The status of Meh Car isn’t an entirely rational one. Meh-ness isn’t something that you can always engineer out of a car, or something that’s even necessarily based on how the car performs or works. Meh-ness is a more like a mythical, gray mist-dragon of cloudy disinterest, and once it gets its clammy, bland, dull claws into a car, there’s almost nothing a carmaker can do to set the car free. A perfect example of this is the Infiniti G20.
The Infiniti G20 was doomed to be a meh car from its very start because it was based on a completely meh concept: badge snobbery. For some reason, Infiniti decided they wanted an entry-level car, even though Infiniti really had many, many entry-level cars: they’re called Nissans.
The whole point of the Infiniti brand was to give Nissan a luxury brand, like Toyota has Lexus or Honda has Acura. If you have a luxury brand and you decide to make entry-level cars for that luxury brand even though your company already makes all kinds of decent, cars people could buy at your planned luxo-entry-level price, then the only reason you’re adding an entry-level car is to attract people who only pay attention to stupid luxury-brand badges.
It’s from these people’s bodily wastes that the Dragon of Meh is born.
The Infiniti G20 was a re-badged non-U.S.-market Nissan Primera. The Primera was targeted as a European-market car, which is why Infiniti advertised it as “Born in Japan, educated in Europe, available in America,” and just like many children of diplomats who spent their lives in Asia and Europe, and then came to America, it was way more boring than its cosmopolitan heritage would suggest.
Really, it makes no sense that the G20 should be so meh: the Primera was said to be one of the best-handling FWD cars available at the time, and Nissan raced them in the British Touring Car Championship series.
That racing pedigree should have rubbed off on the G20, right? That should have saved it from terminal meh-ningitis, shouldn’t it?
Incredibly, it didn’t. Somehow, in that transition from Nissan Primera to Infiniti G20, all of the excitement of the car was extracted, replaced with the half-ass luxury of (optional) leather seats, some more crap on the already-dated-looking dashboard, and the all-important Infiniti badges.
The G20 used the same 140 (later 145) horsepower 2-liter inline-four SR20DE engine, the same one used in the U.S.-market Nissan Sentra, which is why many thought of the G20 as a tarted-up Sentra, which it wasn’t really, but that barely matters, because it actually was a tarted up non-U.S. Nissan and by that point everyone quit caring.
Sure, it was a decent car, and yeah, you could get it with a manual and it could handle okay but, really, nobody was buying these to race, so for the vast majority of buyers handling was just something the salesguy mentioned once that sounded good.
It certainly didn’t help that the G20's looks placed it on the sexiness/desirability scale somewhere between an orthopedic shoe and a three-hole punch. The G20 reeked of such early ‘90s generic blandness that if you stuck a jar of hot sauce in the glove compartment, you’d pull a bottle of ketchup out an hour later.
The first-gen G20 was made from 1990 to 1996, then Infiniti took a two-year breather from the car where imagine the company collectively leaned back in their chair, stared at the ceiling, and sighed for two years straight.
In 1998 the second-generation one arrived, with facelifted styling and some changes to the rear suspension. The car was made a bit better, but the interior was even more dated, the car got even heavier, and the high price made even less sense, especially when Nissan had better, cheaper cars like the Sentra SE and SE-R.
Hell, there were bigger, more comfortable V6 cars Nissan would sell you for less money, like the Maxima, if only you could let go of your idiotic grip on that Infiniti badge.
The ad campaign for the G20 just reinforced that this was a period where Infiniti really had no idea what it was doing or who it was. Look at this commercial:
Oh, wow, that’s so boring it kind of hurts, like being hit with a wad of plumber’s putty wrapped in a grey dress sock. Listen to that tagline again:
“It’s designed to give you breathing room and take your breath away, all at the same time.”
That sounds like a tagline the ad agency had in its pocket and was shopping it around to makers of maxipads, PDAs, and shampoos before Infiniti finally took the bait. That’s a tagline that says even the focus groups couldn’t give a shit about this car no matter how many Blockbuster Video gift cards we gave them.
I can’t think of a better example to demonstrate that a Meh car can be a decent car, too. The G20 was well-built, had some sporting/handling potential, and was comfortable and certainly usable.
But it was all but impossible to actually want, in any way that matters. You could lose it in an empty parking lot and not think about it again the day you traded it in for anything else.
Meh can be truly infinite.