IT WAS a James Brown sports coupe, a first-class boogie machine. Ithad soul aplenty and a little funk, too. I felt good sitting behind itswheel, broke into a cold sweat when I keyed its ignition; and when I putmy hand on the knob of its “duet shifter” — so-called by Nissanbecause it sings in perfect harmony with the gearbox — I shimmied, andshouted: “Git up offadatthang, and drive!”

Nissan was supposed to have toned it down, the 1995 240 SX SE. Theywere supposed to have made it more adult, and they did — sort of.

There’s more safety equipment, including dual-front air bags, muchimproved seat belts and a better side-impact protection system. Also,there’s a better suspension to help smooth the bumps and ease the grindof daily commutes.

The new car’s body lacks the adolescence of its predecessor — noseverely wedged front; no upturned rear. Instead, there is an eleganceto the 1995 model — free-flowing, gently rounded surfaces that are moresensuous than sexy, a subtlety that marks the difference between quickfun and lasting pleasure.

Still, Nissan’s funkmeisters surely had a say in the redevelopmentof the 240 SX SE. The black-on-white gauge cluster gives some evidenceof this; but the real proof is in the driving.

The 240 SX SE moves with the seemingly inexhaustible passion ofsinger-dancer Brown, the Godfather of Soul; and it does so largelybecause of the perfect harmony between its five-speed manualtransmission and clutch.

In many small cars, the shifter is so choppy and the clutch sounresponsive, they conspire to rob the driver of enjoyment. But theshift-clutch assemblies in the new 240 SX SE are pure cream — sosmooth, so very smooth, it makes me wanna holler: “Git up offadatthang!And shift, and clutch. Git up offadatthang! And drive!”

Background: The Nissan 240 SX SE is a “personal sports coupe,”meaning it’s a small, rear-drive, two-door car that has four seats, butis better suited for two people. It has a tiny trunk: 8.57 cubic feet,enough for two overnight bags or a few bags of groceries.

Like others of its genre, the 240 SX SE is an attitudinal offspringof the 1980s, an era of youthful exuberance and self-centered excess.The problem for Nissan was how to keep the car and its less-swankysibling, the SX, moving in a more conservative environment.

Thus, we have the softened exterior and the redesigned, friendlierinterior, which seems less concerned with any driver fantasies ofrace-track grandeur than it is with presenting easily workable controlsand understandable gauges.

But it’s to Nissan’s credit that it was able to bring about thesechanges in the 240-series cars without destroying their original spirit.Conservatives, after all, are capable of smiling; and some even like tosnap their fingers and dance.

Both the 240 SX and SX SE come with a 2.4-liter, doubleoverhead-cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine rated 155 horsepower at5,600 rpm. Maximum torque is set at 16 0 pounds-feet at 4,400 rpm. Powerfour-wheel disc brakes are standard, and anti-lock brakes are optionalon both models.

Essentially, the difference between the two cars is demeanor. The SXis the more conservative of the two. The SX SE, in addition to itssuggestive name, sports a rear deck spoiler, fog lights, a rearstabilizer bar for better handling, and a harder-riding suspension togive it a sporty feel.

An electronically controlled, four-speed automatic transmission isoptional on both models.

Complaints: Tiny trunk. Lousy rear seats. Bothersome road noise onless-than-perfect highways.

Praise: Excellent overall construction — very rigid body, yetnothing brittle about it. Superior small-car manual gearshift andclutch. Excellent highway sprinter. A pleasure to drive.

Head-turning quotient: Gets looks, but no hoots, which is just fine.The car has appeal.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Triple aces. Anyone who lovesdriving will love the 240 SX SE. The ar was equipped with optionalanti-lock brakes; braking was excellent.

Mileage: About 25 miles per gallon (17.2-gallon tank, estimated418-mile range on usable volume of recommended premium unleaded),running mostly highway and driver only.

Price: Base price is $20,679. Dealer’s invoice price is $17,784.Price as tested is $23,422, including $1,195 for anti-lock brakes, $899for the sunroof and a $350 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: Easily one of the best “pocket rockets”available. Compare with Ford Probe/Mazda MX-6, Honda Prelude, EagleTalon/Mitsubishi Eclipse, Volkswagen Corrado and Toyota Celica.