Brand-new cars have their advantages. The peace of mind that comes from buying a vehicle with only a few miles and no wear is alluring. Of course, cars are only new once, but some well-maintained vehicles stay in like-new condition for years. The best ones that are traded in within a few years are often included in dealers' certified pre-owned (CPO) programs. Certified cars get a chance to be new once again, or at least close to it. These vehicles, which must meet age, mileage and condition requirements that vary by manufacturer, are inspected, cleaned, reconditioned and offered for sale with warranties to extend that peace of mind to a second owner.
Of course, not all the reasons for choosing a new car are practical. Driving the latest model is exciting. Just like fashion, automotive design follows trends, and the latest styles are usually the hottest. Plus, the newest vehicles are often the ones that include the latest technology, since automakers often introduce new innovations with new or redesigned models.
But you don't have to buy a brand-new car to have the latest designs, thanks to CPO vehicles. Except for occasional, subtle year-to-year changes, these six models look nearly identical to their corresponding new 2013 or 2014 models in showrooms now. This means you can choose a more affordable CPO vehicle over a brand-new one. You'll get the latest look -- plus that CPO warranty -- without paying a new-car price.
2011-2013 Kia Optima
In the highly competitive midsize sedan category, one of the most distinctive designs comes from the Korean automaker Kia. Introduced in 2011, the current-generation Kia Optima is sleek and modern, with a head-turning design that makes it look more expensive than it actually is.
Brand-new, the Optima has a starting price of $21,350, but certified pre-owned Optimas on AutoTrader.com start about $5,000 cheaper. That's significant savings you could pocket or spend on upgrading. For example, you could go from a base Optima LX to the mid-range EX or top-trim SX with a sunroof and navigation.
2009-2013 RAM 1500
Full-size pickups typically have long life cycles. It's not unusual for a truck design to last 10 years before being replaced. That's good for CPO buyers because it means 3- or 4-year-old trucks will still look new. When a brand-new design comes out, it quickly makes a year-old truck look aged.
The timing is right for the RAM 1500, which was redesigned for the 2009 model year. Four model years with a consistent look translates to plenty of CPO vehicles that look nearly identical to the latest, the 2014 RAM 1500. Choose the top-of-the-lineup Laramie Longhorn and get luxury-car levels of comfort with the utility of a pickup. Buy it certified pre-owned and save thousands compared to a brand-new RAM.
2008-2013 Buick Enclave
Families across the country are embracing 7- and 8-passenger crossovers like the Buick Enclave not only for their practicality, comfort and flexibility but also for their appealing looks. Minivans are great for getting people around but a bit too utilitarian for a night out on the town. The Buick Enclave has the space and utility for family duty along with enough style to make it something grown-ups actually want to drive.
Buick introduced the Enclave for the 2008 model year and refreshed the design for 2013. Still, the overall look didn't change too much, and the earlier models don't yet look outdated. Although the Enclave is nicely equipped as a base model, choosing certified pre-owned leaves room in the budget for choosing some of the Enclave's long list of optional equipment, such as heated and cooled leather seats or a rear entertainment system.
2011-2013 Lexus CT200h
Lexus moves quickly, updating designs and equipment constantly to keep up in the demanding luxury market. One of the brand's most affordable models was also one of the first to sport the latest Lexus look. Introduced in 2011, the CT200h features the spindle grille and the front-end treatment that's made its way across the Lexus lineup. It also has helped to transform Lexus styling from restrained to exciting.
The hybrid CT200h is an excellent CPO choice because earlier models are almost indistinguishable from the newest ones. Besides that fact, it makes sense for the wallet, too. Why buy a fuel-sipping, 42-miles-per-gallon vehicle if your savings are eaten up upon purchase? Save thousands with a CPO Lexus CT and the money you save on fuel won't be offset by a high sticker price.
2009-2013 Volkswagen Tiguan
VW's compact SUV was introduced for the 2009 model year and refreshed in 2012, but the look remained relatively consistent. Power has been consistent across the range since its introduction, too. A standard turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and European engineering deliver impressive ride and handling.
Brand-new, the Tiguan is priced from the mid-20s, but a loaded example -- with all-wheel drive, leather and a huge panoramic sunroof -- can cost nearly $40,000. Drivers who like the Tiguan's clean lines and driving dynamics can get more for their money by choosing a certified pre-owned model. Choose a 2012 or 2013 Tiguan for the updated front and rear styling that matches the brand-new version.
2011-2013 MINI Cooper Countryman
Another compact SUV with European heritage is the MINI Cooper Countryman. Like its sister models, the Countryman sports the unmistakable MINI look in a package that's larger and more accommodating than the Cooper Hardtop or Clubman. Plus, the Countryman is a 5-door hatchback, so rear-seat passengers don't have to climb past the front seats to get in.
MINI offers five versions of the Countryman, starting with the base model. The Countryman S has a more powerful turbocharged engine, and the S ALL4 adds more traction with all-wheel drive. Finally, the John Cooper Works Countryman -- introduced in 2013 -- receives all-wheel drive, more power and a range of performance-enhancing equipment. True to its name, the biggest MINI model is still little compared to most vehicles. But choosing a pre-owned Countryman over a brand-new one can offer you big savings, and the two look nearly identical.
Not all certified pre-owned vehicles look just like their brand-new counterparts, so choose carefully if you want a car that appears to have just rolled off the showroom floor. Because new-car leases are increasingly popular, dealers have a consistent supply of low-mileage, late-model vehicles to include in their CPO inventories. That's great for buyers who want the best of both worlds: the affordability of a used car and the up-to-date styling of a brand-new one.