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  • 2013 Porsche Boxster - Runner-up CultureMap 2012 Performance Car of the Year
    Photo by Kevin McCauley
  • 2013 Scion FR-S - CultureMap 2012 Performance Car of the Year
    Photo by Kevin McCauley
  • 2013 Scion FR-S - CultureMap 2012 Performance Car of the Year
    Photo by Kevin McCauley
  • 2013 Scion FR-S - CultureMap 2012 Performance Car of the Year
    Photo by Kevin McCauley
  • 2013 Porsche Boxster - Runner-up CultureMap 2012 Performance Car of the Year
    Photo by Kevin McCauley
  • 2013 Porsche Boxster - Runner-up CultureMap 2012 Performance Car of the Year
    Photo by Kevin McCauley

Editor's Note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Phillips 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. We turn up the heat for our sixth award:

Performance Car of the Year: Scion FR-S

Sports car enthusiast rattle on about the importance of light weight and clamor for a stripped-down, rear-wheel drive, affordable performance car. In 2012, it happened. The Scion FR-S (and its twin, the Subaru BRZ) arrived, and they were every bit as gratifying as we had hoped. Toyota and Subaru collaborated on this "built by passion, not by committee" coupe leveraging Toyota's might with Subaru's sporting expertise and midship-mounted horizontal boxer engine.

We found the FR-S to have a stunning suspension tune and a brilliant balance that made you want to get behind the wheel as often as possible: It's a driver focused car that got better the more you drove it. Additionally, we found it to be livable, decent on gas and affordable — starting at $25,255, it's the overall most compelling new sports car of the year.

Drive it. You won't miss heated seats.

Performance Car of the Year Runner-up: 2013 Porsche Boxster S

The 2013 Porsche Boxster S raises the previous Boxster's already high game to the next level — 911 levels.

As with the new 911, our Best New Design award winner, we loved Boxster's rich new interior and greater refinement, but the performance jump and exotic new looks will be what we remember most. Ironically both of our Performance Car of the Year picks use boxer engines, both pushed to the middle of the car and both resulting in the best driving dynamics on road and track alike. But Porsche's delivers more than 100 horsepower more than the Scion. As it should, this near-perfection starts around $61,000, with options pushing the $90,000 mark.

  • The 2013 Jaguar XFR-S makes its global debut at the 2012 LA Auto Show[http://www.laautoshow.com]
  • 2012 Tesla Model S - CultureMap 2012 Sports Sedan of the Year
  • 2012 Tesla Model S - CultureMap 2012 Sports Sedan of the Year
  • 2012 Jaguar XFR - Runner-up CultureMap 2012 Sports Sedan fo the Year
    Photo by Kevin McCauley
  • 2012 Jaguar XFR - Runner-up CultureMap 2012 Sports Sedan fo the Year
    Photo by Kevin McCauley

Sports Sedan of the Year: All-electric and all-sport, the Tesla Model S burnsrubber, not oil

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:

  • 2013 Porsche 911 (991 series) - CultureMap 2012 Best New Design
    Photo by Kevin McCauley
  • 2013 Porsche 911 (991 series) - CultureMap 2012 Best New Design
    Photo by Kevin McCauley
  • 2013 Porsche 911 (991 series) - CultureMap 2012 Best New Design
    Photo by Kevin McCauley
  • 2013 Range Rover - Runner-up CultureMap 2012 Best New Design
    Photo by Kevin McCauley
  • 2013 Range Rover - Runner-up CultureMap 2012 Best New Design
    Photo by Kevin McCauley

Best New Design: Porsche masterfully redrafts its iconic 911 Carrera into amodern classic

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:

Best New Design: 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera

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.

See more of the all new 911 in our preview from early 2012

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.

Read more about the all new 2013 Range Rover from our exclusive preview

  • 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid - CultureMap 2012 Green Car of the Year
  • 2012 Infiniti M-Hybrid - Runner-up CultureMap 2012 Green Car of the Year
    Photo by Kevin McCauley

Smart Energy Car of the Year: Ford Fusion Hybrid is fun to drive andbest-looking hybrid on the road

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.

  • 2012 Audi Q7 TDI - CultureMap 2012 CUV of the Year
    Photo by Kevin McCauley
  • 2013 Hyundai SantaFe Sport - Runner-up 2012 CultureMap CUV of the Year
    Photo by Kevin McCauley

Crossover Utility Vehicle of the Year: Audi Q7 TDI delivers a clean diesel ridefor the whole family

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.

  • 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth - CultureMap 2012 Hot Hatch of the Year
    Photo by Kevin McCauley
  • 2012 Mini Coupe John Cooper Works - Runner-up CultureMap 2012 Hot Hatch of theYear
    Photo by Kevin McCauley

The Hot Hatch of the Year: Fiat 500 Abarth is a little car that elicits bigsmiles — and a growl

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.

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Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio returns heart to the classic tale

Movie review

There have been many instances of competing movies telling similar stories in the same year, but rare is the time when two movies try to tell their version of the exact same story. A few months ago, Disney released a “live action” version of their classic Pinocchio, an unimaginative, soulless film that should have never seen the light of day. Now, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio has come to save the day, bringing an allegorical story that has much more depth to it.

Co-directed by Del Toro and Claymation legend Mark Gustafson, and co-written by Del Toro and Adventure Time’s Patrick McHale, the basics of the film will be familiar. The wood toymaker Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) creates a wooden boy soon dubbed Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) who is looked over by a cricket, this time called Sebastian (Ewan McGregor). Pinocchio is brought to “life” by a blue fairy named Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett), and Pinocchio soon causes all sorts of trouble for himself and everyone else.

But instead of going straight into that story, Del Toro and his team take the time to fill in some blanks about Geppetto’s life and give some meaning to his wooden creation. An opening sequence showing a tragic backstory sets the mood for the film, one that is serious while not being overwhelmingly dark.

Inspired by but not beholden to Carlo Collodi’s original fantasy novel, the film is a lively and yet somber adventure story, with Pinocchio’s impetuous nature leading to him getting in a lot of sticky situations. Del Toro has set the film in Italy during World War II, referencing real-world figures like Nazis and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to ground the often-fantastical story.

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Geppetto and Pinocchio in Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio.

As the film goes along, the idea of whether or not Pinocchio is “alive” is confronted in a unique way, and also juxtaposed with actual life-and-death moments that go right to the edge of the film’s PG rating. While still appropriate for older elementary-aged kids, it is unmistakably a Del Toro movie, with creepy creatures, storylines, and more that make it much more than just something aimed at children.

The stop-motion animation, assisted by the Jim Henson Company, is a wonder to behold for a variety of reasons. The flow of movement is astonishing, and a testament to the level of detail and time spent perfecting every moment by the entire filmmaking team. The characters are clearly made of clay, and yet they quickly become believable as living entities, a fun comparison to the story of Pinocchio himself.

While the film has stars like McGregor, Blanchett, and Christoph Waltz, none of them are showcased in ways where their celebrity overwhelms their character. Geppetto and Pinocchio are played by lesser-known people, allowing them to be interesting just for their voice talent, and not a pre-conceived notion of them.

Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is by far the superior version of the story to come out in 2022, returning the heart to the tale that is so clearly needed. With just enough off-the-wall elements and a style that’s all its own, the film from Netflix may just be a contender for best animated feature at next year’s Oscars.

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Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio debuts on Netflix on December 9.

Giant sea creatures made of recycled beach trash wash onto Galveston Island in must-see new exhibit

inspiring sea change

A giant great white shark, massive bald eagle, oversized octopus, and more enormous sea life are invading Galveston Island — just in time for the holidays.

Washed Ashore, a compelling and traveling art of giant sea animal sculptures made of trash collected from beaches opens in Galveston on Saturday, December 10 across 19 locations.

The clever showcase features more than 20 pieces — most more than six feet tall and as much as 17 feet wide — such as coral reefs, jellyfish, penguins, sunfish, and more.

Sculptures can be found at museums, hotels, parks, attractions, and popular outdoor spaces. Thanks to a partnership between Oregon-based non-profit Washed Ashore and the Galveston Park Board, the exhibit, which is open though March 5, 2023, is free.

This innovative, powerful exhibit to educate the public about the hazards of plastic pollution in the world’s waterways and comes at a touchstone environmental moment. Some 35 million metric tons of plastic entered the global aquatic ecosystems in 2020, according to the Ocean Conservancy’s research partners.

Similar Washed Ashore exhibits have been displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, zoos, aquariums, and botanical gardens, across the nation. Notably, this Galveston debut marks the first time the exhibit will not be behind a paid gate, per press materials.

“The sculptures are impressive,” Visit Galveston Chief Tourism Officer Michael Woody said. “But they’re even more impressive when you look at them closely. The artists at Washed Ashore placed recognizable objects – like buckets and shovels – at a child’s eye view. This way, hopefully, they will learn to take with them what they bring to the beach.”

For more information on the exhibit, visit the official site.

Photo courtesy of Visit Galveston

Meet Greta the great white shark.

Bad 'a' Hawaiian coffee shop brews up plans for 10 Houston-area locations

curiously strong coffee

A new coffee shop will brings the flavors of Hawaii to the Houston area. Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii has signed a development agreement that will bring as many as 10 locations to West Houston and Galveston in the next five years.

Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii was founded on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1989 to serve Hawaiian-sourced coffee to locals and tourists. Franchising on the mainland started in 1985, but an acquisition in 2019 paved the way for its current expansion. Currently at about 30 locations nationwide, Bad Ass announced plans to open five locations in Dallas earlier this year.

The cafe serves hot, cold, and frozen coffee drinks as well as tea and smoothes. Food options consist of a tidy menu of breakfast sandwiches, bagels, and muffins.

Bad Ass Coffee’s colorful name comes from the donkeys who carried coffee beans along steep mountain passes in Kona, Hawaii. Locals named them the “bad ass ones” for their stubborn but friendly nature, the company states.

Houston franchisees Kyle Price and Heath Rushing bring experience from the health care industry to their new role as entrepreneurs. In a release, they explain that Bad Ass Coffee’s values help fueled their interest in bringing the brand to Houston.

“We love how the brand honors its Hawaiian heritage and creates a culture that differentiates itself by embodying its island roots,” Rushing said. “Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii also isn't just a brand, it's an identity and the vision is to fuel the inner badass in all of us. We hope to unlock inner badasses by fueling customers with energy and kindness every single day.”