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Winners' Circle

Winners' Circle
een here is the Volvo C30. Volvo won top honors in the 2014 IntelliChoice CPO Award categories Best Premium Program and Best Premium Warranty.

We can't say goodbye to awards season without spotlighting the 15th annual IntelliChoice Certified Pre-Owed Car Awards, the premier event in the glamorous, head-spinning world of prestige CPO programs.

OK, maybe the IntelliChoice CPO awards aren't so glamorous. But they certainly are the main event in the CPO industry, and they've driven many programs to competitive heights in the past decade or so. The awards are also a great opportunity for consumers to compare and evaluate programs, even among non-winners, and learn the basic advantages of CPO programs.

The red carpet at the San Diego event was awash with the usual superstars, headlined by Volvo, as well as fast-rising brands such as Kia and Hyundai. The concept is simple: Not all CPO programs are created equal, but they all keep getting better, spurred in part by competition created by the visibility and prestige of the awards, which are given based on automotive research firm IntelliChoice's exacting criteria.

It's a weighted process that evaluates key components such as used car ownership costs and inspection processes, with a special emphasis on extended manufacturer warranties.

"Benefits beyond the new car warranty so significantly enhance consumers' peace of mind that it is weighted very heavily in our study," said Eric Anderson, ownership database supervisor at IntelliChoice. "Both the Volvo and the Hyundai programs exemplify the totality of what is important to shoppers: That is how to reduce their risk when buying a used vehicle."

Without further ado, let's look at the big winners.

Premium Division

Volvo took overall Best Premium Program honors for the seventh consecutive year, strengthening its hand even further this time by extending its no-deductible warranty to a seven-year/100,000-mile comprehensive plan — a move that secured Volvo a Best Premium Warranty Award as well. The Swedish automaker also scored big on its 130-plus-point inspection checklist, along with outstanding brand value retention and age/mileage restrictions; qualified Volvos must fall within the past five model years and have fewer than 80,000 miles.

American luxury was well-represented by Lincoln, which took home the rather wordy Best Premium Brand Used Ownership Costs Award. Lincoln also got high marks for its fully transferable comprehensive warranty, which runs six years from the in-service date (the day on which the car was first sold and driven off the lot) or 100,000 miles, covering more than 500 components following a 200-point inspection. Lincoln also offers extended warranty options and roadside assistance for as long as the CPO ride is covered.

Popular Division

A breakout star, Hyundai won the Best Popular Program Award for the third straight year. Powered by a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty — with five years and 60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper protection — Hyundai also scored points with its 150-point inspection and overall brand value. Hyundai is discriminating as well: Qualified rides must fall into a range of five model years and 60,000 miles. Roadside assistance is offered for 10 years and unlimited miles.

It's worth noting that another major South Korean automaker, Kia, jumped from fifth place last year to a close second for the Best Popular Program Award, boosted by a new 12-month/12,000-mile comprehensive warranty from date of CPO sale, along with improvements to dealer compliance and strong financing incentives.

But Kia's beefed-up coverage wasn't enough to fend off Mini for Best Popular Warranty Award. Mini's CPO program, which is called Next, has dominated this category for the past few years with its two-year/50,000-mile coverage that kicks in when the new-car coverage expires (virtually the same as BMW) for a total of six years and 100,000 miles. Mini's brand value also ranked high, based on retained new-car value and overall coolness.

Ever-popular Toyota won honors for Best Popular Brand Used Ownership Costs, fueled partly by strong value retention and warranty protection: Powertrain protection extends seven years and 100,000 miles, accompanied by 12-month/12,000-mile comprehensive coverage from CPO purchase. Toyota accepts only vehicles within a six-year/85,000-mile range and subjects them to a 160-plus-point inspection.

It's worth noting that if you're looking for a certified Toyota hybrid — it is, after all, the global leader in that segment — Toyota covers hybrid components for eight years and offers a 174-point inspection. Now that's star quality.

Robert Young, Brand Publishing Writer