Familiar and comfortable with things Japanese at least partially from his time serving in the occupation forces following World War II, my grandfather purchased a couple of first Datsun and then Nissan Maximas over the years. When Nissan announced the new and much sportier third-generation version of the Maxima for the 1989 model year, I (firmly convinced of my twenty-year-old hipness) assumed that he would not purchase one. I was wrong: within a year, my grandfather was driving one of those new Maximas with the “4DSC” logo (an abbreviation for “4-Door Sports Car”) on a side window—an at least somewhat instructive lesson for this young man.
“Big enough to hold a meeting. Fast enough to keep it short.”
New for 1989, the third-generation Nissan Maxima was a significant change toward a more sporty image and reality, with attractive new styling and an independent rear suspension. I remember wondering if they had moved too far away from their previous conservative designs for their market. They hadn’t—the 1989 Maxima got good reviews and sold quite well, despite the elimination of the station wagon version.
The Maxima’s engine, a version of Nissan’s VG30E 3.0 liter/181 ci multi-port fuel injected V6 (closely related to the standard powerplant in the Nissan 300ZX), was slightly upgraded for 1989 to 160 bhp and 182 lb.ft of torque.
As they had in previous years, Nissan sold two differentiated Maxima models for 1989: the luxury-oriented GXE and the significantly more sporty SE.
Standard exterior and mechanical equipment for the $17,499 (about $36,700 in today’s dollars or about what a 2019 Nissan Maxima SV goes for) GXE included rack and pinion steering, keyless entry (a GXE-only feature), and 205/65R15 tires (a size still readily available) on 15-inch alloy wheels. Inside, you got air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, and a rear window defogger. Fuel economy with the standard four-speed automatic transmission was decent at 19 mpg city/26 highway by the standards of the day on premium gasoline (17/24 by today’s standards). With an 18.5-gallon fuel tank, a GXE owner could expect a range of between 340 and 375 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.
Moving to the $18,549 SE added a five-speed manual transmission (the four-speed automatic was optional on the SE), four-wheel disc brakes, wider wheels, and a spoiler, along with stiffer springs and sway bars. Inside, a moonroof, a Bose stereo, leather steering wheel, and white-faced gauges with black markings were all included. With the five-speed, 0-60 mph came in a little under 9 seconds, and fuel economy (also on premium gasoline) was 20 city/26 highway by the standards of the day (18/24 by today’s standards).
Options available for the Maxima included a sonar suspension system that adjusted damping based on road conditions, a fairly primitive heads-up display, and anti-lock brakes (SE only).
People seem to remember these cars with affection, and I (and others) think the exterior styling has aged rather well, but I don’t see a lot of collecting, at least not yet. Nissan Maximas of this era only occasionally show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds—you do see them a little more often on eBay Motors. Make mine my grandfather’s Winter Blue Metallic, please.