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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: 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....

    Carbon fiber trim and brushed metal accents glimmer in the sunlight. [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  2. 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 no-frills analog gauges glow a sporty red. [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  3. 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]
  4. 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)....

    The leather driver’s seat had good bolstering and back support. No back aches even after a long drive. 2017 Audi A4 sedan. [LYRA SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
  5. 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....

  6. 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. ...

    LYRA SOLOCHEK   |   Times
  7. 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?...

    [LYRA SOLOCHEK   |   Times]
  8. 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....

    The dash has an asymmetrical, driver-centric layout.
  9. 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. ...

    With all the buttons, controls and gauges, the driver’s seat looks like the cockpit of a plane. [LYRA SOLOCHEK   |   Times]
  10. 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. ...

    The backlit gauges have blue indicators and a small information screen in the middle.
  11. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Infiniti QX30 Sport

    Autos

    When is a crossover not a hatchback? When is an Infiniti not a Mercedes? Welcome to the conundrum that is the brand-new Infiniti QX30. Parent company, Nissan, calls it a "premium active crossover" for a "new breed of driver." Obviously, that driver is one who wouldn't deign to be seen behind the wheel of a hatchback. And what of Mercedes? The QX30 has the same DNA as the GLA — the result of a joint venture between Mercedes and Nissan. Our QX30 was the Sport. Other models include base, Luxury and Premium....

     The LED taillights mimic the design of the headlights.
  12. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Mazda3 Grand Touring

    Autos

    For those who view compact sedans as the most efficient way to move four people from Point A to Point B, let's consider the Mazda3. The 3, which comes in four- and five-door (hatchback) models, makes the journey between those points more fun than you would expect from a small sedan, especially when outfitted with Mazda's slick manual transmission.

    Appearance: The 3 wears Mazda's design philosophy well for a small sedan. The lines flow from its longish hood and over the fenders before swooping down through the door, giving the car the illusion of motion. Only when you get to the rear, which seems somewhat truncated, is the elegant look interrupted. Our 3 came in Blue Reflex Mica paint, which Lyra described as a "bright and cheerful" color. A rear deck-top lip and 16-inch alloy wheels provide finishing touches....

    The faux carbon fiber trim in the cabin looks sporty.
  13. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT

    Autos

    We've driven the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT a few times since its current generation rolled out in 2011 and have always enjoyed Chrysler's "ultimate performance" luxury SUV for its sheer HEMI audacity.

    Appearance: As you might expect from the SRT division, it's aggressive, with a wide stance that signals this is not your ordinary SUV. The Jeep's signature seven-slot grille gets a black screen insert, which is now flanked by more slender bi-xenon headlamps that also feature black backgrounds. Standard five-spoke wheels are sharp 20-inchers; ours were Black Chrome. The raised hood has two functional exhausters sculpted into it to help feed air to the big HEMI lurking underneath....

    The SRT pages include track and new valet settings.
  14. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature

    Autos

    With Lyra on vacation, I recently had the all-new CX-9, Mazda's three-row crossover, all to myself for a rainy week that went by all too fast. Mazda may not have invented the crossover, but it has done something close to reinventing it with the CX-9.

    Appearance: Mazda completely redesigned the CX-9 for its second generation, giving the seven-seater a sleek look that is more like a car than SUV, which is appropriate since it shares its platform with the Mazda6 midsize sedan. The low stance, wide wheelbase and long hood give it a sport wagon appearance while incorporating Mazda's KODO, or "soul of motion," aesthetic. (That's design-speak, I think, for making cars appear to be moving even while standing still. Or simpler yet: not boring.) Especially in the crossover's upper trims, like the signature model I drove, Mazda makes judicious use of chrome trim to highlight the tasteful curves of the CX-9, whose boldest design feature is the large grille that — especially in profile — protrudes from the long hood. It's a look some may find ungainly, but I found distinctive. My CX-9 came in Mazda's new signature hue — Machine Gray, which is a $300 upgrade — and was set off by 20-inch alloy wheels....

    The chrome trim is repeated on the dash, console controls and, here, on the door panels.
  15. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Ultimate

    Autos

    Appearance: The Santa Fe Sport is a handsome SUV that doesn't take any design detours — call it buttoned-down style. The refresh gives it a new three-louvered grille with a large Hyundai badge and wraparound headlights. We especially like the bold character lines that flare at the top of the quarter panels and extend over the wraparound taillights. Our Sport came in Hyundai's new Nightfall Blue and was set off by 19-inch wheels whose smoky finish would probably look better with a lighter paint color. So here's our quandary: As much as we like the looks of the Santa Fe Sport, it leaves us with the impression that Hyundai's recent redesigns are tending toward the generic (hello, Sonata, Elantra). You could be forgiven, for example, if in a crowded parking lot, you mistook the Santa Fe Sport for another brand....

    Photo by Lyra Solochek, Tampa Bay Times