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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


Blog: Gadgets and Gizmos

  1. The Daily Drivers: a second look at Highlander Hybrid, Toyota Tundra


    2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

    The Highlander was redesigned for 2014, making the reliable family hauler look sharper than ever. We recently drove the hybrid model, which gets an estimated MPG of 27 city and 28 highway. That's not bad for a large SUV that can haul seven passengers. But as with many hybrids, the bottom line is price. In the case of the Highlander, the hybrid — there's only one model and it's the top Limited trim — is pushing $50,000. Compare that with the nonhybrid base model that sells for less than $30,000. The Highlander has shed its boxy past and now looks more athletic despite its minivan proportions. It now carries the distinctive gaping grille of other Toyota models and has handsome accents that include bright 19-inch Chromtec alloy wheels. ...

    A gadgets tray under the display extends from the center console to the end of the dash on the passenger side.
  2. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Audi RS 5 Cabriolet


    We recently drove Audi's RS 5 Cabriolet, which shares the somewhat conservative looks of the model its based on, the A5 coupe. But don't let the looks fool you. This is no top-down luxury cruiser. For all intents and purposes, the RS 5 is a German muscle car.

    Appearance: The RS 5 does get some slight exterior tweaks from its A5 and S5 siblings that include the front end and fascia, as well as a "wide-body design." The RS also has a single-frame grille with honeycomb mesh insert. Large air intakes with horizontal slats sit beneath the grille, which also is flanked by adaptive xenon-plus headlights with LED daytime running lights. In the rear, it sports LED taillights, RS oval exhaust outlets and a spoiler lip on the trunk lid. When the top is down, it tucks behind the rear seats. Our tester's Daytona Gray Pearl paint was set off by optional five-arm rotor-design wheels (titanium finish) that show this car means business. Peeking out from those 20-inch wheels: bright-red brake calipers....

    The large, gaping mesh grille and the sleek headlights give the car a menacing look.
  3. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Volkswagen Eos Final Edition


    We finally got to drive the Volkswagen Eos, just in time to see it go away. The car that's named after the Greek goddess of Dawn is driving off into the sunset. VW is stopping production this year, partly because of lagging sales. Our tester was the aptly named Final Edition.

    Appearance: There's certainly nothing striking about the Eos, which looks similar to the VW Jetta. The highlight is the convertible hard top, which features a unique built-in retractable sunroof. With the top down, it's an attractive droptop with a clean rear look. (The top folds flat into the trunk.) The Final Edition trim brings bi-xenon headlights with adaptive front lighting, LED running lights and 18-inch alloy wheels. Our tester had the elegant and bronzelike Black Oak Brown Metallic exterior paint. ...

    There’s not much legroom for rear passengers.
  4. The Daily Drivers: Jaguar F-Type R Coupe is one cool cat


    Jaguar rolled out a coupe version of its F-Type — the spiritual successor to the iconic E-type — last year, following the introduction of the roadster version. The result is an even more striking car, especially in the performance F-Type R that we drove.

    Appearance: Classic proportions. The coupe's long hood flows into an arching roofline. The short rear haunches are wide and muscular. Up front, the appearance is equally aggressive; even the headlamps, which have Jaguar's "J-Blade" LED running lights, look predatory as they flank the clamshell hood. From the rear, there are design nods to the E-Type: a liftback hatch and quad tailpipes. A retractable spoiler lifts out at higher speeds. Our F-Type rode on 20-inch double-spoke alloy wheels. The red brake calipers were a sharp contrast against our tester's Polaris White finish, which shone nicely under the sun. Overall, the coupe's look seems to mimic Jaguar's "Leaper" logo; this car is ready to pounce....

    When the A/C is off, the dash is flat.
  5. The Daily Drivers Updates: 2016 Kia Sorento SXL V-6 AWD and 2015 Lexus LS460 F Sport


    2016 Kia Sorento SXL V-6 AWD

    Price: base, $24,900, as tested, $46,695

    For 2016, Kia has redesigned the Sorento, giving the midsize SUV a sleeker and more chiseled look while extending its wheelbase. Our tester was the top-of-the-line SXL model. One telling new detail that's symbolic of this new upscale Sorento: The integrated foglights are now jewellike LEDs like those seen in some high-end cars. Our tester had the optional Soft White Premium Pearl paint and the 19-inch chrome-finished alloy wheels that made the Sorento's overall appearance even more sophisticated. Inside, the first thing you notice is the luxuriousness of the two-tone cabin. Is this really a Kia? It's spacious, with plenty of amenities in the SXL trim. It's well appointed, with comfortable Nappa leather seats that are heated and ventilated. The driver's seat comes with a 14-way power adjustment. The second row has good legroom with seats — outboard ones can be heated — that slide and fold to allow access to the third row, which is best suited for small passengers. Kia is one of the automakers that seems to get what we need in our electronic-gadget age; besides its excellent UVO infotainment system, there are plenty of plug-in points: two USB, one 110-volt power inverter and four 12-volt outlets. The 8-inch touchscreen has a crisp resolution and can show real-time traffic conditions, which long-commuter Lyra found convenient during Tampa Bay rush hours. There's up to 113 cubic feet of cargo space for your hauling needs, with a Smart Power Liftgate that opens automatically when you're standing nearby with a key fob. Especially in its upper trim lines, this newer Sorento is an impressive blend of luxury, amenities and performance. Under the hood of our tester was the optional 3.0-liter direct-injection V-6, which is standard on the third-row models in the midsize-but-larger SUV. (There are two different 4-cylinder engines available in the lower trims.) The V-6 makes 290 horsepower and is paired with an electronically controlled 6-speed automatic. There are three driving modes: Eco, Sport and Normal. The ride is stable, thanks to the Dynamax full-time AWD, which we found keeps the Sorento planted even on rain-slick roads. Our tester was loaded with safety features that included a rear camera, blind-spot detection, forward-collision system and surround view....

    The jewellike LED foglights are integrated into the front fascia.
  6. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Mercedes-Maybach S600


    Remember the Maybach, that titan of Teutonic luxury? It was so expensive that Jay-Z and Kanye trashed one in an act of conspicuous destruction for a music video. Sales of the Maybach, however, weren't titanic, so parent Mercedes retired the brand a few years ago. Now it's back as a "sub-brand" — the Mercedes-Maybach S600 — with a lower price but higher expectations given that it's now the German automaker's flagship sedan. It goes on sale this month. ...

    The taillights each have three ropes of LEDs that illuminate brightly.
  7. A Daily Drivers SUV update: Mitsubishi, Subaru, Mazda, Infiniti


    2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE $19,595 base, $28,545 as tested

    The compact crossover is now a bit more powerful with the optional 2.4-liter MIVEC 4-cylinder engine that gets 20 more horses than the smaller 2.0. Our tester had the smaller powerplant, but the additional horsepower over the 148 for this car would be welcome. The Outlander Sport is a carryover from last year, still offering a reasonable entry point for SUV shoppers at $19,595 as its base price. It's better on pavement than off-road and best as a city ride. The lack of power is more evident on the highway. The CVT is loud, but it helps to get a decent estimated fuel mileage of 25 city, 32 highway. It handles well for an SUV, but unlike the "Sport" in its name, the ride isn't sporty. The interior has been slightly improved, with one of the most expansive sunroofs and available leather seats, but the quality still lags some of its competition. ...

    Crosstrek: The seats were comfortable with good bolstering.
  8. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE




    We liked Toyota's 2015 model redesign of its popular-but-bland Camry that finally gave the exterior a bold look while further refining the cabin. This time, we trade the V-6 for a hybrid, which makes the midsize sedan even more sensible.

    Appearance: The refresh injected attitude into the Camry with a more aggressive grille and an athletic look. The hybrid's exterior is pretty much the same as the regular Camry. Ours was the SE, the more sporty of the Camry hybrid's three trims (the base is the LE and the top-of-the-line version is the XLE). The black mesh grille gives it a more racy look, as does a deck-lid spoiler and 17-inch alloy wheels with graphite finish. Our tester had sharp Blue Crush Metallic paint....

    In addition to typical ports and outlets, this Camry had a wireless charging pad for compatible smartphones.
  9. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Mazda6 Grand Touring


    Here's a question we're often asked: "What family sedan is your favorite?" For both of us, the answer comes quickly: the Mazda6. We think it's the best-looking midsize car on the market, is engaging to drive and has a well-appointed interior. For 2016, it gets a refresh and is even better.

    Appearance: The 6, all muscular front fenders and creases that accentuate its flowing lines, invites adjectives such as sleek and sinuous — even sexy. That might seem like hyperbole, but in an era of indistinguishable cars, the 6 stands out. For '16, the exterior changes are few but well done: Our Grand Touring tester gets a slightly restyled grille and new LED headlights. In the rear, LED taillights now echo the front lights' menacing look. Our tester rolled on twin-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels....

    Rear passengers will have enough legroom, though taller passengers might want more headroom.
  10. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage ES


    Never have we driven a car that came loaded with so much baggage. Meet the Mitsubishi Mirage, the poster child — some say — for motoring misery. One notable review said a lifetime supply of hiking boots would be a better way to spend your transportation dollars. So what did we think of this subcompact?

    Appearance: The four-door hatchback has a slightly bulbous shape common in subcompacts. The tiny 14-inch wheels are placed at the absolute corners of the car to help with interior room — not much overhang here. The car wears a sort of a frown, as if it's expecting the worst to be said about it again. (Most of the grille opening is under the bumper.) Still, this budget car does have a few adornments: Our ES tester had integrated turn indicators on the mirrors and a hatch-top spoiler with built-in brake lights. In addition to four basic colors (black, white, gray and silver), you can get your Mirage in Infrared (like our tester), Sapphire Blue, Kiwi Green and Plasma Purple, which is more like a fuchsia. There aren't many carmakers that have a bright pink color. If you are going to own this car, you might as well own it....

    The main gauge is trimmed with silver-toned plastic. The small digital readout gives you information, including fuel level, miles to empty and gear.
  11. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Subaru Impreza


    We've driven Subaru's Impreza hatchbacks but had never had the opportunity to drive the sedan model. So we were surprised to find that after a refresh for 2015 that includes both styling and interior tweaks, the Impreza holds its own with the leaders of the small sedan segment.

    Appearance: The front end now includes a larger air intake and a revised grille: Chrome crossbars extend out from the Subaru logo. That line carries into the LED lights in the new headlights and further extends into the L-shaped chrome trim on the fog lights for a more sophisticated appearance. Our tester's 17-inch 15-spoke aluminum alloy wheels stood out. Overall, the Impreza seems more adult (yet handsome) in a category that tends to lean toward either sporty or bland....

    The seats have lots of padding and accent stitching.
  12. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Honda CR-V AWD Touring


    The Honda CR-V has long been one of the top choices among compact crossovers, and the 2015 model brings much-needed R&R: refreshening and refinement. Most importantly, the SUV regains its Top Safety Pick honors from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

    Appearance: The CR-V still carries the same gently rounded profile, but it gets some contemporary, chiseled details. There's a bolder grille, which has attractive chrome accents and slender headlights that sweep upward and are rimmed by classy LED daylight running lights (EX trim and up). It's a huge improvement when compared with last year's bland front end. The 18-inch fan blade-like alloy wheels on our tester looked sharp against the serene Mountain Air Metallic color. Lyra calls the look chic, but Peter wonders if the design — even with its tweaks — is starting to show its age....

    Green bars in the instrument cluster signify efficient driving.
  13. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Kia Soul EV


    We're fans of the conventional Kia Soul, so we were eager to drive the electric Soul. For starters, EVs are not for everyone — especially if you're a long-distance commuter like Lyra. That said, this Soul — Kia's first electric, which rolled out initially in California — proved to be all that we liked about the gas-powered model with only a few drawbacks.

    Appearance: It's the same funky little hatchback, with the most noticeable difference being the grille, or the lack of it. Instead, there's a panel that covers the grille opening. This panel contains a door that opens to reveal the charging ports. The EV also has a body-color front bumper. Our tester was Caribbean Blue with a white roof....

    2015 Kia Soul EV
  14. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Chevrolet Trax redefines the SUV


    Chevrolet has redefined the SUV — literally. The carmaker calls its new Trax a "Smart Urban Vehicle." And that, it is. The mini sport utility vehicle is nimble around town, yet provides ample cargo space. The Trax is new to the United States, but its concept is not: Buick's upscale version, the Encore, was introduced in 2013.

    Appearance: This subcompact SUV is built on Chevy's Sonic platform, just like the Encore. This ute-let is only 167 inches long and resembles a more muscular compact hatchback with its fender flares and a tall, creased hood. The rather-small two-part grille, with its chrome-trimmed horizontal slats, seems to almost pucker. Having already kissed up to younger buyers with the Encore, which has proved to be a hit with them, General Motors no doubt hopes this cute ute does the same. Our LTZ trim tester came with 18-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels that added a bit of character to what is an otherwise generic design....

    Profile of the Chevy Trax.
  15. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Kia Sedona is back in the minivan discussion


    We're glad to see that Kia hasn't run up the white flag on its Sedona minivan, which was long overdue for a redesign. The segment is dominated, after all, by Chrysler, Toyota and Honda. The frumpy Kia has been all but an afterthought until now. For 2015, the Sedona is going all-in in the minivan race.

    Appearance: Call this new Sedona's style Minivan Modern, with hints of design influences from its competitors. The look is best expressed in the front end, which reads more SUV than minivan: low nose, wide black-mesh grille trimmed with bright chrome and wraparound headlights bisected by LEDs. It's unfussy and effective. The body is now creased by subtle character lines, and our tester had 19-inch chrome-alloy wheels....

     Second-row passengers get their own USB port, a 115-volt AC plug, and a pullout drawer for storage.