A Nissan Violet by any other name will be as sweet

By , Automotive editor of The Christian Science Monitor

You don't know that a Nissan Violet is a car, not a flower? But only in Japan. In the United States it's called Stanza. Introduced in 1982 as a front-drive replacement for the old Datsun 510, Nissan now has added a 19831/2 notchback sedan to the Stanza line, which up to now has come as 2- and 4-door hatchbacks alone. Mechanically, the two cars are the same.

The Stanza is one more reason for Detroiters to burn the midnight oil.

The Japanese, in fact, seem to reach no end in the flow of highly refined, smart-looking cars at a competitive price.

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The stylish, efficient, and very manageable Stanza notchback carries a sticker price of $8,699 but is going out the dealership door at significantly more, including air conditioning, sunroof, and other goodies. A luxury car needs all those things, right?

The Stanza is important to Nissan because it enables the No. 2 Japanese automaker to expand its position in the more-profitable upscale market at a time when it is restricted by the third year of Japan's voluntary curb on car exports to the United States.

Like the two hatchbacks, the notchback Stanza uses the same 2-liter, overhead-cam, NAPS-X (antipollution) engine and 4-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts up front. The ride is firm and the car does a good job as a highway cruiser. In city traffic it is nimble and quick.

Interior room is substantial, with space equivalent to a compact. Even so, ''three in the rear'' will depend on the size of the occupants. Optimistically, Nissan supplies seat belts for three.

Overall, the car is designed to its optimum, given the limited space with which the engineers and stylists had to work. If adjusted too high, the tilt steering wheel blocks out too much of the gauges. A small matter. Most drivers may not want to adjust it that high, anyway.

Also, the air conditioner was a little fussy during the hot weather of late June. It kept the car chilled for a while and then lost its cool. Maybe it only calls for an adjustment. The a/c problem has to lie in this particular unit and not with the design itself. Other Nissan a/c units work just fine.

Standard upholstery in the Stanza notchback is velour, adding to the aura of a refined vehicle with a Japanese imprint.

Is it worth the price - the $10,000-plus that buyers are slapping on the table at paper-passing time? Given the price of everything else these days, a well-running, easy-to-handle, refined car for around $10,000 cannot be called exorbitant.

The Stanza was the first model sold under the Nissan name in the US. The Japanese carmaker made the decision a couple of years ago to phase out the Datsun name tag, used only in the US anyway, and attach its corporate badge, Nissan, under which its cars are sold everywhere else in the world.

The engine is the 1,974-cc NAPS-X, which produces 88 hp. at 5,200 r.p.m. Base transmission is a 5-speed overdrive manual, but a 3-speed automatic is an option.

As for mileage on the road, the Environmental Protection Agency rates the manual-transmission Stanza in all states except California at 31 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway. With an automatic, it's 27 and 36. In California it's a couple miles less.

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