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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: Smart Fortwo

    Autos

    Peter drove the Smart Fortwo when it was first introduced in the U.S. market in 2009. At the time, he was impressed with the tiny car's interior roominess, dismayed by its rough-shifting transmission and wary of its potential price.

    Fast-forward almost a decade, and the car — now in its second-generation here — hasn't changed much. You still get quirky styling — both interior and exterior — surprising headroom, a rough idle and parking-space supremacy. The transmission, thankfully, has been improved. What commuters don't get is a vehicle that's comfortable on longer drives, gets fuel mileage (36 mpg on premium gas), or inspires a lot of driver confidence. ...

    Two cupholders sit on the lower console.  [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  2. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus

    Autos

    We've driven the first-generation Audi R8 several times over the years and have always loved its blend of luxury and super-car performance. Quite simply, the R8 is one of our dream cars. There was no 2016 model, so we were eager to experience the second-generation R8 that debuted for 2017 and in a version — the higher-performance V10 Plus — that we had not driven.

    The V10 Plus ups the regular R8's horsepower by 70 to 610 and throws in other go-fast features that include carbon-ceramic brakes, an even sportier suspension and a fixed rear spoiler. There's even an extra "Performance" selectable drive mode....

    A bright red start button is on the steering wheel.  [LYRA SOLOCHEK | Times]
  3. The Daily Drivers Update: 2017 Honda Civic Touring sedan

    Autos

    After last year's redesign, Honda keeps expanding the Civic family for 2017. There's now a hatchback, for example, joining the coupe and sedan, and we can't wait to drive the sporty Si and high-performance Civic Type R models.

    As for the regular coupe we drove, Honda still strives for a sporty look and driving experience through its four trim levels. There are two engines — including the 1.5-liter, 174-horsepower turbo we drove in the top Touring trim. It's excellent, with stout acceleration and no turbo lag. The two bottom trims have a traditional 2.0-liter 158 horsepower inline four-cylinder. The base LX has a 6-speed manual gearbox while the rest of the line gets a CVT. ...

    2017 Honda Civic Touring sedan with CVT  [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  4. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Corolla iM

    Autos

    Have you already forgotten Scion, the youth-oriented brand that was axed last year? Well, some of its models live on, rebadged for 2017 as Toyotas by the parent company. One of those models, the iM hatchback, is now the Corolla iM. We liked it as a stylish entry-level car with a fun-to-drive feel, and that hasn't changed much despite the new badging. The Corolla iM is offered in only one trim level, but it is a fairly well-equipped one that includes alloy wheels, rearview camera, front collision warning and a console touchscreen on the stylish dash. Of the few options offered, we'd recommend the Charge Package that includes two USB connections ($189). The iM has a 138-horsepower, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder that is adequate in daily city driving but you may find lacking in get-up-and-go, especially on highway merges and passing. Choosing the manual transmission over the available CVT helps the acceleration somewhat and is our preference. If you are looking to further stand out? Try the Spring Green Metallic paint....

    2017 Toyota Corolla iM profile.  [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  5. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Toyota Prius Four

    Autos

    It's always interesting to see automotive trends evolve. Take hybrid-car design. When the first Honda Insight and later the Toyota Prius debuted, they featured designs that hinted vaguely at futurism and carried a look-at-me-I'm-different aesthetic that seemed to be the automotive version of the running shoes with individual toes.

    Fast forward several years and most hybrids have been assimilated into already existing models or their looks have been toned down. Then there's the Toyota Prius, which if not doubling down on those "I'm-different" hybrid roots, is not abandoning it. We drove a 2016 Prius Four in Sea Glass Pearl and it carries over to the new model year. The Four is the second-from-the-top trim of the Prius models. This fuel sipper gets you 54 miles per gallon in the city, 50 on the highway. ...

    2016 Toyota Prius Four [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  6. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG

    Autos

    The Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe is a classic muscle car. Sure it has the luxury Mercedes-Benz heritage and pedigree. The C Class — similar in size to a Mustang or Camaro — has been redesigned for 2017. And like the Ford or Chevy, it shares a large engine, small two-door body and rear-wheel drive.

    Appearance: In this, the C63 doesn't have the sometimes overwrought design of a traditional muscle car. Instead, its lines — the rounded roof, creased fenders and pillarless windows — flow naturally yet connote power. Lyra calls it "breathtakingly beautiful," and the Mercedes-Benz fan who approached her to get a better look also thought so. Our car was helped by its deep Brilliant Blue Metallic paint, a gorgeous hue set off by cross-spoke black wheels with red brake calipers. Up front, the "diamond" grille carries a huge M-B badge, perhaps the most ostentatious thing about the car....

    2017 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  7. The Daily Drivers Update: 2017 Toyota 86

    Autos

    When Toyota ended its youth-oriented Scion division, one of the models it kept was one of our favorites, the minimalist FR-S sports car. It's now called the Toyota 86, which is what it was sold as globally. The car, a joint venture with Subaru that badges it as the BRZ, pairs rear-wheel drive, skinny tires and a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder that makes 205 horsepower when paired — as it should be — with the available six-speed manual transmission which gets 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 highway. (Automatic is also available, with a slightly better mpg of 24/32.) That's all such an intoxicating cocktail that the enthusiast may not mind those modest power numbers or even the equally modest cabin. That's because if you're the type of driver who likes do his or her own shifting, find twisty roads a challenge and even get the rear end loose on occasion, then the 86 is a pure joy. We noticed a slightly more aggressive exterior — a larger air intake, Toyota 86 badging, streamline bumpers and LED head- and taillights. Mechanically, the changes include new shock tuning and spring rate, differential gear ratio change, and engine tuning that bumps up the torque and horsepower. Peter thought the gear-shift action to be slightly stiffer. Lyra thought the car drove a bit stiffer. All that really matters is the fun is still there, as is the enthusiast-on-a-budget price point of less than $30,000....

    The center console holds a 7-inch touchscreen. The AC controls are simple dials and buttons. [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  8. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG

    Autos

    The Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe is a classic muscle car. Sure it has the luxury Mercedes-Benz heritage and pedigree. The C Class — similar in size to a Mustang or Camaro — has been redesigned for 2017. And like the Ford or Chevy, it shares a large engine, small two-door body and rear-wheel drive.

    Appearance: In this, the C63 doesn't have the sometimes overwrought design of a traditional muscle car. Instead, its lines — the rounded roof, creased fenders and pillarless windows — flow naturally yet connote power. Lyra calls it "breathtakingly beautiful," and the Mercedes-Benz fan who approached her to get a better look also thought so. Our car was helped by its deep Brilliant Blue Metallic paint, a gorgeous hue set off by cross-spoke black wheels with red brake calipers. Up front, the "diamond" grille carries a huge M-B badge, perhaps the most ostentatious thing about the car....

    [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  9. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Audi A4 sedan

    Autos

    We really liked the Audi A4 and here's why: It's a car that satisfies our appreciation of an everyday sedan that packs luxury (but not too much), performance (but not too much) and a premium price tag (but not too much). Simply put, the redesigned-for-2017 A4 is what we think a small luxury sedan should be.

    Appearance: The A4 is handsome and well-proportioned for a small-to-midsize sedan. It's a well-designed car — all the creases are in the right place — that doesn't scream "look at me." (Think evolution from the previous model, not revolution.) The only showy features are the distinctive design of the xenon/LED headlights and the optional 10-spoke Dynamic-design 18-inch wheels ($800)....

    2016 Audi A4 sedan  [LYRA SOLOCHEK | Times]
  10. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Kia Forte S

    Autos

    They don't make compact cars like they used to, and that's a good thing. No longer simply no-frills transportation, today's compacts often flash the same style and technology as their larger siblings. Case in point: the Kia Forte sedan. (There also are two other Forte models: The Forte5 hatchback and the Koup.)

    Appearance: The overall design has been refreshed for 2017 and the Forte now resembles its bigger sibling, the midsize Optima, with a angled beltline and a sloping roof that extends into the rear deck and gives it a coupe-like profile. Other changes include a new front fascia highlighted by large gloss black grille and stern-looking headlights that sweep up and back into the fenders. A curved character line extends across the bottom of both doors, echoing the arc of the roofline. Overall, the look is more elegant than aggressive, and not as showy as some cars in this class....

    The instrument panel is simple, with white-on-black gauges and a small readout in the middle.   [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  11. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Jaguar XE 35t AWD Prestige

    Autos

    Jaguar jumps back into the compact luxury segment for 2017 with the XE sports sedan, which the company launched this spring and touted as an "aluminum-intensive drivers car." Jag has been on a roll as of late with its sleek F-Type sports car and new F-Pace SUV, so how does the XE stack up?

    Appearance: The model we drove was the XE 35t AWD Prestige. From its sloping and sculpted hood to the subtle touches that recall the F-Type, the XE may be a compact car, but it's neither small nor boring. Our XE came in Ammonite Gray, which gave it a menacing look set off by 19-inch Venom 5 twin-spoke black wheels and a gloss-black mesh grille highlighted by a red Jaguar badge. The XE also has Jag's signature J-Blade daytime running lights, while the tail lights have a hint of the rear lamps on the F-Type. A minor complaint: The dual exhaust tips lack integrated finishers; chrome tips would have been nice to enhance the sporty look. ...

    The large tail lights wrap around the back. [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  12. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Audi R8 Coupe

    Autos

    We often get asked a variation on this question: If you won the lottery, what car would you buy? For Peter, the answer is easy: Audi's R8. Lyra wouldn't mind one either. With a starting price of $162,900, we'd need that winning ticket to afford the supercar. (Still, the R8 is a bargain compared with its corporate cousin, the Lamborghini Huracán, which starts at $237K.) So why all the R8 love?...

    The rear borrows designs from the front with angular tail lights with black-out trim underneath. [LYRA SOLOCHEK   |   Times]
  13. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Honda Civic Coupe Touring

    Autos

    You have to applaud Honda: The carmaker still believes that some drivers prefer two doors to four — hence the coupe versions of the popular Accord and compact Civic. Following its redesigned sedan, Honda rolled out a new coupe for 2016 with an edgier design, bolder face and an available turbo 4.

    Appearance: Our Civic Coupe Touring's design was overshadowed by its color — Energy Green Pearl, which looks and sounds like a new Mountain Dew flavor. (Someone asked if it was a performance model based on its color. No, it just looks loud.) Once you get past the Day-Glo paint, the Civic Coupe features an aggressive and chrome-heavy grille that extends between and over slender, jewellike headlights. Sharp creases sculpted the hood and run the length of the body, swooping up over the rear wheels. Those wheels are pushed out to the corners with minimal overhang, resulting in a wider stance. In the rear, the LED taillights extend across the deck-lid spoiler in what Peter called a "futuristic, Honda Insight (RIP) style." It's an attention-getter, especially at night. The two doors open wide and make entrance easy, even for backseat passengers. The 17-inch alloy wheels are sharp....

     [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  14. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet

    Autos

    Is there an enduring automotive design more iconic than the rear-engined Porsche 911 Carrera? You don't have to be an auto enthusiast to recognize the distinctive shape and know: "That's a Porsche." For 2017, the 911 — across its dozen-and-a-half models — is sleeker, more powerful and yet more efficient.

    Appearance: Our 911 Carrera S Cabriolet (convertible) was the embodiment of elegance and sportiness in crisp white with a bright red drop-top and 20-inch Carrera alloy wheels with red brake calipers. Even Peter's wife conceded: "That's a beautiful car." The soft top, which folds flat and out of the way, preserves the car's iconic profile. Elsewhere, the car gets slight cosmetic updates front and rear — headlights, grille, taillights, vents. ...

    The rear grille now has vertical slats.
  15. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Volkswagen Golf R

    Autos

    Lyra almost bought a Volkswagen GTI a few years ago — black with a sunroof. The combination of sporty performance and versatility of a four-door hatchback was a big draw, but she ended up with an SUV instead. If VW only had the Golf R back then, her choice would have been much different.

    Appearance: Nothing screams performance when you see the Golf R. It shares characteristics of the regular and somewhat boxy hatchback Golf. But if you look closely, you'll notice the subtle "R" badge, sporty exterior trim, quad exhaust tips in chrome, rear spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels that set it apart. The Lapiz Blue Metallic paint is a classy hue. Seems Volkswagen decided less is more, and it works. ...

     Blue ambient lighting adds to the interior trim.