The vast array of fast vehicles out there are often muffled by the exhaust of well-known sports and muscle cars that flash through movies, commercials, and vain social media posts. Many drivers feel that they have to settle for something slow simply because the price of a sports car is out of their reach. Others find themselves lost in the rush of everyday commutes and obligations for their family, while sports car have a difficult time wedging themselves in all of that hustle and bustle, which is why they’re one of the most challenging cars to sell, in the first place.
There is still hope for the working man or the busy family guy or gal that wants something a little more thrilling than a daily driver. But you spend so much time in your car, though, that many feel the urge to splurge on something exciting.
The truth is, though, that many fast cars with spacious cabs are looking most car-buyers right in the face. There are high-quality sleeper cars hidden among the stable of most manufacturers. Not all wear extremely low price tags, but there’s a good variety of sleepers out there that anyone can find to fit their lifestyle. If you’ve got something against old or plain vehicles, we don’t really blame you, but prepare to receive some of the great shocks of your life.
24 Buick Verano Turbo (2012-18)
Even though basic Buick models come with some options that you’d only find in a luxury car, the manufacturer carries around a stigma that it just can’t get away from. Unfortunately for the Buick Verano, most of the world—or, at least the US—perceives this car as a geriatric getaway vehicle. However, the younger crowd (anyone below retirement age) would be pleasantly surprised to find that the Verano Turbo may actually satisfy their performance desires. It may take a little bit of imagination, but the Verano could be transformed into a pretty sick sleeper. It has a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder with 250 horsepower on tap. That’s nothing a quick visit to the auto shop couldn’t fix, with a tune, it could easily come up to 330 hp. At $30k, it leaves you with a lot of extra cash, compared to expensive performance cars, to make this car look exactly the way you’d like.
23 Pontiac GTO (2004-06)
The GTO was once a popular car, but most of that comes from the classic model. While it’s proven itself as one of the best cars in Pontiac’s early-2000s lineup, it’s been completely downplayed considering what’s really beneath the hood of this GTO. LS1 and LS2 engine options, which are typically found in a Corvette, were the driving power behind the 00’s GTO (literally). The V8s gave this unassuming car over 400 horsepower. Pair that with its six-speed manual transmission and you have a car that can make those work commutes a little more thrilling. Sadly, only 30,000 units of this body style were ever sold since so many judged this car by its unappealing exterior.
22 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT (2012-18)
The Grand Cherokee isn’t the worst-looking car on this list, by any stretch. Although, you would never think that this heavy SUV would be able to go from zero-to-sixty in 4.8 seconds. That’s right, this eight-speed is full of treats. Of course, the Grand Cherokee is (and always has been) Jeep’s luxury flagship, but you’re getting high-quality Brembo brakes along with a versatile suspension that can toggle between sport and track modes, among many other luxuries that you don’t always get on the base vehicle. The performance of the modern-day Grand Cherokee mimics that of a 90s sports car, except that it can seat five comfortably. It may have taken Jeep 20 years to figure things out, but the Grand Cherokee has it going on.
21 Mercedes-Benz E63 S Wagon AMG (2010-18)
There is nothing about this S Wagon that gives off the impression that it goes fast or is a high-performance vehicle, not even the Mercedes emblem. That AMG lettering is pretty important to the manufacturer (and for the S Wagon), but only well-versed car fanatics are aware that this car is hiding a 5.5-liter V8 beneath its dorky façade. The average individual would pass by this ugly wagon with indifference without realizing that the AMG implies twin-turbos and 577 horsepower. Even more surprising is the 590 lb-ft of torque that the S Wagon has behind it. It may seem like a car that only a nerd or mom would drive, but the smart buyers are quick to scoop up this ride. Its convenience and space, plus the power to go from zero-to-sixty in 3.6 seconds, are more than enough for buyers to throw their money at the Benz dealerships.
20 Volvo S60 R (2004-09)
At first glance, everyone thinks they’re looking at the S60 R’s boring, base model sibling. However, the R is thrown in there for a very good reason: it moves like it’s meant to be raced. The Volvo S60 R comes equipped with a turbocharged inline-five and gets up to 300 horsepower with 300 lb-ft of torque. That’s impressive considering that it looks like something that was designed inside of an uninspiring cubicle. The Volvo S60 R is a deceiving car based on looks alone, but if you give it a chance, it could be a rewarding vehicle.
19 Infiniti Q70 (2014-18)
While the Q70 belongs to a luxury class (naturally), it looks a lot like an overpriced Nissan to the average buyer, which is why these sedans have had a much more challenging time selling. It doesn’t look like the most exciting vehicle in the world, but getting behind the wheel may change that perception for good. Over 420 horsepower may not come in a beautiful package, but it sure does come in some of the least expected places. The 417 lb-ft of torque and driver assist turned off can make this boring grocery-getter a fun automatic that will let you drift on the way to work.
18 Chevrolet SS (2013-18)
The Chevy SS is one of the most downplayed vehicles to ever leave the GMC assembly line. It would seem like the SS name would garner enough buyers on its own, but few have ever even heard of this car. Scarcely is it ever seen on the road. But all of you non-buyers out there are missing out on a 415-hp V8 engine. Surprised? We were when we saw this, too. While it bears resemblance somewhere between the 2000s GTO and the Chevy Malibu—which isn’t a flattering mockup anyway—the SS is a fast car with a clean interior. Most people took one look at this car and saw a family car with a $45,000 price tag. There’s more than meets the eye with the SS, though.
17 Ford Taurus SHO
The Taurus has a long-standing history with the consumer market, and while it’s not all negative, it does seem to give off the impression that it’s a mom car. For whatever reason, high-speed and high-performance don’t usually factor into a car with that label. But if you’re not aware of the Taurus SHO then you’re missing out on one speedy sedan while probably not considering the fact that it’s basically a cop car (and they don’t drive anything slow). The latest model is the fastest one yet, with a twin-turbo packed under the hood pumping out a solid amount of horsepower (365 to be exact). No Taurus really looks like much, but you would be shocked at what the SHO models can do.
16 GMC Syclone (1991)
The Syclone is one of those funny-looking trucks that are so small they seem impractical, kind of like a sports car. And, in a lot of ways they are, but if you happen to need a truck bed but want the power of a high-performance engine, then look no further. The GMC Syclone houses Chevy’s 4.3-liter V6. Oh, and did we mention that it’s turbocharged? This little truck could beat some of the 90s best muscle cars in a race. It’s 280 horsepower isn’t a joke and the Syclone can go from zero-to-sixty in 4.3 seconds. All that you never would have suspected from such a (seemingly) modest pickup. Its price tag is anything but modest, though, and reflects how valuable this performance vehicle is: you can scoop up a used Syclone with close to 100k miles on it for $20k.
15 Dodge Shelby GLHS (1986-87)
You may have heard of Carroll Shelby being associated with Ford, however, he’s also worked with many Mopar vehicles to make them turbocharged masterpieces. The Dodge Shelby GLH was one of the lucky few that received some TLC. Shelby tuned the base Omni to become the GLH with 175 horsepower. Later on, Shelby tuned Dodge’s Omni GLH again, this time turbocharging it, thus, it has become what we now know as the GLHS. And, trust us when we say, that ‘S’ makes all the difference. It can go from zero-to-sixty in 6.7 seconds, which may not seem so impressive when you’re putting it next to modern sports cars, but it was incredible in its own day.
14 Mercury Marauder (2003-04)
The Marauder was the lesser-known version of the Ford Crown Vic, and if you know anything about that big-bottomed car then you’re probably aware of the untold truth of the Marauder. It looks more like it belongs in a funeral procession than it does on a track (which may be a valid reason as to why that’s yet to be seen), but the fact is that this car can move quick. It has a 3.6-liter engine with a pretty modest 302 horsepower, so we know that these aren’t the fastest cars around anymore (or ever). The real value of these cars lies in the world of aftermarket parts where, the Marauder being closely related to the former police cruiser, the Crown Vic, it has the benefit of being compatible with many upgrades. Nowadays, it’s next to impossible to find a used one that hasn’t been upgraded in one way or another.
13 Volvo S80 (2006-16)
Similar to its S60 counterpart, the S80 has been unfairly judged for being one of the least thrilling vehicles you can buy. In truth, the engine was built by Yamaha, which was also that period of time when Ford hired them to build the Taurus’s SHO engine, meaning that this was one powerful motor. If you’ve ever considered buying a practical car with an unassuming style, but you don’t want to compromise on speed and power, a 4.4-liter V-8 packed with 305 horsepower will typically get the job done. The dreary hand-me-down exterior details may be challenging to overlook, but if you’re attempting to blend into the crowd while also satisfying that speed demon within, then the S80 is an excellent car.
12 Mercedes-Benz R63 AMG (2007-13)
What’s worse-looking than a wagon? It depends on who you ask and it’s still up for debate, but we’re going to go with the minivan. The Mercedes-Benz AMG R63 is similar to its E63 but with less of the cuteness that can get it by. This V8 soccer mom's car has a whopping 507 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. That has to have some sort of shock value for anyone who prejudged this gem. It can get up to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, and the AMG crew has also upgraded its suspension and brakes to fill that void of much-needed stopping power. For $85k, you’re probably wondering why anyone would ever buy this car. It’s simple, though: if you need to buy a minivan to haul a family around in, but you can’t let go of that sports car dream, then you’ve got yourself a mutation of both at a lower cost.
11 Ford Flex EcoBoost (2010-18)
The Flex is one of the ugliest designs that Ford has ever come up with. It looks like the inspiration behind this van/crossover/SUV came from a cereal box. It may disguise itself as a family SUV that you can troll around town in, but it’s actually a good cruising vehicle. In fact, if you were one of the few souls that loved the distasteful 2001 Mustang, then this could be your dream car for the entire family. The Flex EcoBoost can get up to 60 miles per hour in 5.9 seconds and has over 365 horsepower. It’s everything you need if you’re going through a midlife crisis, or if you’re the type of parent that’s always late for everything.
10 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion (2003)
There’s something about that exaggerated antennae and dull nose of the Passat that makes you want to cringe when looking at it. The urge is almost unavoidable entirely until you get behind the wheel, then your perception may just soften a little, even if the seats aren’t going to. We like to think of the Passat’s 4Motion as VW’s version of the Audi Quattro. It may not glide quite as seamlessly, but its 270 horsepower and exhaust sound could just make up for that silent Quattro any day. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper than an Audi; savings can usually bribe anyone to overlook the shortcomings of the Passat’s face.
9 Mazda 6 (2002-18)
Can you recall the Mazda marketing campaign of the early 2000s? “Zoom, Zoom”? Believe it or not, they weren’t just blowing smoke when they said that, as Mazda's cars were all pretty quick on their feet. The Mazda 6 was a 270-horsepower car with only 5.4 seconds to separate a standstill from 60 miles per hour. At a glance, the Mazda 6 looks like it has a lot more in common with a Corolla than an Accord, but this is one bland car that has left a lasting mark on JDM sleeper history. Even if you’re not a huge fan of Japan's vehicles (you should really reconsider, if this is the case) the Mazda 6 makes itself even more appealing when you take a look at its affordability. Which means that aftermarket upgrades aren’t out of reach.
8 Chevy Spark EV (2013-16)
While it’s certainly no sleeper, some classic car fans may be dismayed to find that the Chevy Spark EV has the same zero-to-sixty time as a 1967 Impala (7.2 seconds), but with about nine times the gas efficiency—and that’s not even an exaggeration. The sad truth is that this tiny fuel-efficient car is actually a beast in-disguise; it can even compete with the speed of an Acura NSX. It may not look like much, but you can get somewhere cheap and quick in one of these cars, just not necessarily in one piece. All of that lack of metal may save you some money on fuel but the real cost comes when this little danger trap finds itself in an accident. While it’s deemed safe enough to drive on the road, it’s not exactly the best choice for anyone with small children or a high regard for human life in general.
7 Lexus IS 350 (2007)
The last thing that comes to mind when you catch a glimpse of the IS 350 is ‘sport sedan’ but the manufacturer has labeled it as exactly that. It has 306 horsepower and, even though it comes second place to the BMW 3-Series in many tests, the Lexus IS 350 is still a very strong competitor. And, when you compare the price differential, it may actually be the smarter investment. It can be a little under $10k cheaper and holds its value a lot better since it’s made in Japan and all. The IS 350 isn’t going to make your jaw drop, but it has enough breathing room that you can certainly turn it into that shockingly sweet ride that you’ve always dreamed of.
6 Audi SQ5 (2015-18)
Don’t let that all-wheel-drive label fool you, this Audi isn’t even close to a crossover vehicle. In reality, it’s a sporty SUV that needs all four wheels to pull all 354 horses. The SQ5 may not be dressed in the most astounding getup on the market, but it isn’t a bad looking car either. There’s ample space inside the cabin, especially if you’re comparing it to other vehicles with the same amount of power, plus, it’s quick on its feet if you treat it right. Audi sells itself with its name alone, but one of the more realistic (and satisfying options) that everyone fails to notice is the SQ5.
5 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL
That cliché car that we see everywhere is popular for a very good reason. It looks like the poor man’s sports car, and while there’s quite a bit of truth to that perception, the Altima is a lot cooler than that statement gives it credit for. The Altima is considered one of the fastest Nissans that the manufacturer has ever made. Since its debut, the Altima has been a hit. Not much has changed since then, except for the added abilities that the 270-horse V6 can take on. With 258 lb-ft of torque, this cutie can be the perfect weekend cruising car.
4 Nissan Stagea 260RS Autech Edition (WC34)
This car is cleverly named Stagea for its wagon shape, which happens to be the root of most of its stigma. Most take on look at the wagon and think that it’s just another slow-moving commuter that’s meant for the terminally dull drivers. However, the Stagea shares the same chassis and RB engine as Nissan’s Skyline, a seriously fast car that everyone actually likes. The RB26DETT comes with an all-wheel-drive layout to haul all of those horses and Brembo brakes to cushion those harsh stops. Its six-speed manual transmission only contributes to the fun that the Stagea has to offer. Plus, if you’ve ever taken a peek at the interior, you’ll find some clean designs and beautiful leather.
3 Audi 200 C3 (1989-91)
Probably at the top of Audi’s sleeper list is the 200. It’s one of the most modest vehicles that the manufacturer has ever made. With such a boxy, uninspiring frame and the black trim that serves as more of an eyesore than a stylistic selection, it’s no wonder that we never find these on the streets anymore. But the 200 has a little secret beneath the hood that no one ever suspects. It has a nice, five-cylinder, turbocharged engine that performs well, but even better when it receives a little ECU tuning. From they factory, the Quattro 20V engine has 224 horsepower, but that’s an easy fix.
2 Toyota Camry XSE (2018)
The brand-new Toyota Camry has a little secret that is dying to get out: its V6 engine option has been upgraded even more in the past few years. The latest model puts out over 301 horsepower, which is a steep upgrade in just the past two years alone. If you take into account that this is also a pretty versatile vehicle for the small family or busy commuter, then it adds a fun spin to one of the most practical cars on the planet. It’s also been prided for its comfort over the decades; the Camry just wins all-around as a family-friendly sporty car.
1 Volkswagen Phaeton W12 (2002-06)
If you have ever wondered what a wolf in sheep’s clothing looks like, the Volkswagen Phaeton is a prime example. On the outside, the Phaeton looks like a car that someone would drive if they wanted a car merely for the purpose of going to and from work, nothing more. However, the Phaeton comes packed with goodies, including the D1 Platform chassis that you’ll find on a Bentley Continental GT. But the 6.0-liter W12 engine is the main attraction, here, and has a top speed of over 170 mph (if the limiter is removed). So much performance was crammed into such a boring ride, it’s too bad they left the exterior to fend for itself.
Sources: Car and Driver, Motor Trend, and Top Speed.