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Lyra Solochek, Times Staff Writer

Lyra Solochek

Lyra Solochek oversees the editorial content for the Tampa Bay Times' BayLink, JobLink, HomeLink and AutoLink sections. With Peter Couture, she writes the weekly auto review the Daily Drivers. She also contributes to the Gadgets and Gizmos blog. A native of Japan, she joined the Times in 1997 as a copy editor and page designer.

Phone: (727) 893-8338

Email: lsolochek@tampabay.com

Blog: Gadgets and Gizmos

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  1. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Subaru WRX STI

    Autos

    The bottom line: The WRX STI is one of the last of a dying breed: street-legal rally cars. We're glad Subaru is committed to improving this gem.

    Earlier this year, we drove the newly refreshed 2015 Subaru WRX Limited, and loved it. But consider that model the "WRX light." We've driven the rally-inspired STI performance version, and wow, the car is a beast.

    Appearance: For 2015, the WRX STI comes only in a sedan, which grows slightly and looks ready to pounce. The car has a bold front end with squinting headlights and muscular fenders. And, of course, there's the cartoonish wing, which is almost big enough to invoke the Road Runner Superbird for those of us old enough to remember it. Our tester's paint was the catch-me-if-you-can Lightning Red Metallic, which really stands out in traffic — so watch your speed....

    The sport-design instrument cluster has a 3.5-inch LCD screen at the center.
  2. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Corvette Stingray Coupe

    Autos

    It seems like it was just the other day that we drove the 2014 Corvette Stingray — a convertible — and were impressed with the all-new, seventh-generation Corvette. Now we've driven the 2015 model — this time a coupe — and Chevy already has made a big improvement: There's a new 8-speed automatic transmission that's more refined than the previous 6-speed gearbox. Even manual enthusiasts should take notice. ...

     The mode selector changes the car’s driving programs: Touring, Sport, Track, Weather and Eco.
  3. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

    Autos

    Proof that the luxury compact crossover segment is the new arena for upscale automakers comes in the form of cars such as the Lexus NX 200t, which we reviewed recently, Porsche Macan and Mercedes-Benz's new GLA. We drove the GLA45, and anything we say has to be gauged against the version that Mercedes provided: AMG performance.

    Appearance: At first look, it's tough to classify the GLA, which is based on the CLA sedan chassis. Mercedes staunchly calls it an SUV. Well, maybe, since it's raised a bit. But to us, it's a hatchback. In the AMG version, a very hot hatch. Our tester had the subdued Mountain Grey Metallic paint, but Mercedes also has an interesting palette that should appeal to younger buyers, including the matte-finish Mountain Grey Magno (which Lyra loves) and Northern Lights Violet Metallic. In its AMG guise, the GLA is all sinew, aggressively sculpted with flared wheel wells, high shoulders and twin power-dome hood. The front end features a large Mercedes three-point star with the "AMG double-cross-wing" design bisecting the mesh grille, and swept-back bi-Xenon headlamps with LED running lights. There also are aluminum skid plates, large air intakes, chrome roof rails and an integrated hatch-top spoiler. Our tester also had the upgraded 19-inch double-spoke alloy wheels. And this should please Mercedes: Lyra noticed some 20-somethings admiring it in a restaurant parking lot. ...

    The 7-inch screen sits atop the carbon-fiber-trimmed dash.
  4. The Daily Drivers: 2014 Lexus CT 200h

    Autos

    We drove the Lexus CT 200h when it first came out in 2011, and surmised it was the car for people put off by the funky look-at-me design of hybrids such as the Prius. For 2014, Lexus has continued to refine the compact hatchback for those who want to go green with luxury and style.

    Appearance: The major change is an updated front-end design, which now carries the metal-trimmed hourglass-shaped grille that is the Lexus standard. LED headlamps are now available as an option. Overall, the five-door hatchback retains its athletic-looking appearance with its long hood, flared fenders and sharp body creases. Our tester's paint color was a stunning hue called Redline, which seems more a case of wishful thinking with the CT 200h. Dual-spoked 17-inch alloy wheels complement the sporty look....

    The display screen atop the dash uses a mouselike (and awkward) Remote Touch controller.
  5. The Daily Drivers: 2015.5 Volvo V60 T6 AWD R-Design

    Autos

    In an automotive age where SUVs rule, station wagons are a fading market category. But Volvo has been a resolute defender of the traditional family haulers. Its all-new stylish V60, which is based on the S60 sedan, is just what you'd expect from the Swedish automaker that has a solid reputation for safety.

    Appearance: Yes, wagons can be sexy. The V60's front channels the classic Volvo. The grille has a familiar diagonal line with a Volvo badge. The hood is chiseled, and the car's look is heightened by a high door line and narrow windows that appear as one uninterrupted design framed in chrome trim. The vertical taillights flare out to hug the body. At an angle, they are almost L-shaped. The spokes of the 19-inch Ixion alloy wheels have a visual twist, and the integrated chrome dual-exhaust tips finish off the look. Overall, these elements fuse into a cohesive design. The V60 has certainly come a long way from the boxy Volvo wagons of previous decades....

    All the gauges in the instrument cluster are digital.
  6. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport AWD

    Autos

    Americans have an insatiable appetite for the SUV. The latest segment automakers are battling over is the compact luxury crossover. Lexus' entry in the competition is the 2015 NX 200t — with the carmaker's first turbocharged engine and its hybrid counterpart, the 300h. Both models are based on parent Toyota's RAV4.

    Appearance: The NX 200t we tested was a preproduction model in the F Sport trim. It's probably the sexiest crossover on the market. It carries the now-familiar Lexus spindle grille, which has prominent black mesh instead of the regular trim's horizontal slats. Everything about the NX 200t's aggressive styling — a mix of chiseled angles and bold character lines — seems calculated to send the message to a younger demographic: This isn't your father's Lexus. We particularly like how the almost-triangular headlights sweep up in a curve along the hood line and the 18-inch Y-spoked alloy wheels. ...

    The L-shaped LED tail lamps glow bright in an arrowhead-shaped taillight assembly.
  7. The Daily Drivers: 2014 Infiniti QX80

    Autos

    Despite gas prices still being over $3 a gallon, large SUVs have been making a comeback. Among them, the Infiniti QX80, one of the most sumptuous. For 2014, Infiniti's land yacht gets a new letter-number designation — previously it was the QX56 — under the brand's "renaming" of its lineup. What ever happened to actual names?

    Appearance: The QX80 looks somewhat ungainly, with its high belt line and its not-quite-seamless mix of angles and curves. It's an odd look, especially in profile. Lyra likens it to a Beluga whale — albeit one that rolls on 22-inch alloy wheels and has a large chrome-trimmed grille and low-set headlights....

    The well-cushioned third-row seats sit low. There’s better legroom compared to other SUVs, but it’s still best suited for shorter passengers.
  8. The Daily Drivers: 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

    Autos

    The Mazda MX-5 Miata marks 25 years as one of the auto world's most popular and affordable roadsters. Last month, Mazda showed off the all-new fourth generation Miata, which is due out next year as a 2016 model. Currently, there is a 2015 Miata, which includes a 25th Anniversary Edition, but we drove the similar 2014.

    Appearance: The Miata still has the gaping smile that was the signature look for Mazda for a few misguided years. Thankfully, it's gone in the next generation. But as Lyra says: "In other Mazda cars, the smile was annoying. But with the Miata, it's endearing." The design is still from the less-is-more school: a rounded body with only fender flares and a few character lines to provide visual interest. If it's drama you want, you'll have to wait for the 2016 Miata. Our tester had the convertible hardtop, which gives the car a sleek profile. ...

    Grand Touring trim came with 17-inch alloy wheels.
  9. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Acura TLX 2.4L Tech has family's features

    Working Life

    Appearance: The overall look seems more like a refinement than a clean-sheet design. The first things that stand out are the Jewel Eye LED headlights. Each has the five gemlike bulbs that first appeared on the 2014 RL, and are now being incorporated into Acura's other models. The slender headlights are brighter than halogen lamps. Acura's chevron grille now seems less pronounced, with a muted brushed-aluminum panel. The body has attractive character lines, but the look is more generic than distinctive, which has been one of Acura's challenges. We hope the upcoming NSX sports car influences the rest of the company's models much like the LFA's design cues filtered into the Lexus lineup....

    You can program shortcuts not only for the radio, but for navigation, phone and even climate settings.
  10. The Daily Drivers: 2014 Land Rover LR4 a stylish way to roam

    Autos

    For 2014, Land Rover's venerable LR4 gets a slightly more fuel efficient engine, cosmetic tweaks and a new four-wheel-drive system. What hasn't changed is the midsize SUV's ability to carry seven passengers and do so off the beaten path if necessary.

    Appearance: Recognizably Land Rover. It's tall and boxy, but with some new features for 2014, such as the grille, bumper and lights. Our tester's two-bar grille was part of the Black Design Package ($3,500), which also included 20-inch black five-spoke wheels. It's a sharp look that helps to mitigate the somewhat blocky shape. The headlamps include distinctive LED daytime running lights — a circle plus a U. Book-ending the signature asymmetrical rear window are dual round LED tail lights that also stand out. Overall, our tester had an aftermarket look....

    The window of the rear hatch opens upward, while the lower tail gate opens down. With the third-row seats up, there’s hardly any room for storage.
  11. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Kia K900 sedan

    Autos

    Talk about a departure: Kia, the Korean automaker perhaps best known in the U.S. market for its funky little Soul crossover or the more mainstream Optima family sedan, has just introduced a full-size, rear-wheel-drive luxury car. Even more surprising: Other than a name that seems lifted from a TV infomercial, the 2015 K900 delivers.

    Appearance: This is new territory for Kia, so the automaker can be forgiven if it looked at the full-size luxury competition and appropriated some styling cues: The long, creased hood, the sleek body with a high belt line and the wind tunnel-designed roof would not look out of place on a Jaguar. Elsewhere, touches such as integrated dual-chrome exhaust tips, integrated turn signals in the side mirrors and 19-inch wheels add some tasteful bling. Even Kia's signature "tiger nose" grille is more subtle, with an intricate wavelike mesh pattern. The headlights feature two quad LEDs that swivel to adapt to speed and driving direction. The only design misstep: a distracting and nonfunctional fender-top "vent."...

    2015 Kia K900
  12. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV 4WD Premium

    Autos

    If the Cadillac Escalade, once the favorite of celebrities, briefly lost its cachet, then the redesigned 2015 model should put it back on the A-list. This upscale cousin to the full-size SUVs of Chevy and GMC can even seem like a bargain when compared to its brethren. (Our tester — the extended wheelbase model — had a sticker price of $90,985, while the regular wheelbase Chevy Tahoe we drove recently was more than $71,000.)...

    The shifter is column-mounted, which allows more storage space in the center console.
  13. The Daily Drivers: a look at some family haulers

    Autos

    2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Autobiography

    $63,525 base start, $103,435 as tested

    We drove the all-new 2014 Ranger Rover Sport HSE last year and were impressed with its look, ride and interior quality. Its V-6 engine was spirited, but we wanted a bit more power. Along comes the Range Rover Sport Autobiography with a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8, paired with a smooth 8-speed automatic. With 510 horsepower and 625 pound-feet of torque, the SUV was robust and sure-footed on the highway, even on a recent drive through chaotic South Florida traffic. The four-wheel drive and the stability-control system kept the car under control, even in heavy summer downpours. The Rover sits high, so, without a running board, it was difficult for Lyra to get in and out. ...

     Photo by Lyra Solochek, Tampa Bay Times
  14. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Hyundai Sonata

    Autos

    When Hyundai came out with the sixth-generation Sonata, it was a wakeup call for midsize sedans and other manufacturers' mundane styling. With its "Fluidic Sculpture" design, the Sonata dared to be different. Now for the new generation Sonata, Hyundai — for better or for worse — has reined in those sculptural flourishes.

    Appearance: Overall, the 2015 Sonata is longer and wider. In fact, it's now classified as a large sedan. Lyra sees the new design as a natural progression to a more mature look. Peter thinks it now looks like most of its competitors — generic. Still, he will admit that the sloping, coupelike roofline, especially with our tester's panoramic sunroof, is a winning design. But he doesn't care for the wider, more stately grille that now wears its Hyundai badge on an unattractive black insert. Some nicer touches on our Limited tester: an integrated spoiler on the rear decklid, dual chrome exhaust tips and LED running lights and taillights....

    2015 Hyundai Sonata
  15. The Daily Drivers: 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport sedan, convertible different animals

    Autos

    When we drove the redesigned Lexus IS 250 last year, we were impressed with the new look, but were left wanting a bit more power under the hood. The IS 350 F Sport, with more power, may be our answer. We drove the sedan, which carries hints of Lexus' future, as well as the convertible, which seems stuck in the past.

    Appearance: It's a tale of two generations. The sedan's makeover is dominated by the distinctive hourglass-shaped grille, which gives the car a menacing look. The new sheet metal includes sculpted character lines that sweep up from the bottom of the car and blend into the rear body panels. These lines define the sweep of the body. Lyra is troubled by the taillights; she imagines the designer falling asleep with pencil in hand and his lines trailing off the drawing board. The F Sport package adds 18-inch five-spoke graphite alloy wheels and dual chrome exhaust. It's a sharp-looking sedan. The same can't be said for the convertible, which carries on the previous generation's no-drama design. The rear can look somewhat out of proportion because it has to accommodate the hardtop roof. Otherwise, the convertible has an attractive, coupelike profile when the top is raised. (Lyra thinks the trunk lid, which spans the width of the convertible, is extremely heavy. And there's no power lift gate.)...

    IS 350 sedan: The instrument gauges, borrowed from the LFA super car, are futuristic. The TFT display shows gauges that expand, retract and slide sideways.