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The Lamborghini Diablo Is the 1990s Supercar Legend Your Dreams Deserve


Talk about big shoes to fill. As the Lamborghini Countach entered its twilight years in the late 1980s, the company had the onerous task of designing a car that exceeded the visual, aural, and dynamic sucker-punch provided by its iconic neck-snapping V-12 super-wedge. The new Lambo had to vaporize eyebrows and buckle knees at a thousand feet if it was to be labeled as anything other than a letdown.

Yeah, well, you can see where this is going. Despite a top speed of over 200 mph—only the second production car to do so—and being far easier to drive than its pappy, the Diablo is a bit of a middle-child. As far as the big Lambos go—of which there have been only five to date—the Diablo is relatively unloved.

We must stress that all of this slight negativity is best read through the lens of Lamborghini, and not the general public. Take a Diablo of any color or vintage out into public, and you risk a ticket for public disturbance with the amount of phones coaxed from pockets and pedestrians you stop dead in their tracks. Us? Oh, we’re big fans of the 1990s Bull. Let’s take a look as to why you should put more rispetto on the Diablo’s name.

Development for the Countach replacement began in 1985, first known internally as Project 132. Lamborghini heads Patrick and Jean Claude Mimran stipulated the new supercar should be capable of 196 mph, and the Italian brand commissioned legendary designer Marcello Gandini to pen Project 132’s slippery profile. Before development could truly get underway, the Mimrans sold Lamborghini and all its assets to Chrysler in 1987 for a piddling $25.2 million. Chrysler, in turn, invested much-needed funds into the nascent project that eventually brought it to completion.

Under the purview of Chrysler, Gandini’s original design was altered to be less angular, with final finishing done by Dodge Viper designer Tom Gale. The finished Diablo lived up to its name; power came from a 5.7-liter configuration of the longstanding Bizzarrini V-12, supplying 492 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. So, did the production Diablo meet the Mimran’s mandate of a 196 mph top speed? Please. On a long enough straight with a brave enough driver, the Diablo cruised to an easy 202 mph, taking just 4.5 seconds to hit 60 mph on the way there. All this in an era when the contemporary Mustang GT struggled to crack 6.0 seconds to 60 mph.

It was a much easier car to both live with and drive than its immediate predecessor, which isn’t saying much, especially with the Diablo’s dramatic improvement in interior ergonomics and space. Leather-lined and kitted-out, the Diablo sold like free beer during its first production year, only for sales to drop off dramatically soon after.

A new all-wheel-drive Diablo debuted in 1993 to improve general livability. The Diablo VT—or ‘Viscous Traction’—yoinked the four-wheel-drive system from the brutish LM002, allowing the front wheels to handle up to 40 percent of the available power when the system detected slippage. The VT carried 25 percent new componentry as part of the all-wheel-drive shift, including a new clutch, wider seats, brake cooling vents, electronically adjustable dampers, and power steering.

Also introduced in 1993 was the mighty Diablo SE30, so-named in commemoration of the automaker’s 30th anniversary. Power jumped to 523 hp thanks to an updated fuel system, new exhaust, and intake manifolds. The VT trim was not an option here in the pursuit of weight savings; even the VT’s new adjustable suspension was left on the workshop shelf in favor of electronically adjustable anti-roll bars. The diet continued with fixed Plexiglas windows on Euro-market cars, along with the omittance of A/C, power steering, and the sound system.

Visually, the Diablo SE30 tweaked just about every aspect of the exterior design, including both front and rear fascias, rear decklid, spoiler, and bumpers. The most striking difference was the light purple metallic paint, a color officially known as Lambo Thirty. Yes, really. If the above asceticism wasn’t enough, a rare Jota package was available for the SE30, boosting power to 595 hp and 471 lb-ft and adding a neat-o roof-scoop that rendered the rear-view mirror legitimately useless.

The inevitable roadster variant arrived in 1995, offered only in VT configuration, and incorporated some of the SE30’s aesthetic changes. The carbon fiber targa roof was (surprisingly) electronically actuated, and stowed above the rear decklid when the driver opted to get his daily dose of vitamin D. On the opposite side of the Diablo range, the new base-level Diablo SV debuted that same year. The SV package bumped power to 510 hp and added an adjustable rear spoiler and slightly larger rear brakes.

The 1999 model year saw Lamborghini’s new owner, Audi, levy a significant refresh onto the Diablo. Headlights were now fixed—yes, pulled from the contemporary Nissan 300ZX—and the base non-SV Diablo was eliminated, making the SV the entry point. The interior received the largest rework, with a new steering wheel, gauges, and surfaces, while output from the 5.7-liter V-12 jumped to 529 hp and 446 lb-ft.

With the Audi-designed Murcielago just over the horizon, the Diablo went out with a sizable bang. The 5.7-liter V-12 was enlarged to 6.0 liters for a special run of cars, starting with the incredibly track-focused 1999-2000 Diablo GT. Aside from oodles of functional aero and a set of nifty three-piece O.Z. wheels, the interior was stripped out with carbon-fiber trim, race seats, and a smaller diameter steering wheel. That new 6.0-liter screamed at 575 hp, and it sent all that grunt to the rear wheels through the same five-speed manual that’s stuck with the Diablo since day one. Only 80 were ever built, and most were sold overseas.

Less hardcore but no less exciting was the Diablo VT 6.0 and VT 6.0 SE produced between 2000 and 2001. Think of this as the middle ground between the regular VT and the GT, with an ever-so-slightly detuned version of the 6.0-liter, now rated at 549 hp for a top speed of a nice, clean 205 mph. Lambo plucked 40 of these VT 6.0s off the assembly floor for the SE, coating each in either metallic gold or bronze. SEs also got cool kit such as shorter gears, upgraded upholstery, “Lamborghini” script on the brake calipers, carbon-fiber trim, and a magnesium intake manifold.

Eleven years of Diablo production ended in 2001, making plenty of room for the stupendous and tremendously popular—for early 2000s Lamborghini, that is—Murcielago that arrived for the 2002 model year and set the standard for Audi’s Lamborghini going forward. As important as the Murcielago is for the marque, we love the Diablo—all 2,884 of them. We’ll take an early-build car, in black, with a red interior. Call us when it’s out front.

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Tesla Kicking Inattentive Drivers Off “Full Self Driving” Beta Testing

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  3. Tesla Kicking Inattentive Drivers Off “Full Self Driving” Beta Testing

Excited for Full Self Driving Beta software? Better pay attention to the road.

On March 6, Elon Musk tweeted about adding a “Download Beta” on-screen button to Tesla cars’ touchscreens “in 10 days.” While the button is stuck in limbo on the flow of EMT (Elon’s Master Time), the Tesla CEO also disclosed that the next big software release for the automaker’s vehicles will be in April, so we can at least expect the expanded availability of FSD beta software beyond today’s select group of owner-testers and some employees.

The forthcoming “Download beta” option for all is huge news. Customers who paid thousands of dollars for the FSD sensor hardware necessary to support fully automated driving (and the promise of later fully autonomous travel activated by software update), they can now try out a skeletal outline of that capability in “beta,” or incomplete test form. (The system can guide so-equipped Teslas along a navigation route, making lane changes, make full right and left turns, and heed traffic signals.) Those same eager Teslarati should take note: It’s not all hands-free, kick-back-and-let-the-car-do-the-work from here on out, and they can lose their FSD preview if they aren’t careful.

How? Well, Mr. Musk has revealed that some drivers had their FSD beta access removed because they were not paying sufficient attention to the road with the system engaged.

How did Tesla determine who was being naughty? Already, every Tesla equipped with the Level 2 Autopilot driver assist regularly detects force applied to the steering wheel—so as to shut Autopilot off if a driver fails to make an input at the wheel every so often (a de-facto “check-in”). On recent models, the in-cabin camera can keep tabs on things; for a time, this camera was simply disabled. But recently, Tesla has started using the in-car camera for driver attention monitoring, as an additional way to combat misuse of Autopilot, which is not intended to be a hands- and attention-free system. Again, it’s only a Level 2 semi-autonomous setup, capable of accelerating, braking, and steering in certain closed environments such as freeways.

It seems that, so far, being kicked out of FSD beta testing requires being spotted not spotting the road ahead by this in-car camera, as well as the typical steering-input tracking Tesla has long employed.

Tesla hacker “green”, @greentheonly, was able to gather footage from the cabin camera (which is mounted right below the rear-view mirror) and figured out what aspects the computer is detecting for driver monitoring. The system is mostly tracking head, eyes, and sunglasses. Interestingly, it is also trying to detect “phone use,” keeping a virtual eye out for drivers holding and looking at a phone, which is a common cause of distracted driving. The percentage read-outs in the video represent the system’s “confidence level.” As Tesla is famously known for using AI for image recognition. In this case, the higher the percentage, the more likely it is the case that the driver is using a phone. The hacker also tried to place physical photo print outs (including a photo of Elon Musk) in various locations to trick the system. And yes, it can be tricked. It is an interesting video, take a look in the YouTube clip below:

Obviously, the system is still in its infancy and in development. At this point, Tesla has three ways to detect a driver’s attention level: Steering force, the seat sensor, and the in-cabin camera.

Autonomous driving—and where responsibility lies in case of an accident—is an extremely difficult problem to work out. The road to fully autonomous driving, Full Self Driving or otherwise, is very long but technology likely will get there. Tesla is definitely pushing the boundaries of testing such setups by releasing an “autonomous-adjacent” feature to the public and gathering data on their use of the system. But it cannot be stressed enough: No matter the FSD system’s capability, it requires an attentive pilot to monitor whether the system is actually doing its job. This is why tech companies and other automakers pay trained individuals to keep tabs on self-driving prototype cars and be ready to jump in and take control if a situation warrants them doing so.

So, a reminder, Tesla owners. FSD is merely in limited-capability beta form, and Autopilot is anything but what its name implies. Both setups can make stupid decisions and still require the driver’s attention to take control for many situations. All of which is to say: Tesla owners, when the “Download FSD Beta” button finally appears on your EV’s touchscreen, please use it responsibly and operate the vehicle safely, keeping your eyes on the road. Tesla is watching.

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Success of Mustang and Bronco Sub-Brands Means More Spin-Offs to Come


Ford CEO Jim Farley was a champion of the idea of creating sub-brands around iconic Blue Oval nameplates, starting with Mustang and Bronco. With those models’ early success seeing their names spread beyond their core original Mustang and Bronco models, Farley thinks there is room to expand the concept to more nameplates.

“We have so much opportunity,” Farley tells MotorTrend in an interview. “We have such a plethora of ideas and passion brands in the company. So many in Europe and in the U.S. We run deep. So, I don’t think we’re going to stop there.”

The sub-brand idea goes back to the naming of Ford’s first performance all-electric, battery-powered SUV, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. The move rankled some purists who felt that all the Mustang styling cues in the world, not to mention 480 horsepower and 634 lb-ft of instant torque were not enough to justify attaching the Mustang pony car nameplate to a four-door crossover. The Mach-E represents the first expansion of the Mustang family in 55 years, meaning it also risks messing with the muscle car’s history and legacy and all those other sacred realms that can easily kill a bold idea.

How an Electric SUV Became a Mustang

Ford had begun work on a “compliance” electric vehicle, so-named because it was being developed to meet emissions standards and nothing more. The milquetoast crossover, based on the Ford Fusion, was scrapped under then-new CEO Jim Hackett, but it was his lieutenant Jim Farley who challenged the team to use the Mustang as inspiration for a sportier and more exciting design and the dynamism a rear-drive platform could inject. Somewhere along the development line, the vehicle went from Mustang-inspired to a full-on Mustang, having been deemed worthy of the pony badge.

Any fan-base vitriol is being overshadowed by critical acclaim for the Mach-E. Those who have driven one don’t care what it is called if it performs as promised. MotorTrend testers were impressed with the Mach-E’s balance and found it to be a whole lot of fun. Ford sold more than 6,600 Mach-E SUVs in the U.S. in the first quarter.

Bronco Becomes Sub-Brand

Creating an outdoorsy sub-brand around the Bronco name has been less controversial, but arguably more confusing. That is because the return of the Ford Ranger pickup-based, body-on-frame Bronco in two-and four-door configurations, is still a way out. The 2021 Bronco is not due until fall and some models have been delayed to the 2022 model year due to supply-chain issues.

Despite the delays, “we have almost 200,000 reservations for Bronco,” Farley says. “If they all convert to orders, that’s two years of production.”

Meanwhile, a new unibody SUV, sharing front-drive underpinnings with the Ford Escape but with more off-road capability and the squared-off, rugged look of a Bronco, is the first family member on the market. The 2021 Bronco Sport is on sale now—and more than 23,000 of them sold in the U.S. in the first quarter—and comes with a surprising amount of capability. A hallmark of the new Bronco brand is standard all-wheel drive.

“I’m so glad we allocated that capital to that Bronco lineup,” Farley says.

An entry-level compact pickup could join the Bronco brand, as well. It is expected to use the front-wheel drive platform used by the Ford Focus in Europe, and the new pickup—”Maverick” seems to be the leading name, but perhaps “Bronco Courier” could work—would slot below the Ranger.

More Sub-Brands to Come

The success of Mustang and Bronco spin-offs are encouraging Ford to continue down this path of putting variants and even different body styles under the umbrella of a single nameplate. “I made it very clear when we rolled out the plan that we’re going to create new passion brands too,” Farley says.

It makes marketing sense; building awareness for a new nameplate requires a lot of time and money. Tapping into a legacy name comes with recognition. Mustang has been mentioned in at least 50 songs; Bronco has been featured in more than 1,200 films, 200 songs, and one very famous police chase by a former running back.

The CEO does not go on to say which nameplates could evolve into sub-brands. We can hazard a few guesses. In Europe, where Ford continues to sell cars beyond the Mustang, the real emphasis is on commercial vehicles. Ford is betting heavily on returns from its commercial vehicles making Transit a good bet.

Then there is the Ford F-150. Ford lumps the light-duty pickup with heavy duties under the umbrella of F-Series—a category that collectively sells about 1.1 million trucks a year. But F-Series as a name has not really struck gold in the automotive lexicon the way F-150 has. There are so many trims and special editions that F-150 is arguably already a sub-brand (it’s a common refrain that Ford’s F-150 business alone could make up its own Fortune 500 company). And there is more to come, as Ford plans an all-electric F-150 next year, part of a larger plan to electrify its iconic vehicles.

Raptor Would Also Be a Good Sub-Brand for Ford

And with Ford promising a real acceleration in the number of nameplates still to come, including many new electric vehicles, there are likely sub-brands in the works for names we have not yet heard of. That includes plans for small electric vehicles for Europe using partner Volkswagen’s MEB electric vehicle platform.

“We’re going to grow as a company,” Farley says. “There’s no shortage of great ideas.”

So, to end on a touchy subject … Which does Farley prefer: a Mustang or a Mustang Mach-E? “I want both,” he tells us. “I want both because I have the luxury of having more than one vehicle in my household. And yeah. I want a Mustang for the Dream Cruise and I want my Mustang Mach-E, GT specifically, to drive to work every day, and once in a while, maybe a Bronco. And if I want to go up north on a nice summer weekend, I’ll probably take my Mustang. It depends on the trip.”

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2021 Toyota Highlander XLE vs. Highlander XSE: The Battle for the High Land

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  6. 2021 Toyota Highlander XLE vs. Highlander XSE: The Battle for the High Land

Is the XSE really that sporty? We drove both back-to-back.

Toyota Highlander Full Overview

The Toyota Highlander is known for being a reliable, good-looking three-row SUV, but among the list of adjectives used to describe it, sporty is not on our list. New for 2021 is the Highlander XSE, which swaps its elegant lines for a more dynamic appearance. With a unique grille, fascia, lower spoiler, wheels, and blackened details like the mirror caps and fake air vents, the XSE distinguishes itself from the rest of the Highlander lineup. But the XSE is more than a badge and an appearance package—Toyota engineers made changes under the skin to deliver a more connected driving experience. Among those trades are stiffer spring rates, a thicker anti-roll bar, and retuned shock absorbers, while the steering feel is more pronounced.

Earlier this year we tested a 2021 Highlander XSE but couldn’t notice any major differences between the regular three-row SUV and the new trim. To get a better perspective, we asked Toyota to lend us the XSE back along with an XLE—the most popular Highlander trim—for a back-to-back comparison.

How Sporty is Sporty?

Usually, we associate the word sporty with extra power and dynamic handling, but that’s not the case here. All Highlanders—regardless of the trim—are powered by a 295-hp, 263 lb-ft 3.5-liter V-6 mated to an eight-speed transmission. Our XSE and XLE both came with the optional all-wheel drive system, which can send up to 50 percent of the torque to the rear wheels. Besides the suspension and steering settings, the XSE comes with stickier tires and 20-inch wheels (instead of 18s).

Driving the Highlanders back-to-back exposed the difference we didn’t see earlier in the year. Compared to the XLE, the XSE’s steering felt a bit more weighted, but short of what we’d describe as sporty. The difference was like turning Sport mode on—the XSE felt more alert while the XLE seemed to be in comfort mode all the time. The response was a bit sharper and better balanced and provided a tad more feedback than the XLE. Still, it wasn’t a night and day difference, as the XSE’s steering is still tuned to on the comfort side of the spectrum.

The case is the same with the ride. On our test loop that mingles through curvy roads, broken pavement and highway portions, the Highlander XSE’s body felt a bit more controlled than the XLE. On the broken pavement, the XSE’s suspension felt like it was tuned to work in a one-and-done fashion versus trying to dissipate the vibrations in the cabin in a cushier way, like we felt in the XLE. On twisty roads, the XSE felt sharper, more controlled and a tad grippier—the latter mostly because of the Goodyear Eagle Touring tires compared to the XLE’s Michelin Premier LTX. Ride quality wasn’t impacted by the XSE’s bigger wheels.

At our track in Fontana, California, the pair felt pretty close to each other in our acceleration and handling tests. In the 0-60 mph run and the quarter mile, the XLE was 0.1 second faster, but on our braking test the XSE’s tires showed off, stopping in 116 ft compared to 122 ft for the XLE. “Similar feel to the XLE: Lots of front dive, softly sprung front suspension,” said associate road test editor Erick Ayapana after driving them back-to-back.

Things were minimally different on the skid pad as well, where road test editor Chris Walton managed to shave 0.2 second in the XSE for a time of 26.5-seconds at 0.65 g (the XLE took 26.7 seconds at 0.64 g). “Lots of body roll in the corners, and the steering seems heavy for heavy’s sake. The transmission wasn’t very intelligent on the skid pad, so I had to downshift manually,” said Walton on the XLE. His feelings were almost replicated in the XSE, noting the same foibles as in the XLE but less so. “There’s still quite a lot of dive and roll, but not as severe. The transmission behaves the same, and perhaps the tires are a little sportier, so it was easier to brake in the same spot consistently,” he added.

So, how sporty is sporty? The Highlander XSE falls short of what we’d call sporty or spirited. But like Walton said after driving the XSE on the skid pad, “this is how the regular Highlander should be.” The stiffer springs and weighted steering help it keep its body under control when driving aggressively, and still have that level of comfort that the three-row Toyota is known for.

Are the Interiors Different?

Similar to the exterior, the cabins are a bit different. The biggest change is the red leatherette in the XSE, which you can choose at no cost. (On a side note, the red leatherette only covers the first and second rows; the third row gets black seats.) If you prefer something more traditional, black leatherette seats are also standard, which is how our model came equipped. Faux carbon-fiber trim can be seen across the dashboard. The XLE, on the other hand, trades the red leatherette for a premium appeal, especially with the Harvest Beige interior, which combines beige and brown materials. And instead of getting the fake carbon-fiber, the XLE gets a shiny gray plastic.

The other minor difference inside is the design of the Multi-Terrain selector, which is controlled by a knob in the XSE instead of buttons like in the XLE. Both SUVs have the same three modes—Mud & Sand, Normal, and Rock & Dirt—only the way to select them is different.

Opting for the XLE allows you to choose between a seven- or eight-passenger interior at no cost; the XSE arrives with seven seats only.

Everything else is the same across the board. Both SUVs come with five USB ports (three in the front row, two in the second row) and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The XSE is available with navigation and a JBL premium audio system (a $1,680 option), while the XLE offers navigation and a premium audio option (no JBL speakers) for $1,040. Both systems sounded good; we didn’t notice any major difference between them.

Interior space is the same in both Highlanders, with the third row feeling cramped for adults. Recently, Toyota trademarked the “Grand Highlander” name, which means we might see a bigger three-row SUV soon, which could amplify interior space.

Which Highlander Should I Buy?

The XSE is positioned between the XLE and Limited grades, which means it starts at $42,680 while the XLE is priced at $41,085. All-wheel drive is an extra $1,950 for either model. Our XLE, which only added the navigation and audio package, crossed the checkout counter at $43,625. Our XSE added the JBL package and other accessories like the cargo cross bars on the roof, all-weather floor mats, and illuminated door sills (among others) that increased its price to $47,451.

In the end, it all comes down to the looks and practicality. If you think the Highlander’s design is boring, the XSE definitely brings more emotion. But if your budget is tighter, the XLE is a good option. The stiffer suspension and steering settings likely won’t affect your decision, as the experience behind the wheel is virtually the same when either Highlander is not pushed to its limits, something the vast majority of owners will stay away from.

If it were our money, we’d probably go with the XSE, as we prefer its handling on the road and its stickier tires. We’d rather have the XLE’s exterior design, but we’d get the red leatherette seats if we were buying the XSE. We can’t have the best of both worlds here, but we’re glad Toyota is giving customers more options to choose from.

Looks good! More details?

POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS 2021 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE AWD
ENGINE TYPE Atkinson-cycle 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads
VALVETRAIN DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
DISPLACEMENT 210.9 cu in/3,456 cc
POWER (SAE NET) 295 hp @ 6,600 rpm
TORQUE (SAE NET) 263 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
REDLINE 6,750 rpm
WEIGHT TO POWER 14.7 lb/hp 14.9 lb/hp
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F; R 13.3-in vented disc; 13.3-in disc, ABS
WHEELS 8.0 x 18-in cast aluminum 8.0 x 20-in cast aluminum
TIRES 235/65R18 106V Michelin Premier LTX (M+S) 235/55R20 102V Goodyear Eagle Touring (M+S)
WHEELBASE 112.2 in
TRACK, F/R 65.3/65.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 194.9 x 76.0 x 68.1 in
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,341 lb (56/44%) 4,394 lb (55/45%)
HEADROOM, F/M/R 38.4/39.4/36.1 in
LEGROOM, F/M/R 40.4/41.0/27.7 in
SHOULDER ROOM, F/M/R 59.0/58.7/55.0 in
CARGO VOLUME, BEH F/M/R 84.3/48.4/16.0 cu ft
0-30 2.4 sec 2.4 sec
0-40 3.8 3.9
0-50 5.2 5.4
0-60 6.8 6.9
0-70 9.2 9.4
0-80 11.6 12.0
0-90 14.3 14.6
PASSING, 45-65 MPH 3.5 3.6
QUARTER MILE 15.3 sec @ 92.8 mph 15.4 sec @ 92.6 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 122 ft 116 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.82 g (avg) 0.86 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.7 sec @ 0.64 g (avg) 26.5 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH 1,500 rpm
BASE PRICE $42,860 $44,805
PRICE AS TESTED $43,900 $47,726
AIRBAGS 8: Dual front, front side, driver knee, front-pass thigh, f/m/r curtain
BASIC WARRANTY 3 yrs/36,000 miles
POWERTRAIN WARRANTY 5 yrs/60,000 miles
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE 2 yrs/25,000 miles
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 169/125 kWh/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.86 lb/mile
RECOMMENDED FUEL Unleaded regular

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