it is nevertheless a very nice-looking set of wheels, particularly from the rear, where it could easily be mistaken for the Mercedes-Benz 300 E.
The interior is also well done. Infiniti uses a "cabin forward" design to create ample knee and head room for five adults - provided they aren't NFL linebackers - and as we've come to expect from virtually all Japanese cars, the instrument panel and (optional) leather seats are just about perfect.
A word on the trunk: it's huge. And the trunk lid has a double hinge design that allows it to swing well up and away for easy loading and no bumped heads.
The list of standard equipment is long, as you would expect in a luxury car, but also includes anti-lock brakes, an option on many of its competitors.
In sum, the Infiniti G20 is not going to roar out of the starting blocks as did, for example, the Mazda Miata convertible, but it should have a lot more staying power as it finds its market: People of already substantial means who want to make the right statement while on their way to bigger and better things.