By on May 26, 2020

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]

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64 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Three Family Sedans From 1989...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Buy the Maxima, I had one just like it :)

    Drive the Mazda, I hear they were pretty good

    Burn the Taurus, because you can find another just like it for a $100

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    This isn’t fair since I actually owned one of these – in one version anyway.

    Buy: I owned a 90 Maxima SE and I LOVED it. Despite being a total rust bucket it is still one of my favorite former cars. I don’t think there was much difference between the GXE and SE. It had plenty of power, it handled great, and looked quite handsome.

    Drive: The Taurus always seemed like a good car. This one was prior to the massive cost cutting, if I’m correct.

    Burn: I don’t know much about the 929, I’m sure it was a good car at the time. But the styling never did anything for me and I had no interest in Mazda at that time. Mazda started hitting its stride within a couple years of this car and I would be swapping all of these around then.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      The GXE was 160HP, the SE was 180HP, but back in the 90s that was plenty

      • 0 avatar
        MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

        I think the SE was 190 HP. Mine was a stick and cooked along pretty well.

        • 0 avatar
          theflyersfan

          It went to 190 HP in 1992. With a stick and the 190 HP, it was one hell of a stealth sedan.

          We had a lot of this generation of Maxima in my family (immediate and extended) – GXE was the luxury edition with standard automatic, optional adjustable suspension, digital dash, and better stereo.
          The SE was the sport model with standard stick shift, white faced gauges, sports suspension, 4 wheel discs, cloth (not velour) seats, and the important front fog lamps and rear spoiler. I want to say it had larger wheels but I haven’t looked it up.
          There was enough of a difference between the two to have fans of each model.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            It was a Bose stereo, back when that meant something. By the standards of the day it was a great stereo

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            The horsepower bump for the SE came courtesy of low-profile DOHC heads that would fit under the hoodline. Back in ’89 you had to make do with the single-cam V6 carried over from the previous Maxima.

    • 0 avatar
      jh26036

      I am pretty sure the manual SE had a LSD, at least in the later models with more HP.

      The “cloth” in the SE might have been tweed.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    Before I answer this question. @Corey Lewis, What happened to my request for a segment that contained a 2016 Kia K900 V8, 16 Hyundai Equus V8 and 16 Infiniti Q70 V8 that I asked for about a year ago?

    Now back to the question at hand. Like someone said above it is almost unfair. Here you have one of the top ten most significant cars in history,one of the most beloved cars in history and one of my most desirable when I was younger.

    Buy the Mazda 929…used to love the last gen of this car
    Drive the Maxima ……hell who doesn’t want to drive it, even if it wasn’t as great we remembered it.
    Burn the Taurus: Dont want too but have too. I had a 92 wagon…still one of my favs.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Suddenly 1989 doesn’t look too bad. My daily driver that year was an Accord sedan with a MT which my wife still considers to be her favourite vehicle of the many that we have had.

      Agree with @chocolatedeath’s 2nd paragraph.’Here you have one of the top ten most significant cars in history,one of the most beloved cars in history and one of my most desirable when I was younger.’

      Buy: The 4DSC. Still fondly remembered.
      Drive: The Taurus, as so many did. Particularly if we changed the rules and allowed the wagon version.
      Burn: Regretfully the Mazda.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t recall such a request, but the K900 sucks.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The problem with both of those Korean sedans is that they are substantially inferior to the second-gen Genesis Hyundai had just introduced at the same time.

      It would be a Drive/Burn/Burn.

  • avatar
    donatolla

    This was easier than I thought. Seeing “family sedans from 1989” in the headline, I would have assumed burn, burn, burn. But!

    Buy: Maxima. Ezpz. I almost made a Maxima my first car purchase, a 1992 SE. Considering I bought a Cavalier instead, I think it’s safe to say I screwed up.

    Drive: 929. It’s clearly an 80’s car, but like all things Mazda, is just slightly stranger. I also drove a 626 from the same lot that I almost purchased the Maxima from, and it was good (for the time). Curiosity definitely wins here.

    Burn: Taurus. So common. So bad. Seemed like every third house had one of these when I was a kid. I’ve driven them, rode in them, all many times over. Just need to make sure it’s not a SHO before lighting the match.

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    Well I owned all 3 at some point (the Taurus was a SHO).
    Buy the Maxima (although wouldn’t I need to buy the one I want to drive??)
    DRIVE the wonderful 929.
    Burn the Ford.
    Then drive the 929 some more. LOVED that car.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Burn – Taurus. This is one of the least reliable cars ever
    Buy – Mazda 929. That was a tremendous car. RWD too
    Drive – Maxima. V6, Manual… what else you need to know?

    I was lucky enough to drive all these on multiple occasions.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    This is easy – the Maxima is the clear “buy.” It was a GREAT performance sedan for its’ day.

    Drive the Mazda.

    Burn the Ford – it wasn’t a bad car by any means, but it’s just not class competitive with the Maxima and 929.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    The real beginnings of Peak Japan.

    Buy: Hands down, Maxima SE, keep it stick, don’t get it in white (everyone got one in white), get the optional ABS and airbag package and go have some fun.

    Drive: Mazda 929. RWD works for me, even if the wrapper is a little plain. If this was the next (and last) gen 929, we might have a swap in Buy/Drive.

    Burn: Taurus. Yes, they were everywhere. But they were comfortable, long haul cruisers, and of all of the generations of the Taurus, the styling has still held up (and so has the Maximas). But dems the rules so I gotta burn one. Sorry Ford.

  • avatar
    amwhalbi

    Definitely Buy (and drive, as far as I’m concerned) ; The Maxima. One of the nicest generations of the 4DSC, in my opinion, although they were all good until mid 2000’s. Great car.

    Drive : the 929. Never drove one, but I thought the 626 was a nice machine. RWD on 929 probably would feel different, likely in a good way.

    Burn: The Taurus. As someone already said, a good car but not in the same league as the 929 or Maxima.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    The nice thing about the Taurus is that the water pump is right at the top of the engine and easy to replace, which is convenient since it fails about every 20,000 miles.
    After replacing the water pump, burn it.

  • avatar
    mikey

    The Maxima is not ugly as most Nissans from that era so I would drive it .

    Given the choice.. The UAW?/CAW label..would have me leaning towards buying the Ford

    ..A few Southern Ontario winters would reduce the Mazda to a pile of dust , no need to strike any matches.

  • avatar
    lstanley

    Growing up in the 80s only the fanciest people would have a 929.

    / kisses fingers, throws hand into the air “Ooh Lah Lah”

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Sorry. Have to say, “None of the above.” Not a fan of sedans.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    The uplevel 3.8-liter Essex V6 provides 120 horsepower, which are routed through a four-speed AXOD automatic.

    That has to be a typo right? Had to be making roughly 150, didn’t it? The GM carburated 2.8 V6 from the early 80s made 120…

    Buy Mazda 929 for your luxury cruising.

    Drive Maxima for the sheer fun of it (back in the late 00s the hood I was living in someone had a Maxima of this era for sale for the longest time. Too bad the interior was trashed or I would have given it serious thought.)

    Burn the Taurus before the inevitable head gasket replacement on the 3.8.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I found one source that confirmed 120 hp; the other confirmed 140. Pretty meager either way.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        There were some who claimed the Essex was a bit of a rip off of the FWD iteration of the Buick 3800 but that made (strokes chin) 150 hp in the late 80s?

        If that’s true then Ford, SAD!

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        It was 140. The police models with dual exhaust had 160.

        The engine felt very torquey off the line but started to run out of breath at around 3000 rpm.

        Later on, after they took the engine out of the Taurus, they gave it split-port injection and more airflow and it made 190 hp in the Windstar and Mustang.

        • 0 avatar
          MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

          IIRC the 3.0L Vulcan base engine and the 3.8L “upgrade” were both 140 HP, the 3.8 had more TQ. And a thirst for headgaskets. I had rentals with the 3.8 and it burned off the tires nicely but a friend’s wife had a newish at the time white LX model with the 3.0 and it actually drove great. I would have chosen a base engine in that rare instance, for the greater reliability. I mean if a car like that doesn’t at least offer reliability, what the heck is it even good for?

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Yes the Vulcan was 140/140 while the Essex was 140/200. The head gasket problem on the 3.8 is overblown by people who weren’t there.

            Of course when they were new there was no way to know that Vulcan was going to be known for long term durability, at least as long as you keep up with the water pump and have it replaced with a high quality unit so you aren’t back in there in another couple of years.

    • 0 avatar
      Jagboi

      According to the brochure, the 3.8 was 140hp @3800 rpm, and 215 ft-lbs at 2200 rpm.

      The 3.0 Vulcan was 140 [email protected] rpm and 160 [email protected] rpm.

      Lots of nice low down torque in the Essex, that would make it feel quick to drive.

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    Buy—the Mazda. Rwd and a sweet driving experience. The 2nd gen was prettier.
    Drive—the Nissan. FWD but drove fairly well with attractive styling.
    Burn—the Ford. The design was good but the component parts were value engineered to death affecting its reliability. It’s also out of its class for this comparison.

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    Buy – Maxima all the way. Peak Nissan, in my view.
    Drive – 929. Rear-wheel drive!!
    Burn – Basis Taurus. I had a ’91 SHO, and loved that car, but without that lovely Yamaha engine, I’d pass. Seems it’s a little more “commodity car” than the other 2 (maybe just effective marketing). If it was an SHO, on the other hand…..

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The SHO almost had me, but it made no sense. Awesome engine, but mated to the Escort 5-speed. It refused to accept gear changes nearing 7,000 RPM.

      I guess it was the only manual transaxle Ford had on the shelf, but I brought the SHO back to the dealer with a smoky clutch, no deal.

      Yet I could bang the gears on my ’85 MR2 at 8,200 RPM like it’s a cruise through the park.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Everybody is coming up with the obvious answers.

    I bought my first car in 1992. I couldn’t afford this generation of Maxima, and so I settled for a Taurus. But the Maxima SE with stick was the one I really wanted.

    Hell, I still want a Japanese sedan with a V6 and a stick. But such a thing no longer exists.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      Keeping fingers crossed that the upcoming TLX Type S will bring some hope. All I’m seeing is 10 speed automatic, but they do have some stick shifts off of of the shelf that should be able to handle the load…

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        The 2010-2012 TL SH-AWD stick is often derided for being ugly but is the last, and possibly the best, example of the breed. There are very few of them and I expect they will hold their value pretty well.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I’m not so sure about this grouping, the 929 isn’t really a family sedan and is a bit larger than the others at least on the outside. The Maxima isn’t a mainstream family sedan either.

    However I’ll play.

    Buy the Taurus as it is far and away the best value and a far better family sedan than the other two.

    Drive the Mazda for its RWD and general Mazdaness.

    Burn the Maxima, you need a manual transmission if you want me to think it is a 4DSC. Plus its interior is cramped and ugly.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Buy the Maxima. We had a ’92 and I loved it.

    Drive the Mazda. I’ve never even looked at one of these up close. Didn’t know it was RWD. Maybe I’d end up driving it more than the Maxima!

    Burn the Taurus.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I feel like this isn’t quite an apples/apples comparison, but anyway.

    Drive: Maxima, these were indeed the last of the good ones.
    Buy: Mazda, because I’m a former Mazda fanboy, and I knew owners of these who loved them, and they’re uncommon and not well known and I like such things.
    Burn: Taurus, I respect their place in history, but they didn’t age well and me and my family got burned plenty by crappy mid-80’s Ford electronics.

    The reason this isnt’ apples/apples to me is because you’ve got a mainstream family sedan, luxury-ish sedan, and sports-ish sedan. I don’t recall pricing, but Japanese vehicles of that era were not cheap, so there is probably a bit of a price spread too.

  • avatar
    JFINLEY

    Why are y’all forgetting about the GM H body? I saw more families driving those, verses these choices. From what I remember, the Taurus was more of a company car/rental. The other two were driven by young professionals; especially the Maxima.

  • avatar
    ryanwm80

    Buy: Taurus LX – an affordable luxury car with a leather wrapped steering wheel, automatic headlights, automatic climate control, electrically heated Insta-clear windshield, keyless entry, auto door locks, key hole illumination, adjustable lumbar support from air bladders, and a torquey engine with sequential multi-port fuel injection.

    Drive: Taurus SHO – the pinnacle of performance sedans: a DOHC V6, 5-speed manual, 4 wheel disc brakes, and Thunderbird SC seats with adjustable side bolsters.

    Burn: Everything else.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Having actually owned an ’89 Taurus SHO, I would have traded it in a heartbeat for the 190-hp Maxima SE, which I couldn’t afford (even several years after it was discontinued). The SHO was a fun car which made a great noise at high revs, but also flawed and incredibly unreliable.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Why take the SHO off the table? It had a lower MSRP than the 929. The SHO would have been the one I wanted in this deal.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    None of these cars was bad. Nor were they even pitched at the same customer, so Buy Drive Burn doesn’t fit. Two family sedans, one FWD and one a semi-premium RWD, and the last a sporty car.

    The Taurus wagon was everywhere and incredibly popular. My brother had one after two Audis when his first kid arrived. No probs at all not even with the dreaded 3.8 head gaskets. Tauri didn’t turn into rental fodder until the ’96. Before that they competed head to head in sales with Accord and Camry and won one year. Nice car for an American one, not bad at all, and best of all the engine didn’t bray loudly like all those GM tin cans like Cavaliers, Celebritys and Luminas. it had decorum and decent quality interior.

    My father bought himself an ’87 Mazda 929 after a ’78 Fairmont. The difference was night and day of course, which is why he was so taken with the 929, although I found it a bit wobbly beyond 170 km/h. Definitely not as stable as my Audi. But at normal speeds it was a winner, quiet, peppy and a pleasure to drive and waft around in. They made a van version called the MPV which sold very well.

    The Maxima was the sporty entrant and the last one before the cheapo downgraded ’95 and oblivion. Never drove this version, but nobody complained, it sold well and got great reviews, although to my eye it looked narrow compared to its predecessor, the Cheshire cat grin square one.

  • avatar
    bobbysirhan

    Buy the Mazda. It may not be a Cressida, but it would be a hit at one of those ’80s car shows.

    Drive the Maxima. It had performance to keep up with traffic and those cool gauges that changed from black on white to white on black when you turned off the lights.

    Burn the Taurus. It was a great design and drove rather nicely, but man were they ever short-lived cars. Ford sold over two million first generation Taurus sedans and wagons. I haven’t seen one moving under its own power in decades.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    This one is really, really, hard as I like all of these.

    Buy – Maxima – this might be “peak” Maxima or darn close to it. Nissan was doing a lot right during this era.

    Drive – Mazda – the 929 is RWD, I was a huge Mazda fan during this era, articulating vents, solar panel roof? Wow! They were maintenance nightmares and a lot of that gee whiz stuff broke long ago with no replacement parts.

    Burn – Ford – ouch. I love the Gen I Taurus. Had you put the Vulcan 3.0 under the hood this would have been an even harder choice, but the Essex 3.8 is a mean lean head gasket shredding machine so torch the Taurus.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: Maxima- In SE trim. The only 4DSC Maxima that matters.

    Drive: Taurus- By 1989 most of the early teething bugs were worked out and the Essex 3.8 was an improvement pre MN-12 Thunderbird Cougar and SN-95 Mustang head gasket failure. Of course the SHO was a groundbreaking for Ford Euro sedan fighter.

    Burn: I haven’t seen a 929 in years. It’s rare that you even see them for sale even on EBay. Either they’re clapped out, junked or the few owners left keep them going. I used to see the occasional second generation one around with the frameless glass.
    If you were cross shopping a RWD Japanese upscale sedan in 1989 you would have gone for the very excellent Toyota Cressida, mouse belts be dammed.

    Honorable mention: Pontiac 6000 SE awd and STE.

  • avatar
    brn

    Ford can’t win.

    They make a reliable, comfy, practical, but boring car. Gets’ the ‘burn’ vote.

    The Japanese offerings aren’t as reliable or as comfy. They’re a lot more expensive, but they don’t get the ‘burn’ because they’re more interesting.

    This is an automotive enthusiast site, so I get it. It’s just that today, the Camry would get the ‘buy’ for being what the Ford was back in ’89. Well, except the Camry would be relatively expensive.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    I”ll buy a monster pickup and drive over all three.

  • avatar
    Crashdaddy430

    Drive: The maxima without a doubt. Second best maxima after the 04 model (kidding)

    Buy: The 929. I had an 90 929S when I was in high school and absolutely loved it. The 90s two tone paint scheme similar to early Lexi, the mesh wheels (I think only the S models had them) and enough space for half my graduating class plus the best part being rear wheel drive was a blast for 17 year old me.

    Burn: The Taurus but only because it’s an OCP police car and was just shot up by ED-209.

  • avatar
    STS_Endeavour

    Buy and drive the Japanese cars – doesn’t matter which you do with either.

    It pains me to say because I think it’s the prettiest of the three, but burn the Taurus. It’s 1989, and whatever manufacturer was making the head gaskets for the 3.8 liter had just taken out the asbestos from their head gasket formula the year before. The 3.8’s head gasket problem doesn’t get fixed until sometime in the mid 90’s.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I echo the two (or three?) comments that vote for the Taurus, and add that replacement parts would be cheap and plentiful for the next 20 years.

    Maximas of that time had a weak, under-spec auto transmission that everyone here kinda forgot about, and unless if you got a manual SE these were fairly pedestrian cars.

    The 929 just strikes me as a Cressida copy. dull and overpriced.

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    “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.”

    Nope. The GXE had the single-cam VG30E carried over from the 300ZX, but the SE had the DOHC VE30DE, which was specific to the Maxima SE. It was based on the VG30E, but had a chain driven cam instead of belt driven. It also had variable cam timing and coil-on-plug.

    Buy the Maxima
    Drive the Taurus because parts availability will never be an issue in the US
    Burn the 929

  • avatar
    Terry

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      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.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    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.)

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