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.
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. While 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 3-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 Santa Fe 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 Santa Fe Sport is no exception.
Starting at just $24,450, the Santa Fe 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 it's 264-hp delivering a good push back in the seat and 19-inch wheels giving a truly premium look.
Clever touches abound — his is the first ever utility vehicle with an in-floor storage space for the load-space cover when not in use.
The Hot Hatch of the Year: 2012 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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NASCAR driver Ross Chastain aims for 3rd career win at Circuit of the Americas
After his first-ever Cup victory at Circuit of the Americas in 2022, this eighth generation Central Florida watermelon farmer turned NASCAR driver is looking to nab his third career win at the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix in Austin on March 26.
Trackhouse Racing star Ross Chastain is currently third in the points heading into the race weekend; just four points behind Christopher Bell (second), and five behind Joey Logano (current leader). Chastain finished second behind Logano in the 2022 Cup Series Championship.
The tight standings make for a thrilling weekend at COTA, where Chastain earned his first career win just last year. He says driving on the 3.41-mile road course feels “opposite” to him than what he’s used to with a typical 1.5-mile oval track. He's been making left-only turns since he was 12 years old, and even on his Florida farm he would navigate the grids of watermelons and turn left at the end of every row. Learning to navigate a road course meant seeking help from others who might have better experience.
“I went to driving schools [and] I went to older and other drivers to teach me and give me advice on the simple art of driving a race car at its limit to the right, and COTA’s no different,” he tells CultureMap. “It’s – to me – very ironic that we got our first Cup Series win at a road course.”
Many race car drivers have raised concerns about the bumpy surface of the track, even after parts of it were resurfaced in 2022. For Chastain, he thinks there’s a couple different perspectives a driver can take when it comes to blemished track surfaces. On the one hand, part of him loves the idea of a perfectly smooth track with "symmetrical corners" for him to put down a perfect lap. But the “racing purist” in him also wants to drive on the “worst track possible.”
“I want bumps and cracks, different corners. I want to turn left and right...and just have variety, and COTA is getting that more and more," he says. "Our cars, they bottom out [and] slide...that’s what makes our racing so great is that we are out of control a lot."
Unlike F1 drivers, who tend to be more precise on track, NASCAR drivers use anything and everything to their advantage to get a win, much like Chastain’s straight-from-a-video-game wall-ride move that subsequently got banned at the beginning of January.
COTA might not have a wall to ride, but it does have a 133-foot first turn elevation change. While it can be a challenge for some, it isn’t for Chastain. The high elevation allows him to charge into the corner hard, let gravity slow him down while going uphill, then let the car slide down while heading into turn two.
“I love it. I wish more tracks had more elevation change like [COTA]. It makes the racing more dynamic, and being behind the wheel in the driver’s seat makes it more fun,” he says.
When considering the momentum it will take to score another win, Chastain admits it will be the biggest challenge he’s ever faced, but he’s confident in his ability to carry over that drive and motivation after his 2022 second-place Cup Series finish.
In line with the car’s continuing evolution, as he puts it, a recent aerodynamics change is expected to shake up who ends up at the top of the leaderboard. But his calm demeanor shows he isn’t phased by the changes.
“As simple as it sounds, we race in circles on Sunday afternoons, and this sport is a big circle of teams [and drivers] cycling up, cycling down,” says Chastain. “We’ll have to work harder than ever to try and stay at the top here.”
To kick off the race weekend and initiate some good luck for his Sunday race, Chastain (ever-connected to his roots) will drop watermelons off COTA’s illustrious 251-foot observation tower on Friday, March 24 at 2 pm.
The EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas will run from 2:30-6 pm on Sunday, March 26. More information about the race can be found at circuitoftheamericas.com, and tickets can be purchased at nascaratcota.com.
Former UT football star turns another page in AISD library renovations
Still defending the dream
There’s always more to discover in the world of books, and former Longhorns linebacker Derrick Johnson is making sure there are new places for it, too. The football star, who went on to play for the Chiefs, later created a foundation which has just installed its second “Discovery Den” in Austin at Langford Elementary School, unveiling it on March 23.
Johnson’s Discovery Dens are minor library renovations that include furniture for kids who would like to read together or independently, plus “750 new age-appropriate and culturally relevant books.” Photos also show wall decals of Johnson and encouraging words such as “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”
“I’m thrilled to continue our work in Austin and transform Langford Elementary’s library into a space that inspires kids to open a book and their minds for a brighter future,” said Derrick Johnson.
Defend the Dream Foundation — now 11 years old, almost as long as Johnson’s 14-year NFL career — prioritizes low-income and inner city youth in Title I schools to encourage success both in and out of school. Kendra Scott, a well-known Austin-based jewelry designer with frequent philanthropic endeavors, matched the foundation’s contribution to the Langford project as a co-funder.
“Education is a key component of our philanthropy pillar at Kendra Scott, and we’re proud to provide ongoing support for the Defend the Dream Foundation and all the good they do” said Kendra Scott CEO Tom Nolan. “The new library at Langford Elementary will provide the right resources to continue to inspire the future leaders of tomorrow.”
It is also thanks to Austin Ed Fund, a nonprofit education foundation through Austin Independent School District (Austin ISD), that the Dens can be created. The first Austin Discovery Den opened at Oak Springs Elementary School in September of 2022. There are 17 Dens in total across the United States, with multiple in the Chiefs' home of Kansas City.
“We are so grateful to DJ and his foundation for caring about our students and impacting schools in our community,” said Austin Ed Fund executive director Michelle Wallis. “We’ve already seen the positive impact that the Discovery Den has made in Oak Springs Elementary School, and we know that students at Langford Elementary will experience the same excitement in having new books to read in their new library space.”
More information about Defend the Dream Foundation is available at visit derrickjohnsonfoundation.org.
5 noteworthy Austin concerts to catch in the SXSW comedown
South by Southwest's domination of Austin may be done, but that doesn’t mean the music has stopped. See here for a handful of noteworthy shows with local artists that are happening over the next couple of weeks.
Aries Zodiac Party at the Far Out Lounge – Friday, March 24
The Aries Zodiac Party, which is exactly what you think it is, will go down at the Far Out Lounge this Friday, March 24. The event will feature performances by Nolan Potter’s Nightmare Band, Shooks, Sleep Well, and DJ Astral Violet, plus the Austin Witches Market. Tickets are $10, but if you’re an Aries, they’re only $5.
Deer Fellow at Radio Coffee & Beer – Saturday, March 25
Unraveling is the title of Deer Fellow’s new EP, and the indie folk-pop duo will be throwing a release show for it at Radio Coffee & Beer this Saturday, March 25. Support for the evening includes Redbud (solo), Aubrey Hays, and Elijah Delgado. This is a free show.
Futon Blonde at Chess Club – Thursday, March 30
Swing by Chess Club on Thursday, March 30, to help indie rockers Futon Blonde ring in the arrival of their new EP, Something That We’ve All Experienced Together Before. San Gabriel and Trumpeter Swan round out the bill. Tickets for the show are $10.
Glasshealer & Felt Out at Hotel Vegas – Friday, March 31
Hotel Vegas is set to host a double release show on Friday, March 31, as both Glasshealer and Felt Out will be celebrating having just put out brand new singles. God Shell will open for the co-headlining alternative acts. Tickets for the show are $10.
Lord Friday The 13th at Feels So Good – Saturday, April 1
Dust off your cassette player and head to Feels So Good on Saturday, April 1 for trash-glam-punk band Lord Friday the 13th’s tape release party for their Disaster Piece EP. Favor and Grocery Bag will kick off the show. Tickets for the show are $8 in advance, $10 the day of.