By on December 16, 2020

The other day while we were reviewing the daringly spectacular first generation Q45, commenter SSJeep requested coverage of Infiniti’s other rear-drive sedan from the period, the J30. I thought Rare Rides already covered Infiniti’s mid-size offering, but it turned out I was remembering an installment of Buy/Drive/Burn.

That means it’s time for J30.

At launch, Infiniti covered the luxury bases with its entry-level G20, the full-size Q45, and its middle offering known as M30. That Nissan Leopard-based coupe was on the small size for luxury customers, was rather basic inside, and was too expensive in convertible guise. After it proved a slow seller for model years 1990 to 1992, it was unceremoniously dropped and replaced by a new middle sibling from Infiniti: J30.

Available from 1993, the J30 was Infiniti’s attempt to take on the Giugiaro-designed Lexus GS with its own uniquely shaped sedan. Curved surfaces were plentiful on the J30, which wrapped around to a somewhat abrupt rear with a very low deck. Infiniti brass made sure to include a grille this time, and more importantly, showed the new J30 in its commercials. Said commercials included swanky jazz music and voiceover from the imposing Jonathan Pryce.

The J30 was considerably smaller in external dimensions than its competition, and like the Q45, Infiniti marketed its alternative nature as a selling point. Materials referred to the J30 as a personal luxury sedan, stopping just short of a four-door coupe moniker.

Infiniti turned to Italian furniture house Poltrona Frau once more for the J30’s interior, as they did with the Q45 a few years prior. Carried over from Q45 was the idea of a contrasting color scheme inside between seats and dash, but Infiniti learned from other visual mishaps with their flagship. The J30 had plenty of ruched leather, wood trim, and a nice clock (the clock even received its own ad). Seats were made at the Poltrona Frau factory in Italy, at the rate of just five per day.

It seemed all the necessary ingredients were coming together to make the J30 a successful sports luxury soufflé. Unfortunately, there was one big piece of eggshell in the mix which proved very off-putting to consumers. More on that in Part II.

[Images: seller]

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27 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 1996 Infiniti J30, Luxury Sedan With a Heart of 300ZX (Part I)...”

  • avatar

    The design of this was so cool that Nissan gimped it for their mid-90s jellybean Altima, the only car I’ve ever purchased new.

    This was when Nissan was kicking it…. 240sx, the Z, the 4DSC and then this beauty shows up at Infiniti.

    I loved that Altima. Fun to drive, small but roomy enough, looked great in and out, but without all the really nice leather and interior touches the J30/35 got. And it didn’t have the V6 like the J30 did.

    In 1995, the J30 looked like a Jag and a French car with the interior of an Acura Legend.

    It was too expensive for a new college grad at the time, but that was the car I really wanted.

    In hindsight, this car looked a lot like the sedan version of the SC300/430, another car I still think looks timeless.

    • 0 avatar

      IDx is only recent concept from Nissan to excite me about Nissan.

    • 0 avatar

      The Altima and J30 had the same model years, and so were designed roughly the same time. J30 designed in America, but I’m not sure who did the Altima. it’s an odd occurrence for sure.

    • 0 avatar

      “Gimped”? I’m not sure that word means what you think it means.

    • 0 avatar

      jkross, I remember the J30 like you do. For awhile it was all the rage and overnight it was in every young upward mobile boomer’s driveway. The fit and finish inside and out was top notch as were all Nissans of that era

      I’m curious as to this “off-putting piece of eggshell” that did it in, because I don’t remember what that was. I guess I’ll wait for part II

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the shout out @Corey Lewis !
      @jkross22 – the J30 wasnt just too expensive for the average college graduate at the time – it was too expensive for most buyers. The J30 was a smaller platform, and Infiniti priced it as a mid-sizer ($36000 starting sticker). That was a steep price point in the 90s and buyers just didnt see the value.

      But the J30 was cool indeed! It was a hoot to drive owing to the RWD chassis and tuned suspension. The J30 still looks good on the road after all these years as well – its a design that has stood the test of time. And the J30 had the cool Infiniti jeweled clock in the center of the dash just like its larger Q45 sibling.

      The J30 wasnt perfect though – it was hell to drive in the snow or ice. The automatic version of the J30 just wasnt that quick. The J30 was compact inside and the back seats were close to useless.

      All considered, I would happily drive one today and I am tempted to go look at this one in Cali!

  • avatar

    I was lukewarm on these when introduced and preferred the crisp creases of the Lexus ES. But the Infiniti has aged well and they were much better drivers. The G series follow up to the J had lots of potential but Nissan cheaped out on the interior, no more Italian design just a lot of generic cubes and angles that have not gotten better with time. Last week I rented a new Q50 3.0t for a cross-state trip. A very good driver and comfortable, but finished and trimmed like a Camry or Altima. No thanks for 50k. Hoping Nissan can get Infiniti back on track, they blazed a new trail their first 10 years or so.

  • avatar

    The last time I saw one of these was in a pre-prom don’t drink and drive demonstration in high school. I had no intention of being involved with either so I wasn’t paying much attention.

    That said, Infiniti didn’t really register as a luxury, or semi-luxury brand for me.

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like we might be of the same generation– I was at the zenith of my useless car knowledge phase when this thing was a thing.

      In 1997, my parents let me pick a new car because my first car (1987 Taurus, in 1997) was eating them alive in repairs– it was easier for them to budget a payment rather than the engine, transmission– steering rack, heater core or drive axle replacements.

      Boy that Taurus was a terrible car.

      Anyway– so I went and drove the base Mustang, the Civic, the Paseo, the 200sx, the Integra and the like– Infiniti had the G20, and I sincerely couldn’t with the 110hp premium Sentra.

      Ended up in the neon. It was so quick and cute. super affordable. Infiniti still runs cars that make me ask ‘why?’ and their market position reflects this.

      • 0 avatar

        The G20 was not a Sentra, it was a Primera. An entirely different car.

        And you could pick anything but chose a Neon, eh.

        • 0 avatar

          They do share a lot of parts though, top end Sentras had the same drivetrain at a lower cost.

          Back in 97 nobody knew how reliable the Neon would be compared to a Civic/Paseo, they just knew that it was cheaper, bigger, and quicker.

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          There was also a 5 door hatch Primera that was sold overseas. They used the Sentra SE-r 2.0 motor.
          I have a neighbor with a very clean G20t in silver with the rear wing. When they came out I thought of them as Infiniti’s attempt of an Integra fighter.

        • 0 avatar

          Corey– Come sit on Uncle iNeon’s lap.

          I’ll tell you about the 1990s.

          You’ve obviously no unbiased information about them.

        • 0 avatar
          PSX 5k Ultra Platinum Triple Black

          I sold cars for 3 years at a Dodge and Hyundai store from 2000 – 2003. Most of the Neons on the lot had birthdays. I did like the Neon, but mainly because I would use the Neon to help sell an Elantra. I’d show them a $16,000 Neon, with a 3 speed auto and power windows that didn’t roll down in the back doors, they’d hear the rough idle, and be like I’ve heard Neons aren’t very reliable. So I’d show them a base Elantra which still had a/c, power windows, locks & mirrors for $2k less, and a long warranty, plus it drove nice and wasn’t a neon. We ran out of Elantra’s pretty regularly…

          I did end up buying a 03 (not a neon, lol) srt4. That car was awesome, but it was still a Neon, so it had lots of issues, yet the character of the car more than made up for it’s junky build quality. A 2000 + model year neon was trying to hard to be a corolla, which it’s deff not.

          • 0 avatar

            Sorry I didn’t overspend my career steelworker and union official father’s money on a non-union car, y’all lol

            In 1997, the G20, Integra– Mustangs and Celicas, 200s and 240s sx– they were all most-certainly available to me. Back then, I was pretty sass and punky– just driving those cars was seen as a bit rebellious lol

            I’m sure they made fine cars for people. I chose differently, and this little J30 reminded me how sentra-like the Infiniti I drove was.

            I’ll pull back on sharing. Discourse and asides can be more comfortable than this.

        • 0 avatar

          The Minnesota highway patrol used to cart around a Dodge Neon on a trailer that was involved in an impaired driving crash, killing and maiming the Neon driver and passengers. Just terrible!

  • avatar

    Q45 I found the design to be compelling. J30 if in the market I would have visited Nissan dealer and purchased a Maxima.

    • 0 avatar

      J30 in fairness was actually the RWD based Nissan Leopard. The I30 which replaced it, was a Maxima.

    • 0 avatar

      I just could never get over the J30’s droopy rear. Infiniti as a whole seemed to be losing the plot even this early on because of a near-total lack of cohesion between the designs. you can instantly tell and X3 and a 7-series, or a Q5 and A6, or even an RX and an LC are from the same company.

      Infiniti really needed a “Lexus ES” at this point. By time they got around to the I-30 / I-35, it seemed the ship had sailed.

  • avatar

    I see one of these constantly in my neighborhood. Olive green with beige interior. It’s not really my cup of tea, but certainly a unique vehicle.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Absolutely gorgeous. One of the best-looking cars of the 90’s.
    And the inline-6! And that Italian interior!
    Infiniti got away from cars like this and became blander and more boring. And how’s that working out for them?

    • 0 avatar

      What inline six? It was just another version of the relatively gutless original Nissan V6. I remember my test drive of the new 1990 Nissan 300 ZX with a supposed 220 hp. Could hardly struggle up the steep freeway hill out of town even with the manual. Kind of like the similarly gutless Acura Vigor. The Talon turbo with 195 hp I did actually get didn’t even notice the hill, and like the late ’80s Mazda6 turbo, got right down to business.

      The main thing the J30 provided (if you could stand the sagging butt which I couldn’t) was a continuation of decent quality, which the ’95 Maxima on completely abandoned. I know the Maxima was FWD, not RWD like this J30, but boy it was radically cheapened from ’95 onwards. Nissan was going broke, and eventually brought in Ghosn to straighten things out.

  • avatar

    TTAC’s ghost is truly dead if nobody mentions the many colorful anecdotes Jack Baruth told on this site about selling this very model at considerable savings.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    In early ’00s a college friend inherited her mom’s J30T, the sportier option. I really thought the interior was really nice but small. I drove it a few times and really enjoyed driving her around , I’d had only RWD experience w/ USDM muscle cars with stick axles.
    Its a shame whats happening to Infiniti. Here in KC, the only dealership had to merge with a Nissan affiliate . So much for the luxury dealership experience when Rogue/Sentra buyers share space.

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