CultureMap Auto Awards
Editor's Note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Philllps and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top 2012 cars and trucks and explain why they're deserving of a good hard look. Now for our fifth award:
Sports Sedan of the Year: Tesla Model S
It's good. It's really good. Tesla's first built-from-the-ground-up all electric car is beautifully designed, crafted beyond the industry standard, a technological breakthrough resulting in the first ever properly sorted fully electric sports sedan.
You may have expected us to give it the "Smart Energy Car of the Year" award, but the Model S' sports car performance and driving dynamics are right there with conventional gas-powered BMW M5 and Porsche Panamera GTS sports sedans.
Much like the iPhone and CultureMap, Tesla sent a wake-up call to all manufacturers that, yes indeed, a startup can create a game changer. The only downfall, as with all electric cars, is range being limited to the capacity of the battery but with up to 300-miles in store, Model S sets a new high for production electric cars.
Tesla offers an industry first "High Power Wall Connector" which is installed on a 240-volt circuit and combined with Tesla's Twin Chargers, charges at a staggering 62-miles per hour (compare that to the Chevrolet Volt's approximately 40 miles in 3.5 hours).
Driving the Model S lends itself to a certain feeling of guiltless, encouraging you to mash the accelerator to the floor all the while knowing you're not burning premium fuel and spewing tailpipe emissions on those left in your dust. The electric motor supplies instant torque and there's no engine noise or gear changes for a truly unique if not strange experience at first.
The Model S starts at $52,400 (after a $7,500 Federal Tax Credit) and tops out just over $100,000 with every option including Tesla's High Power Wall Charger.
Sports Sedan of the Year Runner-up: Jaguar XFR
When it comes to the world of super sedans it's Jaguar's XFR we find ourselves coming back to again and again as the current leader of the pack when it comes to the combination of style, refinement, and performance.
This is the gentleman's super sport sedan and while it may not have the 550+ horsepower of the BMW M5, or the Cadillac CTS-V's performance value price its further refined exterior styling and decidedly British V8 exhaust note get our nod.
But wait... there's more... 2013 sees Jag up the ante with the XFR-S bringing much of what was learnt from the limited edition XKR-S coupe and adds a new 8-speed automatic paired to the up-rated 550-horsepower supercharged V8.
Having seen and heard the XFR-S launched at the LA Auto Show, we cannot wait for what this video teaser promises:
CultureMap Auto Awards
Editor's Note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Philllps and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top 2012 cars and trucks and explain why they're deserving of a good hard look. Now for our fourth award:
What was that about subtle updates? First introduced in 1963, the 911 is the poster car for gradual, incremental development and visual nips and tucks. But Porsche's flagship received one of the biggest-ever redesigns for the slope-backed coupe, which doesn't mess with a good thing.
It's longer, lower and a bit leaner, with long overdue but gorgeous Panamera-inspired interior.
Best New Design Runner-up: 2013 Range Rover
How do you redesign something widely considered to be the best? Subtly.
The all new 2013 Range Rover packs tons of new features and technologies into the familiar, decades-old shape, and inches it along into the future. Lessons learned in the wildly-successful Range Rover Sport and sexy Range Rover Evoque are applied with a light touch, bringing an exterior update that most people will probably hardly notice.
And in this case, it's a good thing but once you step inside one you find yourself in a beautifully designed, benchmark setting interior finished as only Jaguar/Land Rover can do. Starting at just $83,000 Range Rover stands firmly at the top of the design pack.
CultureMap Auto Awards
Editor's Note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Philllps and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top 2012 cars and trucks and explain why they're deserving of a good hard look. Our third award:
Smart Energy Car of the Year: 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Aston Martin-ainspired styling, driving dynamics to match, interior design and materials with a European look and feel, claimed 47/47/47-mpg and a gas pedal in a hybrid that when floored emotes driving passion without sounding like it may explode at any second — the 2013 Ford Fusion is a game changer.
It almost doesn't matter that some are challenging Ford and the EPA's 47-mpg figure, the Fusion Hybrid is the most fun to drive and best looking hybrid under $30,000 on the road today. In fact, it starts just under $28,000 and adding technology like lane departure warning with active lane keeping steering, self parallel parking, automatic highbeams, adaptive radar cruise control and voice activated MyFord Touch with Microsoft Sync one can keep the price in the mid-$30's.
The Ford Fusion Hybrid has raised the bar high and is the sort of sedan you'd be proud to own.
Smart Energy Car of the Year Runner-up:2013 Infiniti M Hybrid
At the other end of the spectrum we have the world's fastest accelerating full hybrid — the Infiniti M Hybrid. Rather than go for all out efficiency, Infiniti kept all the parts that make a sports sedan just that, a true sports sedan.
Instead of some mushy CVT it gets a properly sorted 7-speed automatic transmission, it has rear-wheel-drive, near 50/50 weight distribution, steering is direct with a hybrid electric/hydraulic setup and it keeps a 3.5L V6 but adds a 50kW electric motor for a combined system output of 360 horsepower.
While 360hp may not sound like much, it's the 457 lb-ft of torque (40 more than the V8 powered M) that puts even most diesels to shame and 199 lb-ft of it come on instantly from the electric motor with a 0-60 time near five seconds.
All this performance comes at a cost, nearly $56,000 base and $67,000 optioned out, but with 27/32-mpg ratings this high performer keeps it's green car cred real.
CultureMap Auto Awards
Editor's Note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Philllps and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top 2012 cars and trucks and explain why they're deserving of a good, hard look. Now for our second award:
CUV of the Year: Audi Q7 TDI
Crossovers are king when it comes to utility vehicles, offering the benefits of a SUV without the mostly unused off-road or heavy-duty capabilities of a truck-based SUV. Although there are many CUV options, when it comes to great fuel economy there are few, so it's the Audi Q7 TDI that gets our award.
With its turbo direct-injected clean diesel technology, coupled with a best-in-industry 8-speed automatic transmission, the Q7 delivers 28 mpg on the highway (22 mpg combined) without compromising a fun-to-drive disposition and family-pleasing, three-row accommodations.
While the 3.0L V6 diesel delivers only 240 horsepower, it's a whopping 406 lb-ft of torque that make the full-sized CUV feel fast while using less gas. Add to the mix understated Teutonic styling, the latest MMI navigation with slick Google Maps integration, an expansive panoramic sunroof, the performance and safety of Audi's legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and a highly competitive starting price just below $53,000, and the Q7 TDI is a clear winner.
CUV Runner-up: 2013 Hyundai SantaFe Sport
It's remarkable to us how quickly Hyundai's newest models continue to improve and rightfully give their more established competition serious cause for concern. The all new 2013 Hyundai SantaFe Sport is no exception.
Starting at just $24,450, the SantaFe packs class-leading content and features typically found on higher-end utes in a sharp-looking and efficient package. We prefer the 2.0L twin-scroll turbo version, with its 264 hp delivering a good push back in the seat and 19-inch wheels giving a truly premium look.
Clever touches abound. This is the first ever utility vehicle with an in-floor storage space for the load-space cover when not in use.
CultureMap Auto Awards
Editor's Note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Philllps and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top 2012 cars and trucks and explain why they're deserving of a good hard look. First up:
Hot Hatch of the Year: Fiat 500 Abarth
As smaller cars increasingly become cool again, a nice side benefit is the louder, quicker performance versions that often make their way into showrooms. There was no hatch hotter in 2012 than the Fiat 500 Abarth.
It wasn't the quickest or the most refined but it brought style, character and a stinging exhaust growl backing up the Scorpion badge. It was one of the most emotive cars we drove all year, and we remember it fondly as the little car that put the biggest smile on your face.
This year, the 500 Abarth loses its top — making it all the more desirable.
The Fiat 500 Abarth starts at just $22,700 and breaks at around $27,000 with all the tricks.
Hot Hatch Runner-up:MINI Coupe John Cooper Works
MINI has taken the charm amp and dialed it up to 11 in the JCW Coupe, the most hardcore MINI ever offered.
It's a superior car in many ways to the 500 Abarth in that it's a serious sports car with a thoroughly sorted suspension and powertrain to match. It has vastly better fit and finishes but is not any faster than the regular MINI despite not having a backseat.
And with a starting price at around $32,000 (nearly $10,000 dollars more than the Fiat) and surpassing $40,000 with options, the choice was clear.
CultureMap Emails are Awesome
a Spoetzl specialty
One of the most iconic Texas breweries, Shiner Bock has created a culture around its brews for nostalgic and unfussy drinkers. And now even Houstonians who aren't drinking alcohol can be part of the Shiner gang.
On November 20, the brand (made at Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas) announced its first-ever non-alcoholic series, Shiner Rodeo (styled Rode0).
It all starts with one beer: Rodeo Golden Brew, which according to a news release, will still taste like a Shiner beer even without the alcoholic kick — totaling less than 0.5 percent. (That's about as much or a little more than kombucha.)
"Styled after a classic American lager, this light and refreshing brew offers crisp and malty notes that are perfectly balanced by delicate esters and a gentle hop profile," it notes.
Rodeo Golden Brew will be available by January, when many people who are usually beer drinkers are experimenting with a pause — sometimes as "Dry January." The brewery will expand the line in the following year, including a red amber beer.
The release also pointed out a trend in 2023, which saw non-alcoholic sales rise more than 17 percent in Texas. This was a significant jump, but still less than in the rest of the country, where they rose 23 percent overall. It must have been enough to inspire change at a more than 100-year-old brewery — Shiner Bock's timeline places its first drops since "about" 1909.
This news comes six months after Spoetzl Brewery announced a new onsite distillery, K. Spoetzl Distilling Company. This addition enabled Shiner Bock to expand its portfolio to vodka, gin, moonshine, and eventually barrel-aged spirits still to come.
"Fans of Shiner have consistently requested non-alcoholic options to complement our more traditional beers," said Director of Brewery & Distillery Operations Tom Fiorenzi in the release. "We're proud to introduce the first of three non-alcoholic brews to our fans. Brewed using the same method as our iconic Shiner beers, the Shiner Rode0 line is authentically Shiner, just without the alcohol."
welcome to whitehall
Between the work-at-home shift and popularity of cowboy culture getting to obnoxious levels (we see you, Jeff Bezos), Texas ranches are one of the biggest real estate searches around.
The latest: a grand, 656-acre ranch listing near Houston merges the big-land life with a luxe ranch retreat vibe. Whitehall Ranch, a sprawling private escape in southern Grimes County (that’s roughly an hour north of Houston, between Magnolia and Navasota), has listed for $42 million.
Reflecting that post-pandemic price hike, Whitehall Ranch actually listed for half the current price — $21.6 million — in 2020, as Houston Business Journalreported — a veritable value, these days. Whitehall is currently repped by Houston-based luxury real estate firm Nan and Company Properties.
About this regal ranch: Polo fans and aficionados can stomp divots after chukkas on an on-site, regulation polo field and stables, which spans 11 acres and anchors an 8-acre lake, per press materials. The field has seen “several top polo matches” over the years, per Nan and Company. Should the new owners pass on polo, they can instead repurpose the 11-acre field into a driving range, cricket pitch, baseball field, or any outdoor activity they choose.
Horse around and the sizable stables. Photo via Nan and Company Properties
Enjoy sunsets and sweeping vistas. Photo via Nan and Company Properties
Luxe living amenities start with the main residence, tucked away surrounded by a secluded countryside oasis, per the listing. The main home is open-concept design and plays to the space with “soaring” ceilings and wall-to-wall windows throughout. Mornings and sunsets can be taken in on a surrounding porch that showcases the stunning, protected acreage.
Guests and family can look forward to a two-suite guest residence, plus a four-suite bunk house for larger groups (a fun spot to play out those favorite Yellowstone bunkhouse scenes).
High ceilings and tall windows open the area and bring the outside in. Photo via Nan and Company Properties
A green oasis — dubbed the “Home Camp” — boasts a heated saltwater pool, and a pool house that’s replete with a full kitchen and the always-important pass-through serving bar. Residents can live out their Post Ranch Inn memories at the sauna, massage studio, full indoor gym, and even a commercial laundry room for dirty cowboy gear or those sweaty Lululemon threads.
No tin pots here: soak in a garden tub. Photo via Nan and Company Properties
But, this is a ranch after all, and it includes two twin barns, fitted with everything needed for resident horses, donkeys, or cows. Owners can grow their greens and plants in a greenhouse, tend to the chicks in a chicken coop, and take in five, lush ecosystems. For the sporting life, shooters can grab their Benellis and head to the skeet and trap range, which comes with its own “cozy clubhouse” and full kitchen.
Tend to the eggs and chicks in the chicken coop. Photo via Nan and Company Properties
Houstonians rolling in will no doubt be familiar with Whitehall Ranch’s presence on FM 362, near Highway 6 and the Highway 249 “Aggie Freeway” extension. But for those opting for an airy arrival can head to the chopper, as the ranch includes an FAA-approved, lighted helipad for that truly elevated arrival.
A Much Happier Hour
If you work or spend time in Midtown, remember this important tidbit: rush hour can always turn into happy hour.
On The Kirb, located at 2521 Bagby St. (along with two other locations, in Upper Kirby and Katy), is the ideal place to wait out all the weekday traffic jams from 4-7 pm.
Instead of sitting in traffic, pull up a seat at this sports bar that specializes in organic, local, and scratch-made menu items — for both food and drink.
Special happy hour bites include the organic beef sliders, traditional hummus with house-made pita bread, giant pretzel served with Sriracha queso, and the Kirb cheese board. The baked or fried organic wings in your choice of buffalo, garlic Parmesan, or lemon pepper are always a hit.
Enjoy $2 off beer, wine, and liquor, and score a bottle of house red or white for only $16.
The cocktails shouldn't be missed, either. Relax after work with a Gin Weasley (Bombay Sapphire gin, organic cane syrup, lemon, muddled strawberry, fresh basil, and ginger beer) or a Brojito (Bacardi Silver and coconut rums, organic cane syrup, lime, muddled blackberries, and fresh mint).
There are daily specials you'll want to be aware of, too, like Monday's Pizza & Vino deal where you can build your own pizza (up to three toppings) for $10 and get a bottle of house wine for $15. A note about the incredible pizza: It's formed with artisanal Caputo flour that's imported from Napoli, Italy, and then fermented for three days to ensure an authentic taste.
Tuesdays are for Tito's & Tacos, Wednesday is Steak Night, Thursday brings Burgers & Brews, and you can Wine Down on Fridays with half-off all wine bottles. Vegans and vegetarians will find plenty to love on the menu, too.
As long as you're taking note, make sure not to miss On The Kirb's famous weekend brunch, offered each Saturday and Sunday from 11 am-4 pm, and the mimosa towers that offer various fresh juice options.
Discover the beauty of On The Kirb's vast patio that wraps around Bagby Street, offering an incredible escape beneath the sheltering canopy of four massive, age-old oak trees.
On The Kirb Midtown is centrally located for easy access to all three major freeways, and offers convenient valet parking.
Look over the full menu here, and we'll meet you there after work.