Buy/Drive/Burn: Three Family Sedans From 1989

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Today’s trio of sedans was suggested by an old MotorWeek review of the new-for-’89 Maxima. Let’s pit that fresh-faced midsizer against the more established Taurus and the more luxurious Mazda 929.

Which is worth a Buy?

Ford Taurus

We start today with our oldest competitor. Brand new for the 1986 model year, the Taurus was a revelation in the family sedan class. Front-drove and aerodynamic shapes replaced the rear-drive, boxy LTD. Taurus was offered as a sedan and wagon (just like the Mercury Sable), and immediately won favor with American customers in both those formats. Since we’re focused on family use today, we’ll opt for a nicely equipped LX, one step below the SHO. The uplevel 3.8-liter Essex V6 provides 120 horsepower, which are routed through a four-speed AXOD automatic. Taurus was reworked for its second generation in 1992, continuing its earlier successes.

Mazda 929

Mazda first offered the 929 to North America in 1987. In most other countries it was called the Luce, and was new for ’86. Known as the HC series, the 929 was the first time Mazda made a V6 engine, and the first time the company offered its large sedan in North America. Though a hardtop version was available in other places, North America received only the pillared sedan. The vast majority of 929s offered domestically used the 150 horsepower 3.0-liter V6, though it’s reported a few made it across the sea with a 2.2-liter inline-four. The only transmission was a four-speed auto. The most Japanese car on offer here, the 929 is also the only way to obtain rear-drive. 929 continued in this format through 1991, when it was replaced by the much more modern (but equally slow selling) Sentia. That version was badged 929 in the U.S. and 929 Serenia for Canadian sophisticates.

Nissan Maxima

The Nissan Maxima entered its third generation for 1989; what’s commonly known as “the good one.” Larger, more sporty, and now qualifying as a midsize car, the Maxima was sold solely as a sedan in its new guise. For the first time Nissan marketed its new Maxima as a 4DSC, the four-door sports car. Available in two simple trims, customers chose between the more luxurious GXE or the more sporty SE. The only engine was a good one: The VG30E V6, a 3.0-liter mill borrowed directly from the 300 ZX. Carried over from the prior Maxima was the optional Super Sonic Suspension, which was an active suspension that scanned the road ahead. We’ll opt for the GXE today, which pairs the V6 to a four-speed automatic. The third generation Maxima was replaced in 1995 by a new model which looked just like the 1994 Altima. Sad!

Three family car competitors vie for everyday driver duty in 1989. Which one goes home with you?

[Images: Ford, Mazda, Nissan]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • Terry Terry on May 28, 2020

    The 1st gen 929 with the 3.0 SOHC V6 was available with 5-speed manual transmission. As a Mazda dealer tech/shop foreman I replaced a few clutches in the 929. The manual trans changed the whole character of the car.— it was actually fun to drive. The 929S DOHC was only available with an auto trans. The auto transmissions were very weak with many failures-same as the Mazda MPV minivan with which it shared many components. The 2nd gen 929 was by comparison a cramped, under-tired mess. I should have bought a 5- speed 929 when I had the chance.

    • MiataReallyIsTheAnswer MiataReallyIsTheAnswer on Jun 02, 2020

      When I had my pewter over burgundy velour 929, I actually saw a stick shift 929 for sale. I already had a Miata by then as well, and had fallen in love with Mazda sticks. I would have bought the 5-spd 929 but there was one massive problem: it was LIGHT BLUE METALLIC, yechh.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on May 29, 2020

    Buy the Taurus, it's cheap. Drive the Maxima, it's a hoot. Burn the Mazda, you won't be able to resell it anyway (even though it's arguably the best of the three...and rear wheel drive in this generation.)

  • Grg I am not sure that this would hold up in snow country. It used to be that people in snow country would not be caught dead in a white car. Now that white cars have become popular in the north, I can't tell you how many times I have seen white cars driving in the snow without lights. Almost all cars are less visible in a snow storm, or for that matter, rain storm, without lights. White ones become nearly invisible.
  • Douglas I have a 2018 BMW 740e PHEV, and love it. It has a modest electric only range compared to newer PHEV's (about 18 miles), but that gets me to the office and back each day. It has a small gas tank to make room for the battery, so only holds about 11 gallons. I easily go 600 or more miles per tank. I love it, and being able to take long road trips without having to plug in (it just operates like a regular Hybrid if you never plug it in). It charges in 75 minutes in my garage from a Level 2 charger I bought on Amazon for $350. Had an electrician add a dryer outlet beside the breaker box. It's the best of both worlds and I would definitely want a PHEV for my next car. 104,000 miles and ZERO problems with the powertrain components (so far).
  • Panther Platform I had a 98 Lincoln Mark VIII so I have a soft spot for this. The Mark VIII styling was not appreciated by all.
  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...
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