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Steven Cole-Smith test drives the 2018 Nissan GT-R…

Photo: Nissan

The Ace Café opened less than a year ago in downtown Orlando, but it has quickly established itself as the premiere hangout for car and motorcycle enthusiasts. It’s patterned after the original Ace Café in London, which dates back to 1938, and promptly became a hangout for motorcyclists.

The Ace Café that now stands on that spot – the original was flattened by a World War II air raid in 1940 – remains profoundly popular not only with bikers, but auto enthusiasts.

There are Ace Cafes in Finland, Spain, Switzerland and China, but this one in Orlando is the first in the U.S. Almost daily there’s a different theme – Harleys one night, Porsches another night, Jeeps another night – but no matter: Everyone, and every car, is invited.

So what? Well, we mention it because this is now perhaps the best place in Florida to gauge the coolness factor of your ride. The cooler, the better parking place you get when the Café is crowded. The cooler, the more crowd you get surrounding your car. The Ace is a restaurant, but its main function may be that of an automotive barometer.

When we showed up one night with the 2018 Nissan GT-R, there was some doubt as to how well we’d do. The GT-R is, after all, getting long in the tooth – offered in Japan for years, the U.S. finally got the GT-R in 2008, as a 2009 model.

Photo: Nissan

That’s more than 10 years after the GT-R starred in the 1997 edition of Sony PlayStation’s Gran Turismo, which fed an already feverish campaign to bring the car stateside. When GT-Rs began appearing in the “Fast and the Furious” movie franchise, it was only a matter of time.

Since then, changes have been minor, almost glacial in coming. Can the GT-R still draw a crowd?

Yes. Yes, it can. People, predominantly young males, passed by far more expensive cars to get close to the GT-R.

The models range from the $99,990 “Pure,” up to $175,490 for the 600-horsepower GT-R Nismo model. Shipping adds a pricey $1,695. The Pure, the Premium (our tester, at $110,490) and the Track Edition must make do with 565 horsepower.

The profile of the car is indeed classic, but given the age of the GT-R and its little brother, the Nissan Z, you have to wonder if, and when, we’ll get a thoroughly redesigned Nissan sports car.

That said, judging from the parking lot audience at the Ace Café, the 2018 GT-R still has plenty of juice. Over the years, the car has mellowed a bit, and that is a good thing – it used to have a rough, abrupt ride, with a suspension that was surprised by every pothole.

Photo: Nissan

There are so many little servo motors and automatic switches that turning the 3.8-liter V-6 engine on, engaging the dual-clutch, six-speed automatic transmission and accelerating away, it sounded like you were inside an ancient IBM computer. There are still some clicks and clacks, but not nearly as many.

On the road, the all-wheel-drive GT-R, regardless of the year, is a rocket ship. Acceleration is invigorating, and handling is exceptional. Steering remains a little vague. The brakes are superb. Front seats are quite comfortable, by the way, but the rear seats are essentially theoretical.

The GT-R received a minor facelift and 20 more horsepower for 2017, so there’s not much new for 2018, and what there is involves the addition of Apple CarPlay, and one new color for the interior.

This was the most solid, best-built GT-R I’ve driven, and that experience dates back to the official launch in Nevada of the 2008 model. Nissan got the car right back then, and since, it has just gotten, well, righter.

By the way: GT-R night at the Ace Café in Orlando is this Saturday. Unfortunately, our GT-R test car will be long gone by then.

Photo: Nissan

Steven Cole Smith (@SColeSmith) is a veteran motorsports and automotive journalist, having written for numerous publications including Autoweek, Automobile, Road & Track, as well as being a regular contributor to the Orlando Sentinel.


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