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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: 2015 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Platinum


    The bottom line: The Cadillac Escalade is for those who need a luxurious family vehicle that also carries some cachet. (Don't need that? Try the Chevy Suburban.) As long as gas prices don't rocket, big is back.

    When we tested the newly redesigned 2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV (extended wheelbase) last year, we said the changes would put the big SUV back on the A-list for those who like their luxury large. Recently, we drove the regular Escalade — in the fully loaded Platinum trim — and it's still a case of livin' large. ...

    Our tester came with 22-inch, 9-spoke premium wheels with chrome inserts and power retractable running boards.
  2. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Nissan Rogue SL AWD


    The bottom line: We like the Rogue, we just wish it had a little more horsepower and a more driver-engaging ride.

    We've always considered the Nissan Rogue a stylish, fun-to-drive compact crossover — even though the only engine available is a four-cylinder. Since we last drove a Rogue, Nissan has given it a facelift, but we're not sure it's keeping up with the competition....

    The cabin uses high-quality materials with good fit and finish.
  3. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat


    Those who fondly remember the Horsepower Wars of the '60s and early '70s must be shaking their heads at the monstrous output of today's muscle cars. After all, in today's eco-conscious era, doesn't "charger" call to mind something for your electric car? Well, maybe so, but when the Charger is Dodge's SRT Hellcat, the electricity comes from the visceral thrill of more than 700 horsepower.

    Performance: When a car comes with two sets of keys — one to unlock its full fury — you know it's not an ordinary sedan. That's because this Charger carries the new supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi "Hellcat" V-8, which it shares with the Challenger muscle car. The black key fob restricts the power to a "mere" 500 horses. The red fob unleashes a street-shaking 707 horsepower. Some other numbers touted by Dodge would make enthusiasts drool: 650 pound-foot of torque, 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, a quarter-mile time of 11 seconds and a top speed of 204. Dodge says the Charger Hellcat is the most powerful production sedan on the planet. All of this power is routed through a quick-shifting TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic transmission (with manual mode) whose rev-matching downshifts work particularly well. As for stopping power, we both found the Brembo brakes were up to the task. Despite all the power, this Hellcat is well-mannered in city driving. In Street mode — one of three settings you can pick, along with Sport and Track — it drives pretty much like a family sedan. Save for some supercharger whine and the low rumble of the Hemi at idle, you could almost forget what's under the hood. One thing's for sure, you're guaranteed to have the most potent grocery-getter in the neighborhood. The steering feel is good as it loosens up at higher speeds, but the power assist is all but lacking when you're maneuvering in and out of those tight supermarket parking spaces. We had the red key only for a few hours. Peter had the car then. His reaction: "There is no thunderous fanfare when you start the Hellcat with the red fob. I drove it on a rainy morning and let's just say that 700-plus horsepower on rain-slicked streets can be an adventure, especially with the traction control off. (Lesson learned.) No matter what drive mode you select, it's almost effortless to leave some rubber behind when you take off. Push it, and acceleration is a theme-park ride that pins you to the seat."...

    The trunk has 16.5 cubic feet of cargo space.
  4. The Daily Drivers: Toyota 4Runner 4x4 Trail Premium


    Toyota's venerable 4Runner is a throwback to the days when SUV owners actually needed a vehicle for occasional excursions away from the pavement. It has been refreshed for 2015 — mainly in its off-road technology — but loses none of its ruggedness.

    Appearance: The front fascia is brawny, with a black mesh grille resting behind a thick body-color crossbar and bumper. This is accented by a large silver skid plate, which is standard, as you might expect on an SUV with off-road capability. Flanking the grille are angular projection-beam headlights that include check mark-shaped LED running lights. The hood sits high, and has an air scoop. Overall, the 4Runner seems proud to still carry a rugged, boxy look. Our 4x4 Trail Premium tester also came with a moonroof and 17-inch, seven-spoke alloy wheels....

    The seats and some panels have red accent stitching.
  5. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Ram ProMaster City Wagon


    We've seen the trickle-down effects of Chrysler's merger with Fiat, with more vehicles introduced from the Italian automaker. Now, a popular European workhorse, the Fiat Doblo, comes to the United States as a slightly altered Ram ProMaster City — in Tradesman and Wagon configurations — to satiate a growing appetite for compact cargo vans.

    Appearance: Boxy is back with the City Wagon. The tester has a profile more associated with utility vans than family haulers. An aerodynamic low and short hood leads to a large raked windshield. The lower fascia looks like a masked bandit with plastic cladding that goes up all the way to the high-set headlights. (The mask-less SLT trim with body-color bumpers is much more attractive.) At the center of this mask is the recognizable crosshair Ram grille. The City Wagon adds windows to the side doors that slide back easily like in a minivan. To the rear is a big and simple windowless cargo box. But in the City Wagon, you get windows on the 60/40-split doors for better visibility. The rear door handles are large and easy to open — up to 180 degrees. ...

    The cloth seats are basic and don’t offer much back support.
  6. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL


    We've driven a few generations of the Mitsubishi Outlander and have always found the crossover severely lacking when compared to the competition. Now the Outlander has been given an overhaul for 2016. Is it enough to give Mitsubishi, an all-but-overlooked player in the marketplace, a boost up?

    Appearance: The Outlander now sports a really large grille and front fascia that looks like a Transformer. Half of this new Dynamic Shield design works, especially the thick chrome that starts from under the headlights and drops down to form the "shield." From the side, this chrome also accents the elongated profile. The lower fascia — black with a skid plate — seems to get lost, however. Our SEL tester also came with 18-inch alloy wheels with an intricate spoke design. Overall, it's somewhat of a bigger "small" crossover....

     Folding down the second-row seats takes a few steps. Step 1: Move the bottom seat cushion forward.
  7. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Honda Pilot AWD Elite


    The Honda Pilot has always seemed to us to be a vehicle in search of an identity. Is it a boxy and rugged SUV? A family hauler with third-row seating? Honda couldn't seem to decide — until now. The all-new third-generation Pilot is a sleek crossover for those who need plenty of passenger room but don't want to sacrifice styling or comfort.

    Appearance: This is one redesign that is long overdue. The word "boxy" is now but a memory. The new crossover is aerodynamic and sophisticated — befitting of a vehicle called a Pilot. The Honda family's DNA is evident in its upswept lines and the long body that recalls the Odyssey minivan. The creased hood sits high above a chrome-heavy grille. The grille's top bar integrates with the upswept headlights that are framed by LED running lights in the Elite trim like our tester. The Pilot's fender flares help give it a bolder look, as does a hatch-top spoiler and 20-inch alloy wheels....

    The 9-speed transmission is controlled by buttons. But a note to Honda: Please don’t put glossy surfaces on the lower console. Lyra was blinded by the glare.
  8. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited


    Hyundai redesigned its midsize Sonata sedan for 2015, dispensing with its "Fluidic Sculpture" philosophy for a more stately look. Now Hyundai has seen fit to extend that redesign to its Sonata hybrid, which gets the new look for 2016.

    Appearance: Our tester came in Seaport Mist, a hue unique to the hybrid model that Lyra likens to a sea-foam gray or maybe putty. (Peter just calls it bland.) Hyundai's "Blue Drive" and "Hybrid" badges tell you this is not your average Sonata. Besides those badges, the hybrid's front fascia is different, with front-active air flaps and a trapezoidal grille that recalls Audi. There also is an integrated spoiler and rear diffuser to help make the hybrid more aero-efficient. Otherwise, the hybrid has the 2015 Sonata's less-busy exterior lines and gently sloping roof. It's almost as if Hyundai felt it had outgrown its wild design years and is aiming for a mature look. Our tester came with 17-inch Eco-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels....

    The Ultimate Package ($4,500) adds a panoramic sunroof with tilt and slide functions. 

2016 Hyundai Sonata Limited
Photo by Lyra Solochek, Tampa Bay Times
  9. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Honda HR-V AWD EX-L


    Honda dove right into the mini Ute race with the new HR-V, which is based on one of our favorite subcompact cars, the Fit. The HR-V reminds us of Honda's popular CR-V when it came out in 1997 with its simplicity. It's versatile, even offering an entry-level 6-speed manual transmission.

    Appearance: Honda went with a traditional design for its baby ute rather than the more whimsical looks of small crossovers such as the Nissan Juke or Kia Soul. Instead, the HR-V has some of Honda's more stern new design cues that can be seen in the CR-V and Pilot: drop-down grille with chrome accent bar, upswept headlights and creased hood. Creases also traverse the body, with one joining the curved window line at the hidden rear door latch. Visually, these lines give the HR-V a sense of height. (The ute does have more ground clearance than the Fit.) Our tester also came with 17-inch machine-finish alloy wheels, which add a sporty touch....

     With the rear seatbacks folded forward, there’s 55.9 cubic feet of cargo space.
  10. The Daily Drivers: 2015 BMW M3


    The BMW M3 has held near-legendary status for decades among auto enthusiasts for its potent blend of performance and luxury. We'd never had the opportunity to drive one of these coveted machines until now, and we wish we were still driving it.

    Appearance: "Wow!," "Ewww!" and "Whoa!" are some of the reactions we got from our tester's Austin Yellow Metallic paint. Lyra preferred "garish." One thing's for sure: It stood out in parking lots. Overall, the M3, which is based on BMW's medium-sized 3 Series sedan, has a look that reads performance: wide stance and fender flares, raised hood and gaping lower air intakes. The kidney-shaped BMW grille is flanked by headlights that have a predatory squint. Of course, M3 badging lets you know this isn't your normal 3 Series sedan. Our tester had black 19-inch alloy wheels that added to the aggressive look, as did the carbon-fiber roof....

    The sports sedan actually has some space, even for adults, especially when the front seats are pulled forward.
  11. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Acura MDX AWD


    Quick, name an Acura model. Chances are, it's the MDX, which, given the identity crisis that seems to inflict some of the brand's other models, is a good thing. That's because the MDX stands out in the crowded SUV landscape. Acura redesigned the MDX for 2014, skipped a 2015 model designation and went directly to the 2016 we drove, which adds some powertrain changes.

    Exterior: This third-generation MDX seems more refined in its appearance and wouldn't look out of place next to its German competition. The appearance of slight fender flares are the only element that breaks up its sleek and stately design, accentuated by chrome window trim. Still here, though, is Acura's "shield" grille, a design that is starting to show its age. Our tester came in handsome Fathom Blue Pearl....

    A bin under the back cargo deck allows you to discreetly store your bags.
  12. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport


    We always appreciated the Lexus IS F sport coupes and their blend of sportiness and luxury. Now the new RC models replace those sports coupes. We drove the RC350 with the F Sport trim upgrade. It sports an attractive entry price for a luxury car — starting at $42,790.

    Appearance: It sure does attract attention, especially with our tester's Ultrasonic Blue Mica paint. The coupe has the Lexus' large spindle grille, which in the F Sport trim is mesh with chrome trim and a prominent Lexus badge in the middle. This aggressive front is complemented by the triangular headlights with check-mark LED running lights below them. We both liked the car's aerodynamic profile that tapers back from the curved hood into a fastback-style roof with an integrated spoiler lip on the trunk. The 19-inch F Sport wheels have a unique design. The rear vents that flank the exhausts? They look totally fake and kind of cool at the same time....

     The front sport seats with perforated leather have good bolstering for the upper body as well as legs.
  13. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Lincoln MKC AWD


    It has been too long since we've driven a Lincoln. The company has rebranded itself as the Lincoln Motor Company and enlisted actor Matthew McConaughey as its pitchman in an effort to be a player in the luxury-car segment again. That brings us to the new MKC, the "Luxury Utility Vehicle" built on parent Ford's Escape compact-crossover platform.

    Appearance: It may be based on the Escape platform, but the MKC doesn't scream "Ford." Instead, the sheet-metal creases on the hood and body give it a more sophisticated look; the MKC wouldn't look out of place next to some of its German competition. Then there are the styling cues that are all Lincoln, including the bold split-winged grille with the Lincoln logo at the center. It's not for everyone (count Lyra among them). But Peter is firmly Team Wing Grille. One thing's for certain: You'll know it's a Lincoln. The rear, with its wraparound liftgate design, is just as bold, with sleek horizontal LED taillights that recall classic Lincolns. Our tester had the optional 20-inch polished aluminum wheels with dark stainless painted pockets that were a sharp contrast to the Ruby Red Metallic exterior paint....

    The door can be opened with a code.
  14. The Daily Drivers: 2015 Rolls-Royce Wraith


    If you can afford the moon and the stars, then the 2015 Rolls-Royce Wraith is how you should roll. Think we exaggerate? The Wraith's fiber-optic Starlight headliner mimics the night sky. Rolls resurrected its historic Wraith name last year when it introduced this coupe, which is based on the Ghost sedan but rides on a shorter wheelbase. Rolls calls the Wraith the most high-tech and powerful car in its storied history — the 6.6-liter V-12 produces 624 horsepower — and it resembles nothing less than a sporty fastback. A fun-to-drive Rolls? Proof you can have it all under the stars....

    The “coach” doors swing backward, opening wide for easy access to the plush cabin. They can be closed with the push of a button. The front seats envelop both driver and passenger in luxury.
  15. The Daily Drivers: A look at a range of Rovers


    It doesn't seem like that long ago that Land Rovers were primarily viewed as sturdy off-roaders. How times have changed. Now, the company's vehicles are symbols of aspirational luxury where the "S" in SUV may as well stand for "status." But despite being well-mannered family haulers on the road, Rovers are still at home off the pavement, as well. The best of both worlds? Yes. Here are three Range Rovers along with the more rugged Land Rover LR4. They all are equipped with four-wheel drive and Terrain Response System for adjusting the ride to surface conditions. ...

     Photo by Lyra Solochek, Tampa Bay Times