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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

  1. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Honda Civic Touring


    The previous generation Honda Civic, which seemed tired (design) and uninspired (cabin materials), stalled its reputation as the class leader among compact cars. Now comes the all-new 2016 Civic, which we drove the same week it was named the North American Car of the Year. Does it deserve such praise? We think so.

    Appearance: Peter owns a 2010 Civic and this new model makes his look pedestrian. In our top-of-the-line Touring model, the grille has a dominant chrome bar that extends over the slender LED headlights that resemble the Jewel Eye lamps of Honda's upscale Acura brand. The body of this new Civic — about 3 inches longer and 2 inches wider — makes a further bold statement with its fender bulges, sharply creased sheet metal and short, coupelike rear. Setting it off: 17-inch twisted fan-blade alloys. Dare we say it: The Civic is now edgy. ...

    The Civic’s trunk can carry 14.7 cubic feet of cargo.
  2. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Hyundai Tucson Limited AWD


    Hyundai has redesigned its compact crossover for the 2016 model, making the third-generation Tucson bigger and bolder. The question is, of course, is it better?

    Appearance: Hyundai is going for a more sophisticated, rather than sporty, bearing for its "Fluidic Scupture 2.0" design ethos. That said, the 2016 Tucson now follows the look of its larger Hyundai siblings, the two Santa Fe models. It has a larger and chrome-trimmed hexagonal grille flanked by projector-beam (or optional LED) head lamps. We both like how the sheet metal is sculpted and sweeps back across the body. Other touches that add flair: 19-inch alloy wheels, low-profile roof rails, LED taillights that sit high for good visibility, a hatch top spoiler and twin chrome exhaust tips. Overall, Peter thinks the new look is handsome, if drawing a bit from its competition....

     Adults can fit comfortably in the rear seats.
  3. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Lexus IS 200t


    We've always enjoyed Lexus' small sedan, formerly known as the IS 250. For us, it's been one of those "just enough" cars aimed at the buyer who wanted something upscale, sporty and stylish in "just enough" doses. For 2016, Lexus has redesigned its entry-level car, renaming it the IS 200t. That little "t" is for turbo. It's the engine from the NX200t crossover that we liked so much when it was first introduced....

    The screen is set deep into the dash and is controlled by a mouselike interface. The AC and media controls sit at an angle.
  4. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Chevrolet Volt


    We've been fans of the Chevy Volt ever since getting behind the wheel of a first-generation model at a test-drive event in 2010. We've driven the Volt a few more times over the years and that has only reinforced our opinion of the car as a great way for commuters to go (mostly) electric without "range anxiety." Still, we've always wished for greater electric-only range. Now comes the redesigned and improved 2016 Volt. ...

     There’s a cellphone slot under the armrest, but it’s too narrow for a big phone if it’s in a case. Nice try, though.
  5. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Toyota Tacoma


    The Toyota Tacoma has long been the king of the midsize segment, especially after the domestic carmakers decided to take a break. Now that they're back, the competition is stiffer than ever. So the Tacoma has been redesigned for 2016 with a more contemporary look and updated powertrain.

    Appearance: The new design is bold — more along the lines of its big brother, the Tundra — with muscular fenders, an aggressive chrome-trimmed trapezoidal grille and a stamped, locking tailgate. One nice feature across the Tacoma line: a high ground clearance of 9.4 inches. Our tester, the Limited trim, was the double-cab model with a short bed. It came with details such as chrome-capped exterior mirrors, a bed with a composite surface, locking trifold tonneau cover and 18-inch polished alloy wheels....

    Our tester came with 18-inch alloy wheels.
  6. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Audi Q3


    For 2016, Audi has refreshed its small Q3 for the highly competitive U.S. crossover market. The Q3 gets a restyled front end and a few more standard features to what is, under the skin, a Volkswagen Tiguan.

    Appearance: The big change up front is a bolder version of Audi's single-frame grille. It now connects to the new headlights, which in our Premium Plus tester were Xenon-plus lamps with LED running lights. (Full LED units are optional.) In the rear, the taillights also have been restyled. Our tester also came in an Monsoon Gray Metallic, a limousine-like hue that is a $575 upgrade. Our Q3 rode on 18-inch wheels; an upgrade to sharper 19-inch wheels can be had for $800. Overall, the Q3 is a handsome small crossover whose slightly stubby profile is camouflaged by its sharp body creases and details such as a spoiler atop the tapered rear hatch....

    A large panoramic sunroof brightens the cabin.
  7. The Daily Drivers: Take a look back at 2015


    When looking back at the cars we drove in 2015, one thing stood out: There wasn't a lot that wowed us. That has less to do with the quality of vehicles and more to do with simple luck of the draw. The cars we test-drive come from the automakers and are maintained and delivered by independent fleet companies. We're often asked: "Why haven't you driven Model X?" Well, we drive what's sent to us. Many vehicles never trickle down to the press fleets and then to us. (Hello, new Mustang?) With that bit of explanation out of the way, here are our favorite rides of the past year....

     2016 Mazda6
  8. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop


    It has been some time since we've driven a Mini Cooper, a car we've always liked for its quirky brand of auto nostalgia combined with modern touches and go-kart performance. Lyra was once a proud Mini owner (2002).

    Appearance: Not much has changed in the overall design, which harkens back to the iconic Mini of the 1960s. (If it ain't broke . . .) Our tester was the John Cooper Works performance model that has a standard full-body aero kit, which includes a chrome-trimmed black-mesh grille, functional hood air scoop and centered dual exhaust. Our tester came in Bright Chili Red with black "bonnet" stripes. Some might think the combination tame considering that Mini offers so many customization options. Our tester came with the optional 18-inch JCW Cup Spoke two-tone wheels....

    Infotainment controls sit low between the front seats.
  9. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe and Convertible


    People often ask: Of all the cars you've driven, which one is the most fun? Jaguar's F-Type R would definitely be near the top of our list — both for its design and overall sensory excitement. We are especially enamored of the coupe, which we think is one of the most stylish cars on the road. Even better: For 2016, a manual transmission and all-wheel drive are now available on some models....

    The convertible came with 20-inch Gyrodyne Alloy Wheels.
  10. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Scion iM


    Scion is Toyota's brand aimed at the youth market, which makes us wonder if that's why we've only had the opportunity to drive a couple of the quirky car line's models. We haven't been overly impressed with what we've seen so far, but that has changed now that we've driven the all-new iM five-door hatchback.

    Appearance: The iM resembles one of parent Toyota's models, which makes sense because it shares an underbody with the Corolla. The iM's sleek look — low-angled hood, aero kit and honeycombed grille work — says hot hatch. We especially like its aggressive face; the slender grille and narrow headlights squint out and up from the center Scion badge. We also liked the standard 17-inch alloy wheels that looked to be in motion when the car was parked. The rear of the iM looks wide, partly because of its wraparound sculpted taillights....

    The 17-inch alloy wheels have a design that evokes a sense of motion even when parked.
  11. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider


    Now that Alfa Romeo has returned to America as part of parent Fiat Chrysler's lofty ambitions, the first offering is the mid engine 4C and 4C Spider sports car. Lyra got to experience the Italian two-seater recently while Peter's turn with it was derailed by a flat tire and the search for a replacement.

    Appearance: There's no question the sexy 4C is a head-turner. The curvaceous body's high rear shoulders incorporate air scoops and give the car the look of a smaller-scale exotic. (It's only 157 inches long.) In the front, the rounded, creased hood drops down to small V-shaped grille opening that carries the Alfa badge. In the rear, round taillights recall corporate cousin Ferrari. Such styling draws attention and made Lyra the recipient of at least one stoplight challenge from a Viper driver. (She passed: 4 cylinders versus the Viper's 10? Not a fair contest.)...

    Alpine stereo allows the basics, including connecting via Bluetooth, but the interface can be cumbersome. The AC controls are dials, with an old-fashioned lever for opening the vents.
  12. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Audi Q7 TDI


    Audi is part of the Volkswagen Group, which is currently embroiled in an emissions-cheating scandal over its diesel-­powered cars. VW recently issued a stop-sale order for several of its diesel vehicles, including the 2015 Audi Q7 TDI that we drove recently. Hopefully, this will be sorted out soon. In the meantime, here are our thoughts on the full-size luxury crossover.

    Appearance: The Q7, first introduced in 2005, is winding down its first-generation life. (The second generation is due out soon.) The Q7 has a stately look that is beginning to feel a bit dated — we can't wait to see the redesign. Our tester, the Premium Plus trim, had the optional Offroad Style Plus package (which seems mostly for cosmetic purposes at $3,200) that includes matte-black roof rails, more-rugged fender flares, front and rear stainless steel skid plates and 20-inch Audi Sport wheels with titanium finish. It's a custom look, especially with the Daytona Gray Pearl Effect paint. ...

    Access to the third row may be difficult for adults.
  13. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Subaru WRX STI Limited


    The Subaru WRX STI has always been among our favorites with its rally-inspired ride and raw power. The 2016 model brings a few tweaks, mostly inside, which makes this car even more desirable for gearheads.

    Appearance: The WRX, no matter the model, is a compact sedan whose styling is driven by its performance trim. For example: We were both glad that it also came with the low-profile trunk-lip spoiler. An option for STI Limited buyers is the tall wing spoiler that borders on ridiculous. (Of course, that's just us. The Fast and Furious set, no doubt, will love the oversized down force-reducing wing.) Elsewhere, the car's functional hood scoop, front wheel vents, dual twin-exhaust tips and 18-inch BBS aluminum wheels tell us this isn't your average commuter compact. To further emphasize that point, our tester came in a distinctive WR Blue Pearl paint....

     The color red splashes the black interior: in the gauges, dial control, shift know and stitching.
  14. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Porsche Cayenne S


    Though this would once would have been considered automotive heresy, the Cayenne has proved to be a bestseller for Porsche — even with a popular new SUV sibling, the smaller Macan, nipping at its heels. Now far along in its second generation, the Cayenne may be getting older, but it's also getting better.

    Appearance: The Cayenne was redesigned in 2011 and it hasn't changed much since. Still, the 2015 crossover gets revisions — refinements, really — that include the hood, front fenders and headlights. In our model-S tester, this was evident in a blacked-out grille and modified air scoops. The BiXenon headlights now have integrated daytime running lights with four LED spotlights per unit. Our tester also featured optional 20-inch RS Spyder double-spoke alloy wheels, two dual-exhaust tips and a hatch-top spoiler. Overall, the Cayenne manages to have a classic Porsche look without trying to push the envelope of SUV design....

     Angular bars are at ergonomic angles, making it easy to use when getting in or out.
  15. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG


    Mercedes-Benz purists must shake their heads when they see the GLA 45: Is this M-B pandering to younger drivers? Is the GLA 45 a crossover? An SUV? Or in the case of this AMG version, a hot hatch? The answers are yes, yes and yes. We're not M-B purists, so we say: Pander all you want, M-B.

    Appearance: Mercedes would be happy to hear that the GLA 45 AMG got a lot of admiring glances from millennials while we had it. Maybe it's because this SUV (Mercedes' words) is really a hot hatchback in luxury clothing. We're not surprised our car drew looks; it's a swept-back collection of sharp creases with a long hood, sculpted body panels and a truncated rear end that is crowned with a rear wing that makes it look like a custom tuner from The Fast and the Furious. Up front, the car sports a more minimalist grille, with the Mercedes emblem set in the AMG cross-wing. Our tester had the optional AMG Aerodynamic Package combined with the Night Styling Package, which includes a large gloss-black front splitter and the rear-hatch spoiler. Our tester had 20-inch AMG 10-spoke alloy wheels painted black with bright red brake calipers. That combination looked great when contrasted with the Cirrus White paint....

    Rear leg room is minimal if the front seats are pushed all the way back.