Not all certified pre-owned vehicle programs are created equal, but they keep getting better — and the best of the lot are bunched very tightly at the top. In fact, several CPO programs earned perfect scores for their inspection lists. And how do you improve on perfect?
These were the big stories coming out of the 12th Intellichoice CPO awards, presented at the National Remarketing Conference & Used Car Expo in San Diego in November. Many of the longtime leaders solidified their rankings and even moved up — Volvo took the top spot among premium manufacturers for the fourth straight year — and Mini has become a dominant force in the popular division.
"Volvo and Mini continue to dominate the rankings with a focus on consistency and quality in their programs," said Eric Anderson, senior analyst for Intellichoice.com, a leading provider of automotive value analysis for new and used vehicles. "We are also very impressed with the improvement Kia has made with a relatively new program."
"Even in this tough economy, CPO sales have been very strong, with many manufacturers expected to reach record sales levels. 2011 should be even more promising for the CPO market."
Dim the lights and cue the music. Without further ado, here are the top 10 award winners for 2011:
1. Volvo: The four-time defending champion repeats as the No. 1 program in a tight top five, leading with the highest-rated warranty and a strong 130-point inspection.
The logjam for best inspection is a good example of the uniformly tight race among the premium brands: Volvo's inspection program tied with six others — including ones from Infiniti, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz — all of which clocked in with 100% ratings from Intellichoice. Pre-owned Volvos must fall within a range of five model years and 80,000 miles to be accepted.
2. Saab: Holding steady from 2010's second-place finish, Saab scored consistently well across the board with its six-year/100,000-mile warranty and expanded 117-point reconditioning inspection. Saab doesn't sell many vehicles in the U.S., but it pays close attention to its CPO program.
3. Cadillac: Repeating in third place, Cadillac continues to rely on the strength of its six-year/100,000-mile comprehensive warranty and 117-point reconditioning inspection.
Always a prestige ride, Caddy scored very well in the "brand value" category. And the program is among the most discriminating, only accepting used vehicles that fall within four model years and 50,000 miles.
4. (Tie) Hummer: In perhaps the biggest surprise in recent CPO award rankings, Hummer crashed the Intellichoice party two years ago and had another strong showing this year. In fact, after tying for fifth last year with Audi and Lincoln, Hummer has moved up to a fourth-place deadlock with Jaguar. The keys to its success? Strong brand value — few brands can match the bold profile of Hummer — and steady scores for its gold-standard six-year/100,000-mile zero-deductible warranty.
4. (Tie) Jaguar: This iconic British brand — a perennial leader in the Intellichoice awards — scored big with its 140-point inspection (and 100% rating). Jaguar's six-year/100,000-mile warranty (no deductible), which runs from original in-service date, got high marks as well. Jaguars must fall within a range of five model years and 60,000 miles.
1. Mini: Mini dominated the popular division based in large part on its highly regarded two-year/50,000-mile coverage that kicks in when the new-car coverage expires — virtually the same as its BMW brethren. Mini also took top brand-value honors.
"Used Minis retain a lot of their original new-car value," Anderson said. "Plus, Minis just look cool."
2. Volkswagen: After finishing on top for five straight years, VW slipped into second, retaining very strong marks for its well-regarded 112-point inspection, brand value and two-year/24,000-mile no-deductible warranty, which runs from the date of certified purchase or when any remaining original coverage expires. Used VWs can't have more than 75,000 miles on the odometer or be older than five years.
3. Hyundai: Powered by an industry-best 10-year/100,000-mile new-car powertrain warranty — with five years and 60,000 miles-worth of bumper-to-bumper protection — Hyundai leapt into the top five two years ago and hasn't budged. But Hyundai doesn't rest on its laurels: The inspection was beefed up to cover 150 reconditioning points, and its brand value ranks higher than ever. Qualified Hyundais fall within a range of five model years and 60,000 miles.
4. Honda: Strong marks for its seven-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and — as always — high ratings for brand value helped Honda retain its fourth-place standing. Honda's 150-point inspection ranked high as well.
5. Kia: This relative newcomer finishes fifth for the second year, boosted by the same 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty as Hyundai, and a reconditioning inspection that covers 150 points.
Maybe Clippers star Blake Griffin's flying leap over a Kia in February's NBA Slam Dunk Competition will be good for a bonus point (or three) in next year's standings.