Spring has practically sprung and summer’s just a dream away — a warm inspiration for any Southern California denizen trolling car dealerships. Sunny days make it nearly impossible to resist rides that maximize the region’s abundant possibilities for fun on wheels.
After all, this is one of the few places on the planet with easy access to beaches, mountain recreation, desert off-roading and resorts — potentially all in the same weekend. To locals it’s a cliché that’s easy to laugh off while trapped in endless gridlocked commutes. But not when you’re cruising with salty spring wind in your hair under a blinding blue sky, or rolling up an alpine landscape with camping gear (and the kids) in tow.
And you can have it all on a budget. Certified pre-owned programs offer fun and affordable peace of mind, with a selection of everything today’s auto market has to offer.
So with the Lifestyle Guide on Cars.com as a jumping-off point, let’s check out a sampling of the coolest certified rides on the market in three distinct categories — as wildly varied as SoCal itself.
We’ll look at 2010 models to get a general idea of what CPO programs have to offer for spring, summer and beyond.
FUN TO DRIVE
Audi A5 Cabriolet
A sleek two-door stunner that’s pretty much the entire package: head-turning style, open-air luxury and aggressive sports performance to go with classic European lines. Worried about skyrocketing fuel costs? With a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that generates 211 horsepower, the A5 delivers a positively gas-sipping 30 mpg on the highway. This sexy beast comes with standard leather seating and a wide variety of interior trim options. And it’s high tech: Audi’s Multimedia Interface system controls many of the car’s functions. Want more power? Check out the S5. It’s got everything you love about the A5, plus 120 more horsepower. Is it legal to marry automobiles in California?
Mazda MX-5 Miata
It could easily be dropped in the Sun Lovers category, but the MX-5 gets the nod here for sheer coolness and fun driveability. Just try not to smile behind the wheel of this sexy buggy, even if it’s just a trip to Whole Foods. The 2010 MX-5, a small wonder with a soft or hard quick-moving retractable top and classic sports car lines, would dazzle in any decade.
Handling is exceptionally nimble, and the six-speed transmission comes in manual or auto-manual modes for deft hands-on piloting. The lightweight (and affordable) MX-5 gets up to 28 mpg on the highway through a 2-liter four-cylinder engine. Road trip, anyone?
Dodge Charger SRT8
A modern take on the classic ’70s muscle car, the 2010 Charger combines pure power with 21st century flavor, much flash and plenty of amenities. The SRT8 screams machismo and California style, packing a powerful 425-horsepower 6.1-liter V-8, Brembo brakes and sport-tuned suspension for surprisingly agile performance. And the speedometer tops out at 180 mph. The 2010 SRT8 is decked out with a cool hood scoop, spoiler and chrome dual-exhaust tips, with perforated leather seats and suede trim inside the roomy cabin. This Charger rolls on 20-inch aluminum wheels. It’s the type of ride that can inspire obsessive customization.
Ford Mustang Convertible
The classic American pony car goes topless, an irresistible combination for any type of warm-weather activity, whether it’s hitting the beach or enjoying fresh air on the way to the ballpark. Eminently versatile, it offers fun as well as function — backseats and trunk space are not sacrificed in any appreciable way — along with solid sport credentials and an undeniable flash factor. The 2010 Mustang features a restyled look and plenty of muscle, powered by a 4-liter 210-horsepower V-6 engine or a 4.6-liter V-8 with 315 horsepower. A stability system is standard, navigation is optional. And there’s more good news: The Mustang isn’t too hard on the pocketbook.
BMW 328i Convertible
Bavarian luxury and prestige al fresco, the 328i Convertible hardly compromises on the abundant amenities and comfort found in the iconic 3 Series Coupe and Sedan. This four-passenger beauty has a retractable hard top along with BMW’s superior, intuitive handling and velvet-smooth overall performance that Bimmer devotees have come to revere. And the brakes will set the 328i down on a dime. All that and a 3-liter inline-six engine rated at 230 horses — and up to 28 mpg highway. It comes with six-speed manual or auto-manual transmissions to put the driver firmly in control of the magic. Automatic climate control and HD radio come standard.
Toyota FJ Cruiser
True off-road capability with comfort, standout retro style and Toyota’s celebrated reliability, the FJ Cruiser has smart lines and a cool factor that sets it apart from many other reasonably priced off-road vehicles. In fact, its look skews more Scion than Toyota, but it has solid old-school rock-climbing credentials, SUV versatility and five-star handling and safety features galore, including electronic stability and rollover-sensing curtain airbags. The FJ Cruiser is made to get down in the dirt but cleans up very nicely. And the 4-liter V-6 engine packs nearly 260 horsepower for 2010 — a gain of 20 over previous years.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
With unquestioned off-road capabilities and a host of high-tech features — as well as a surprisingly comfortable five-passenger cabin — the Grand Cherokee tweaks the DNA of the iconic Jeep to appeal to urban drivers who want the option of going way off pavement. The popular Grand Cherokee offers off-road features such as Quadra-Drive 4WD and Hill Start, which keeps the Jeep from rolling down steep embankments while the ignition is firing up. A 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with 357 horsepower has variable cylinder deactivation for improved efficiency without sacrificing power or torque. An SRT8 model packs a 6.1-liter 420-horsepower Hemi V-8 without deactivation.