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Mean Green Machines

Mean Green Machines
Toyota's classic hybrid, the Prius, was one of the first cars of its kind to be made available in a CPO package.

Want to save money at the pump as well as the dealership? High-mileage CPO rides do all that and more, with the added benefit of going easy on the environment and putting high-end luxury rides within budget. Kind of like having your cake and eating it while ripping down PCH with a full tank.

Welcome to green CPO, one of the fastest-growing segments of the certified market. New hybrid models have been booming in the past decade, and sexy clean-diesel sleds have been around long enough to see plenty of expired leases and trade-ins. Certified Chevy Volt plug-ins and their 100-plus-miles-per-gallon fellows are even starting to roll into local dealerships; now, with the Nissan Leaf recently joined by electric versions of the Honda Fit, Fiat 500 and others, expect to see a wave of all-electric rides in CPO programs within the next few years.

Toyota launched the industry’s first dedicated green CPO program for its lineup of hybrids, led by the Prius, just four years ago. The idea was to get car shoppers into their first green vehicles with added warranty protection but without the added expense of a new-hybrid premium.

“The hybrid program is a big opportunity to reach masses of entry-level buyers who have been considering hybrids but aren’t familiar with how they work or can’t afford a new one,” said Norm Olson, sales operations manager for Toyota. “Once people buy a hybrid, they almost never go back to a non-hybrid.”

The most recent models to hit CPO programs are loaded with good looks and cool features, inviting mobile adventures with minimum expense and guilt.

Guilt-free pleasures

Lexus is a pioneer in the luxury hybrid segment, offering up the popular GS 450h sedan, a high-performance rocket with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 292 horsepower and 25 mpg. The GS 450h proves that green rides can be loaded with as much muscle and flair as any of their gas-only counterparts.

Also making its way into the Lexus CPO ranks is the late-model CT 200h, a sporty premium five-door compact with extreme green credentials. Intended as a young-minded, entry-level Lexus, the CT 200h gets 43 mpg in city driving and 40 highway through a 1.8-liter inline-4 engine, and it begs for long, sunny road trips.

“The CT 200h … isn’t just about being a hybrid, said Mark S. Templin, executive vice president of Lexus International. “It’s about having fun. The stylish CT 200h has an attitude and driving dynamic unlike any other Lexus hybrid.”

Infiniti’s first hybrid, the elegantly aggressive M35h midsize sedan, is a gas-electric version of the M37 that gets up to 30 mpg with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine. This sporty feline comes with an impressive roster of standard features that includes leather upholstery and a moonroof.

Chevrolet’s Cruze Eco isn’t a hybrid, yet this slick midsize sedan gets up to 42 mpg highway from a 1.4-liter Ecotec turbocharged engine – positively hybrid-like efficiency. And it’s nearly matched by the new-generation Ford Fiesta and Hyundai’s Accent and Elantra. And yes, they’re all available as CPOs.

A clean sweep

Diesel quickly established itself as a trendy green alternative shortly after Mercedes-Benz introduced its first BlueTEC line to the U.S. in 2006. Volkswagen’s popular Jetta TDI, offering up to 42 mpg with added torque typical of diesel power, did much to help bring the segment into the automotive mainstream. Hot new entries such as the Chevy Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel promise to continue that trend.

Still, clean diesel remains largely rooted in luxury and performance – status, even – due to its strong European heritage and history. Thankfully, CPO brings it all within reach of even moderate budgets.

The smoking-hot Mercedes-Benz diesel E350 rear-wheel-drive sedan is rated up to 33 mpg highway through a 3-liter V-6 with 210 horsepower. Redesigned in 2011, the R350 BlueTEC – with cleaner lines and a sleek new profile – was remade inside and out to much acclaim. This all-wheel-drive crossover seats six or seven and packs a 3-liter turbo diesel V-6 rated at 24 mpg highway.

BMW beefed up its high-performance diesel line starting with the 2010 model year, dropping new turbocharged six-cylinder engines into the 335d and X5. The latter is available in sedan, coupe or convertible; the former sports a new eight-speed automatic transmission. And Audi added a diesel TDI version of the iconic A3 that offers up to 42 mpg through a 2-liter engine, along with the comfort, deft handling and amenities that made Audi famous.

American drivers are taking notice of all that diesel has to offer – and CPO ranks are seeing increasing numbers of exciting clean luxury rides that maintain exceptional value as years go by.

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a nonprofit association that represents diesel engine, vehicle and equipment manufacturers, likes to cite a recently released Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business study that shows that, despite the slightly higher purchase price associated with diesel-engine vehicles, they are a better value compared to vehicles with gasoline engines.

"When [consumers] look at the full range of factors of the cost of ownership, including fuel costs and resale value, they are finding the benefits of investing in proven clean-diesel technology,” Schaeffer said.

And whether it’s clean-diesel, hybrid or just a classic gas miser, you can very likely get the whole package on a CPO program these days.

Robert Young, Brand Publishing Writer