QotW: Which “Class of 1989” car is the greatest “new” JNC?

Mazda MX-5 Roadster 1989

It’s here. 1989, one of the greatest single years Japanese automotive history. With the 25-year-or older rule rolling over one more year, any car built at the peak of the Bubble Economy is now officially a classic.

Which “Class of 1989” car is the greatest “new” JNC?

Throughout the 70s and 80s Japan was building fantastic cars, but 1989 was the year our beloved marques finally broke from the chains of their economy car past and became world beaters. The Mazda Miata single-handedly reignited the roadster revolution. Icons like the DA Integra kicked off a boom in FF tuning. 1989 also saw the introduction of the Lexus LS 400 and Infiniti Q45, luxury sedans that would challenge nearly a century of dominance from German brands. Toyota unveiled the SW20 MR2 and Subaru began the Legacy legacy with a turbo sedan. Nissan unleashed a one-two punch with the Z32 Fairlady Z twin turbo and Godzilla himself, the R32 Skyline GT-R. And even though it wouldn’t go into production until a year later, 1989 also saw the announcement of the Acura NSX supercar at the 1989 Detroit Motor Show. With so many to choose from, this should be a spirited debate.

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a toy. Click through to see the winner of the last QotW, “What’s the best winter JNC?

Subaru Leone wagon black

All we can say is that JNC readers are some crazy bastards. Cars you’d take out in the snow range from a bone stock RWD Corolla to a 4×4 Hilux and everything in between. Perhaps in the end the best JNC for the snow is a modern beater because, like Randy pointed out, taking your rare, rust-prone JNC into the snow shouldn’t be done at all. Luckily, the question was merely hypothetical and Lukas‘ hypothetical answer was the most entertaining:

The best winter-JNC? In the US?
Look no further and get a Subaru Leone 4WD or Loyale 4WD, as the last model-years were called over there. They will rust like a Scottish fishing boat and by the end of the winter, you will be able to sweep it out of your garage, but as long as it drives, it will get you everywhere. Huge ground-clearance, a cool dual-range-transmission and the rumble of the lame but trusty Boxer-engine will make SUV-owners green with envy.

Omedetou, your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop!

JNC Decal smash

Leone photo courtesy OJC.

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37 Responses to QotW: Which “Class of 1989” car is the greatest “new” JNC?

  1. AndyB says:

    Many to choose from indeed! Although I am namely an early-mid 80s fan, many of my favorite models came about at the brink of the 1990s. And the underdog in this discussion is probably the car that I have loved the most, the Subaru Legacy! This wasn’t just a new motor and a new chassis to add to the Subaru lineup, it was a new standard and flagship for all Subaru’s to follow into the modern age. Ammenities found in the Legacy were more often seen in cars above its class and price range at the time. First off, Subaru broke tradition by placing the spare tire in the back, rather than above the motor. “Luxury” features like all disc brakes, all independent suspension, power windows, power mirrors, power/core door locks, and a stereo with equalizer made the Legacy handle and feel better than a basic sedan/wagon from Japan should. And in premium models you had sunroofs, vinyl interior, AWD, trip computers, and turbo chargers galore! Not to mention, Bruce Willis did their commercials in Japan. How cool is that?

  2. Dave says:

    To me, it absolutely has to be the sports cars. The onslaught of Japanese sports cars from ’89 on is just insanely, mind-glowingly awesome. Revolutionary. Industry-shattering. There’s the Miata, a masterful re-imagining of the original Lotus Elan, and it single-handedly revived an essentially dead automotive genre. The R32 GT-R revived a Japanese legend on the streets and on track, starting a new Nissan performance legend. The R34 is worshipped by many, but the R32 already oozes genuine JNC cool. Z32 isn’t bad either; it was beautiful, solidly built, and performed well. The NSX did to Ferrari what the Lexus LS 400 did to Mercedes. Let’s not forget the S14 Silvia. And these cars were soon to be joined by other awesome contemporaries, including the Suzuki Cappuccino, Honda Beat, FD RX-7, JZA80 Supra, AZ-1/Cara… 1989 was the *Cambrian explosion* of Japanese sports cars, most of them were superb, all of them I love. Many other seminal cars came out of this time as well, but the sports cars were definitely the icing on the cake.

    • Dave says:

      Oops, I misread the title; I thought it was asking which class of cars from 1989 instead of “class of 1989.”

      It’s hard to pinpoint a specific car! There’re so many greats. A Skyline is a bit of a cliché choice, but I’m gonna go with it, the R32 Skyline. Still aimed at the domestic market, the R32 was a quintessential Japanese sports sedan/coupe. The sedan had that JDM hardtop look, was decently compact, and can be equipped with very high-tech and high-performance running gears. The coupe formed the basis of the R32 GT-R, one of the most significant Japanese sports cars. I like the design as well, looking sleek and a bit scary. And it somehow just oozes (late-’80s) JNC charm. Most of the range was powered by some form of the straight-6 RB engine, and coupled with the GT-R’s racing success, it’s simply one of the coolest ranges ever.

  3. Bart says:

    Well, I will go ahead and say my rare, short wheel base 1989 only Isuzu Trooper RS can get added to the list. Supposedly, less than 1000 1st gen shorties were imported, and after years of searching for a nice one, I am finally a proud owner. While SWB Troopers were offered in quantity in just about every other country where Isuzus were sold, we here in the States got gypped as usual. As far as 1st generation Troopers go, the SWB RS came with all the bells and whistles, as well as an all black and grey interior, and upgraded gearing.

    I want so badly to install a turbo on my RS, but it would be difficult to get it through emissions without classic plates, limiting me to 5000 miles per year or less. :/

  4. dankan says:

    It has to be the Miata. Cliched, but true. The Miata proved there was still a market at the low-end for sports cars, and specifically convertibles. In 1989 you had continuations of the Fairlady, Skyline, Supra, RX-7 and Silvia lines, but these were all bubbling like the Japanese economy. More turbos, more power, more cost and complexity. The Miata was none of that, and proved that back-to-basics still worked, and still had market power. In response, BMW did the Z3, Mercedes the SLK, Porsche the Boxster, Toyota minimalized the MR-S, FIAT did the Barchetta and MG tried things one last time. And in the recent past, it’s role as the sole, pure cheap sports car led to the Toyobaru.

    It is also the sole reason Mazda remains a going concern, as without Miata sales, the brand would probably have not survived the 1990s.

    It saved a car company, and more importantly, sports cars in general. It’s not just the head of the class of 1989, it is the most important enthusiast car ever.

  5. Styles says:

    Nissan S-Cargo! It’s quirky, but supremely useful as a small delivery vehicle. I used to hoon one for deliveries quite a few years ago, and it was great fun! Sure it was a bit noisy, and the already dated E15S engine and 3-speed auto didn’t make it a sports car, but the go-cart handling made up for it. At 6’2″ my knees would sit against the dashboard, and god only knows how you’d fare in a serious crash!

    But most of all it was different, and still very good for it’s intended purpose, so it’s a winner in my books.

    Now to get my hands on one and swap an E15T into it…….

  6. skellington says:

    1989 prelude / accord. Its no super car, but it is a boxy, sporty package that screams “I’m from japan!”. Its fully independent a arm suspension will put a smile on your face when you take it through a curvy mountain road. They had decent power and amazing features for the time including those fantastic pop up headlights.

  7. Nigel says:

    1989 Civic hatch, just add a high flow air cleaner and muffler and a set of Advan 509’s.
    (Now a set of Toyo’s).
    Instant troublemaker.

  8. Lupus says:

    Best ’89 car? Of course Daihatsu Applause A101. Just because i own one. 😀 Seriously, it’s not the best Japanese car of that year, but i could’t say anything diffrent then that. My first car ever was a ’89 white A101 from the frist month of production. Now i’m bondend with a gray ’91 example. I could write countless essays about these two, but it’s not the point.
    For me personaly He is the best. Here in Europe it’s several times more exotic then any Porsche, Ferrari or Lambo. Thanks to my work, time and love He is whitout question categorized by people as a JDM, but nobody actually knows what it is exactly. And that’s the key. To be different in an uncommon way 😉

  9. Nick says:

    I think this age in automotive history is tinged with a touch of sadness.. though there where many cars that where “inspiring by modern standards” as a Toyota man this spelt the end for the awesome ness that was the early days of Toyota, this is when cars the compact bullet proof rwd’s died and cars started to emerge that where designed by eliminating negatives as apposed to creating positives it wasn’t until the birth of the FT86 that they got back on the right track this maybe a touch narrow minded but it still makes me cry a lil..

    • Randy says:

      I’d have to say that

    • Randy says:

      Dunno what happened there… ANYWAY, I’d say that EVERYBODY was losing that “something;” American AND Japanese… Maybe some bit of character or identity that was being left out in their trying to appeal to EVERYBODY.

      Add complexity and cost; lose some soul. Make everything “upscale;” lose the variety. Make everything uber-aerodynamic; lose style.

      Picture a personal-luxury 2-door HARDTOP with 2-tone paint and a velour interior. YOU pick the colors, where the paint break happens, etc. Anybody make that anymore?

    • Randy says:

      Thinking about it, let’s add a COUPE in there, too. Get creative.

  10. Matt says:

    Although not a FWD fan i think the AE92 Corolla FXGT has to be right up there with the best. They were an amazing car that you would give you the fuel economy of a prius but still make you throw out a schoolboy grin when opening it up on the twisties and requiring almost no maintenance but still pulling through to nearly half a million kms. It’s not RWD, it’s not a million horse power, but it does what the GT86 and AE86 do. They make affordable motoring fun as hell and they don’t make you look like a hair dresser doing it! Thankfully you can still pick them up for a realistic price now days because they haven’t had the publicity of the AE86 which just adds to their appeal.

    • Yoda says:

      In the US we only got the 90-series FX as a Tamiya model kit, but they did sell the Sprinter Cielo (Corolla Seca if you’re downunder) here through Chevrolet dealers as the Geo Prizm hatchback.

      Add sleek styling for a 5-door of its’ day and the fact that the dealers were willing to deal when new and it was a steal used because low-information shoppers thought it was a Chevy to the list of virtues you just named.

      • Ryan Senensky says:

        Actually we did get the FX16 for a bit if im not mistaken. I’ve seen 3 or 4 around town driven by some old people, maybe they were purchased in Canada?

  11. j_c says:

    Definitely the Miata. Not only did it revive convertible roadsters, but took everything back to basics at the same time. It was a new old school sports car. Everyone, including Mazda, was packing whizz electronics, sensors, LCD displays, 4 wheel steering, etc into each car at the time. The MX-5 came out and proved all you needed for fun was high revs, lightness, and rear wheel drive.

  12. Jim-Bob says:

    The Geo Metro. Why? Because I own two of them and am extremely biased! Other than that, the 1989 models were the only ones not to get the horrible seatbelts mounted to the doors, which were arguably LESS safe in a crash than the ones mounted in the normal spot. They were also reasonably well made, easy to park and turn and very good on gas (in a time when that mattered to too few people). Reliability came easily with proper maintenance, and even if you neglected the timing belt and it snapped that was OK-it was a non-interference engine. The same basic car is still in production today in Pakistan as the Pak-Suzuki Cultus (although they went to a 1 liter 4 instead of the 3 a few years back) and is now the Suzuki car design that has been in production the longest, since India’s Maruti discontinued production of the Maruti 800 (original 1983 Alto) last year.

    • Randy says:

      I looked at the Suzuki Pakistan web site, and they have a lower car – similar to the original Chevy Sprint (yeah, I know ‘Zuki Swift) that’s still running on 3 cylinders. Neat to look at the histories of them. Too bad we don’t have the freedom to have those here.

      • Yoda says:

        That would be the Mehran, like the Maruti 800 it’s based on the mid ’80s Alto.
        The following generation Alto also lived on a while as the Daewoo Tico, although that evolved on its’ own lines through several generations of Matiz into the Chevy Spark.

      • Jim-bob says:

        Yeah, I miss being able to buy a simple transportation appliance that is reliable, fuel efficient and cheap to buy and maintain. The only car that comes close in the US market is the new Mitsubishi Mirage. It has a 3 cylinder, manual transmission and a footprint scarcely larger than a Metro. Mitsubishi doesn’t seem to find the need to advertise it though and I have yet to see one on the road.

        • Randy says:

          I saw an ad for it recently – could NOT tell you what channel it was on… Decent ad, too about not taking life too seriously; no overpromising.

          RIGHT NOW, if I were to go out and get a daily driver, that would be it. I’m thinking the blue one.

  13. Ken says:

    EG? More like EC/ED/EE/EF…the 1989 Civic Si is still an undisputed Solo ST champ, lighter than all other years, as there were no 1988 model made. One of the most underrated cars ever made, even in the FF camp, overshadowed by such greats as the 2nd-gen CRX (on which it is based on), and later, the DC2 Integra Type R. Black was only offered on Si models, and as there were no other zenki (early) models, makes it also one of the rarest Honda model/color combinations.

  14. Ryan Senensky says:

    R32 Skyline hands down. I want to say:
    Suzuki Swift GTi
    Subaru Legacy
    Civic SiR B16A engine

    but the GTR is wayyyy more groundbreaking than them, it introduced the RB26 which was one of the most iconic Japanese engines ever made, the RB26DETT is the 454 Big Block of my generation of cars, its the engine you WANT to have in anything that can fit it. And it began the legacy of the R32, R33 and R34 which are the wetdream cars of any millennial person today with a love for Nissan.

    • Michael says:

      Agree with Ryan 100%

      The R32 GT-R not only re-introduced the most hallowed three letters in the Nissan vocabulary, it helped to re-ignite (explode!) the Japenese tuning & car world in general.

      Nissan took aim at Group A racing & let rip! Godzilla tore all appart before him! Porsche 959 was the benchmark…..not for long! The GIANT beast from the East was unstoppable.

      Here in Australia the car was booed off the track by every Holden (Chevy) & Ford yobbo (redneck) around. Did not matter! Godzilla could not be stopped. The ruling bodies tried to restrict them……they still won!! The only thing the competition could do was complain until the rules were changed & the GT-R was outlawed.

      The R32 GT-R is a ledgend for all time! Always will it be remembered.

  15. pstar says:

    So are we going build date instead of model year? It gets to be a “1989” since it was bult in 1989 as a 1990 model, even though the owner and everybody who ever talks about the car in any other circumstance calls it a “1990”?

    I prefer to go by model year, since thats what cars are actually known by, and for 1989 its the S13 240SX/Silvia.

  16. kylezone says:

    R32 how is this even a question? Americans have been counting the seconds till 2014 since it came out.

  17. Randy says:

    From what I’ve seen in the U.S. –

    LS 400.

    It took Toyota from “nice Toyota,” to “D A M N ! ! !” Literally overnight, Mercedes and BMW had real competition like they’d never had before, and for noticeably less money. Nothing from American companies really competed, and Infiniti’s Q45 wasn’t anywhere near as popular – at least from what I’ve seen.

    Remember the champagne commercial?

    I’ll grant the Miata for the sports cars, and the SXes for their sports capabilities, and any number of niche vehicles, but it was the LS – and the reputation for excellence in all aspects of the car and its dealer network that made a real change in the market.

  18. Inline6ness says:

    I can’t believe the MX83 Cressida hasn’t been mentioned. The Cressida has been a nostalgic staple for millions maybe even billions of years and now we can welcome the fourth generation to the party. Plus, the MX83 has become as popular if not more popular than the “legendary” AE86 with the drift kids. All while having a luxo interior that rivals the LS400 and one of Toyota’s bulletproof inline six engines.

    • pstar says:

      And an automatic transmission. And its only “popular” vs an ae86 in that it is very common and cheap compared to an ae86. Its a good car, but come on, not many people are making the choice to get one OVER an ae86. How many Cressida owners wish they had an ae86? Probably most of them. Now how many ae86 owners wish they had a Cressida? Not so many.

      The ae86 is LEGENDARY. Not sneer quote “legendary”.

      In 10-20 years the ae86 will be in the same collector class as Mustang fastbacks and Porsche 356s. The Cressida will be in the same collector class as Novas and VW Beetles. They all have their fans, but some are quite a bit more iconic and aspirational than others.

  19. Inline6ness says:

    Easy there pumpkin, I wasn’t trying to shit in anyone’s shoe. You make interesting points so let’s start from the top. You nominated the S13 chassis, but you also indicated that the downfall of the Cressida is it’s automatic transmission. I would put it to you that the only S13’s worth their going rate are the automatics, which haven’t been molested by “Joey Drifter”. Sorry if the quotation marks offend you. And the popularity of the Cressida in drifting is because of the suspension design and weight distribution, not because they’re cheap and common. ’86 Camaro’s are cheap and common too, doesn’t make them good drift cars. And I’m an example of someone who has chosen to buy an MX83 over an AE86, twice.

  20. RdS says:

    BNR32. Nom.

  21. dickie says:

    not even attempting the QOTW this time as there are far too many options and i’d never be able to fit an adequate response in between work tasks.

    i will say how excited i am because i own a 1989 Cressida that will be exempt from my county’s relatively strict emissions testing to pass inspection. my ’90 miata isn’t too far behind either, and past 25 years i get to run license plates from the year that my car was manufactured instead of the ugly current design that Texas uses.

  22. Ashton says:

    I would have to say the r32 was the best car of 89 hands down but realistically “most” (USA) people have never had the chance to really embrace the car including me. So I’m going to add the next best thing IMHO in 1989 that got you close to having a skyline (US) standards was the Infiniti M30. Keep in mind I said the “closest” thing to the skyline lol it wasn’t the best! But looks and power….. We’ll nothing near. But I beleave this odd ball could have been one of the best 89 cars if nissan engineers put more into it this car instead of trying to save the name of the luxury line IMHO

  23. JABj says:

    It goes to Mazda in my opinion, but not the mx5. In 1989, the Mazda rx7 turboII (series5) was the car to have with an updated face lift and increased horsepower. It deserves JNC’s class of ’89 honors! Use this as “classic-car” guide-line….Try to find an unmolested ’89 t2 nowadays… 😉 GOOD LUCK!!

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