They are rare, extremely desirable, and even though they look slow, they have speeds that will surprise you. Sleeper cars are the hidden gems of the automobile world.
A vehicle that makes it into the category of a ‘sleeper’ is any vehicle that has a high-performance engine and a completely unassuming exterior. The name originates in the US from the term sleeper agent. If the exterior looks like a standard or economy-class car but features a high-power engine, then you have found yourself a sleeper.
The first sleeper car that started it all: the 1955 Chrysler C-300. With a 300-horsepower engine, it was the most powerful US car of the time. Many were taken by surprise as this wasn’t showcased as the speedster it truly was. Thus, it was forever to be known as a sleeper. It’s a pretty rare and vintage car these days, so you won’t find the term thrown at it still, but enthusiasts remember.
In honor of the C-300 that changed it all, we have put together a list of the absolute best 20 sleeper cars that money can buy in 2019. (As well as five that look high-performing and seriously speedy, but are actually disappointingly slow.) Some cars on this list are true sleeper classics from the 80s and 90s, still beloved by today’s enthusiast. Others, are new 2019 model cars that you won’t believe are as high-performing as we say. If you love to go fast, when you find out what is under the hood of any of these sleepers, we guarantee you are going to want to get your hands on one as quickly as possible.
Looking like an ordinary family sedan, but we can assure you it’s not. SHO stands for Super High Output, and that’s exactly what this thing does. What you may or may not know is that this car forms the base model for most of the police cruisers found around the United States.
With many people thinking you’re an undercover police cruiser, you’ll have that left lane all to yourself. The reason it’s a sleeper is thanks to its 3.5L twin-turbocharged, EcoBoost V6 engine that produces 365-horsepower and 350lbs-ft of torque. It goes 0 to 60 in just over 5 seconds.
The Typhoon is basically what started as a utility truck, but its engineers had other plans and managed to stuff in a turbo engine. This GMC Typhoon is the fastest-accelerating utility truck of its time. All of its ‘oomph’ is supplied by a 90-degree, 4.3L V6 engine – the same engine that made its debut in the GMC Syclone pickup – a Mitsubishi turbocharger, a water-to-air intercooler and individual port fuel injecting pistons and throttle body (both borrowed from the L98 Corvette V8).
The V6 produces 280-horsepower, and if its track times are any indication, this 4x4 could blow away just about anything on the street in the 90s (save the odd Ferrari F40 or ZR-1 Corvette). With a maximum of 360lbs-ft of torque transmitted to the pavement, all you have to do is take a deep breath and let it go.
The Lexus LS made its debut in 1989, and for the next four generations, this full-size luxury sedan would feature a V8 engine under its hood with an exterior that screamed family car. The second-generation Lexus LS 400 made it into production in 1995 with similar specifications as its original model, except for an updated 4.0L 1US-FE V8 engine that produced 260-horsepower and 270lbs-ft of torque. Another big improvement to speed enthusiasts: the second-generation LS 400 was 209lbs lighter than its predecessor, which meant its 0 to 60mps time improved to just 7.5 seconds. It was one seriously fast full-sized sedan, to say the least, and one of the most unsuspecting sleepers on our list.
If you are looking for a newer model car, not to worry, the fifth-generation models are still in production with engine and body improvements continuing each and every year. Though, we wouldn’t call present age models a sleeper as Lexus has managed to upgrade the exterior to something a little more suitable for its high-powered engine.
Powered by a 2.7L twin-turbo V6 with 325-horsepower, the Ford Fusion Sport is capable of throwing you 0 to 60mph in 5.3 seconds. It might just be one of the sleepiest sleepers on this list. With 380lbs-ft of torque, drivers will love the brisk acceleration and dynamic performance of the Fusion, as it’s enough to outpace most other cars in the segment.
You’ll especially love the steering wheel paddles to help you manage its six-speed transmission. The Ford Fusion Sport is a dull sedan, with an engine that will astound you.
It looks like something your grandmother might drive, but the Mercury Marauder is the ultimate sleeper. With 302-horsepower in a 4.6L DOHC V-8 engine – an engine also used in the 2003-04 Mustang Mach 1 – providing enough power to propel the Marauder from 0 to 60mph in 7.5 seconds.
With only about 11,000 ever sold, it’s a rare find. Though it is not the fastest sleeper on our list, it still hits speeds that will surprise you. Quite simply, the rarity of seeing this car on the streets is what makes it such a great sleeper.
Featuring a liquid cooled, turbocharged 4.3L V6 engine that boasted an easy 300-horsepower. The 1991 Syclone also integrated a 4WD system that power distributed 65% to the rear and 35% to the front, limited slip included.
With a speed of 0 to 60 in 4.3 seconds, this vehicle had enough under its hood to take on a lot of supercars of its era. It’s the type of car with the power to outpace most others before even hitting the speed limit. If you didn’t know, you’d have no idea that this GMC was one formidable machine.
In 2003, the V70 R was born and it was named the most ‘refined breed’ of their R class models. Their 2007 model boasts 300-horsepower, an engine Volvo feels so confident in that they publicly proclaimed their R’s a suitable competition to BMW’s M3. That’s some ego if you ask us.
The V70 R is powered by a 2.5L five-cylinder transverse-mounted engine, which in less technical terms means it offers more mid-range overtaking power than you could ever possibly need (which, naturally, is exactly why you want it). In this unsuspecting sweetheart, you’ll go from 0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds, a feat made possible by its combination of Haldex all-wheel drive, a DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) and Volvo’s all-new semi-active suspension. We think their claims of being competition for the M3 are a little far-fetched, but who cares. This beauty is at least $10,000 cheaper and the M3 won’t surprise nearly as many people as this unsuspecting speedster.
The 2006 model Saab 9-2x features a 2.5L turbo 4-cylinder boxer engine that reaches 230-horsepower at 5,600rpm and 235lbs-ft of torque at 3,600rpm. With a full-time all-wheel-drive system and four-speed automatic/five-speed manual transmission, you’ll have no trouble hitting speeds in this sedan.
Considered one of the most aggressive product developments in Saab’s 58-year history as an automaker, this is one speedy sleeper no one saw coming. The 2005 model is very similar, other than a little bit of added horsepower in the 2006 model.
Buyers don’t generally come to Buick expecting performance, which is why its cars make such excellent sleepers. The most popular – and the one fans continue to brag about even today – is the Grand National. Launched in 1983 to commemorate its success in NASCAR, the Grand National morphed its way into a true sports sedan.
Boasting a turbocharged 3.8L V6 with 200-horsepower engine. It might not sound like much, but for the era, this was one car you gave respect to on the road. In a quarter-mile race, the original Grand National could beat a Chevrolet Camaro and keep up with a Corvette. Each year the power went up, from 200-hp to 235-hp, then 245-hp and finally 276-hp in 1987 for its Limited-edition GNX.
Unless you are over 80-years old, you are probably wondering what we’re doing mentioning a modern Buick. But trust us, this is one car for the books. The Regal GS comes equipped with a V6 naturally aspirated engine that produces 310-horsepower and 280lbs-ft of torque.
Along with GM’s 9-speed automatic transmission that was co-developed with Ford, add that to the engine specs and you’ll be able to run 0 to 60 in the high 5 or low 6 seconds. The absence of a manual transmission is probably the one thing that might put off many buyers, but you can’t argue this is one fast, yet totally undescriptive looking vehicle.
Since its 2018 model, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is one of the fastest SUV models around. How fast is it? Well, its 2018 model went 0 to 60 in 3.5 seconds. This is because it produces 707-horsepower from its 6.2L supercharged Hellcat Hemi V8 engine.
Its 2019 model reports no changes to this already perfect engine. The sound of this thing rolling up next to you on the street is a bit of a giveaway, but even if you hear it, you still wouldn’t expect it to have quite as much power and speed as this thing boasts. Especially as this monster of a car weighs over 5,000lbs. This thing puts up a good fight against even a Lamborghini Urus, which is only 0.1 seconds slower to 60mph. A Jeep! And, while it is one of the most expensive Jeep rides ever, it is also one of the most powerful and quickest SUV types on the planet.
Although this full-sized sedan is considered a ‘luxury’ vehicle, it definitely does not reveal its speed. For the first generation 300s, there were a lot of different engine options available, such as a 5.7 L EZB HEMI V8, 6.1 L ESF HEMI V8, and a 3.0 L OM642 turbodiesel V6.
Most notably, the Chrysler SRT-8 300 model came equipped with a 6.1L HEMI engine that produced 425-horsepower at 6,200 RPM and 420 lbs-ft torque at 4,800rpm. It also could do 0 to 60mph in 4.9 seconds. Obviously, the second-generation Chrysler 300’s only up their engine game year after year, but it was the inconspicuous first-generation builds that truly make this luxury sedan a sleeper.
Not a fast-looking car by any means, but combine that with what’s under its hood and its true all-wheel-drive system, and you’ve got yourself a classic sleeper. Its turbocharged, 2.2L engine is good for 315-horsepower. It can do 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds and has a top speed of 163mph.
It was co-developed by Porsche, so you’ll find sprinkled 993 generation Porsche 911 parts all throughout the Avant. Its turn signals, fog lights, wheels, and side-mirrors are all transferred over directly from the 911. It is one of the most tasteful sleepers of the 90s, and still a coveted car today.
What could be more astounding that watching a supercar get overpowered by an SUV! It is impossible to comprehend the acceleration of a Tesla until you actually get behind the wheel of one. Although the Model S may be quicker, the Model X is the car to beat.
Producing 603-horsepower and 713lb-ft of torque, the Model X can go 0 to 60mph in 2.9 seconds. We guarantee you weren’t expecting numbers like that from a Tesla. Which is why it’s such a good sleeper. Your road companions will never see you coming.
We guarantee you didn’t suspect this family-looking sedan of containing a unique 2.3L direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Combine this with its six-speed manual transmission and high-tech Active Torque-Split All-Wheel Drive system, and you’ve got yourself one high-performing sleeper.
Producing 274-horsepower at 5,500rpm and 280lbs-ft of torque at just 3,000rpm, which gives the Mazdaspeed 6 amazing in-gear acceleration. No automatic is available for this model, because its engineers felt that to have a fully involved driving experience, a proper sports sedan should be equipped only with a manual transmission.
The Juke-R is beautifully fast, super rare and pretty damned inconspicuous to say the least, given that it can do 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds. It is small and light, which means it is probably a pretty great track car. That’s not to say that it is not one strange looking vehicle, but that’s what makes it such a great sleeper.
The Juke-R 2.0 comes equipped with the same engine used in the GT-R; yes that Nissan GT-R supercar. In order to deal with all of that power, it has been given a stiffer suspension, fender flares, and 20-inch rims. It is a pretty rare car to get your hands on, but it is absolutely a sleeper worth collecting.
Founded in 1948, you never quite know what to expect from Honda year after year. The reason the 2018 Honda Accord 2.0T made this list of sleepers: its 10-speed automatic transmission, 252-horsepower and 273lbs-ft of torque turbocharged engine.
When you find yourself easily overtaking similarly sized sedans, this Accord 2.0T is going to put a smile on your face. It is not the prettiest of cars, but we can’t argue Honda has made a sincere effort towards comfort and performance in their latest model.
If we told you this little Golf could outpace many generation old muscle cars (even older Porsches), we bet you wouldn’t believe us. But, that’s exactly what this Volkswagen is capable of. With its 300-horsepower 2.0L TSI AWD engine, this little sleeper goes from 0 to 60mph in less than 5 seconds!
With adjustable dampers and numerous driving assistance systems, its cornering abilities, as well as straight line acceleration, is sure to impress. It certainly doesn’t shout speed when you see this Volkswagen, but that’s exactly what you’ll get.
Despite looking like an average rental car, the 2017 Chevrolet SS is a rebadged Holden VF Commodore. Made in Australia, it was bread to race in the nation’s most popular motorsport, V8 Supercars. The VF Commodore took home the championship in every race it entered.
Although the race car doesn’t have much in common with its production brethren, the Chevrolet SS does come stocked with some pretty spectacular suspension called Magnetic Ride Control, which offers a huge range between comfort and sport. A perfect feature to help work its 6.2L Corvette engine through its 6-speed gearbox.
The Lotus car made its debut appearance in the early 90s. Many wanted this car banned, claiming it was an outrageous invitation for speed. Lucky for us, this absurdly satisfying 377-horsepower sedan was kept on the market for all to enjoy.
With 419lb-ft of torque, the Carlton tops out at 180mph and goes 0 to 100 in 11 seconds. That’s faster than the Ferrari Testarossa. And, it goes 30-70mph faster than a Lamborghini Countach. The Lotus Carlton was the fastest production sedan of its time. With such a misrepresented exterior, this is one of the best sleepers of the era, and still today a tough one to beat.
You are probably going to argue about this one being on the list as it is such a nice car to drive, but at the end of the day – speaking purely about performance output – it is really slow. It carries a 2.0L, 4-cylinder naturally aspirated engine that produces 200-horsepower and 151lbs-ft torque.
It completes a 0 to 60 run in 6.2 seconds. It is definitely not the slowest thing out there, but if you were judging this vehicle based on its streamlined sporty appearance, you’d expect it to have a lot more kick to it than it actually does. All that being said, it is still a really nice drive and fun to swing around corners (the BRZ’s specialty).
The Fisker Karma is the kind of car that attracts a lot of attention, and if you spot one it looks like a very capable performance car. It carries a 2.0L, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine supplied by GM, but unlike most hybrid vehicles the engine doesn’t power the wheels. They are powered by a 175kW generator that supplies energy to the batteries.
It has two driving modes: stealth and sport mode. Stealth mode runs purely electric without the help of the generator and hits 0 to 60 in 8 seconds. Sports mode kicks in the generator to give the car boost and performance while charging the battery and hits 0 to 60 in around 5.9 seconds. Both modes are still slow for a car that retails at over $100,000. Its weight of 4,500lbs also really doesn’t help.
This mid-size pickup features a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine that produces 308-horsepower. And, while you can upgrade (for some serious cash) to a better engine in this model, its standard specs are weak and disappointing. The six-speed manual transmission may just be its only redeeming quality.
It's practical and capable, but despite its exterior suggesting speed and performance its reality is steady and dependable. Not bad qualities, but for a pickup that’ll cost you over $20,000 you are going to expect a bit more kick for your buck.
When the Honda CR-Z was first announced, the possibility of a true successor to the CR-X had enthusiasts drooling. Unfortunately, this is one compact hatch that turned out to be not only a hybrid but also not a very great fuel economy vehicle. Despite its sporty and aggressive design, the CR-Z produces a meager 130-horsepower and 140lbs-ft of torque with a six-speed transmission.
Being neither sporty nor fuel efficient is most likely the cause of its discontinued status. If you are a Honda fan, there is hope. Rumors of a 2019 CR-Z model are afloat, fingers crossed it will have a little more power to match its appearance.
If you have ever driven a previous year MX5, you won’t be disappointed to hear the 2019 model still offers some of the best driving feel on the road thanks to its excellent handling. You’ll be even happier to hear Mazda has upped its engines game by adding in more top-end power. But, even though the MX-5 Miata still offers one of the purest driving experiences available today as well as more power, it still falls flat of what its exterior suggests.
Causal motorists will absolutely love this car, speed enthusiast will expect more. Experts are giving it raving reviews for performance, and we can’t argue it does perform. Here is where we have trouble giving it the speedy thumbs up: it is just now catching up to what it should have been all along. And, in 2019 we expect to be ‘wowed’, not simply to have our expectations met.
Sources - Motor 1, Jalopnik & Truth About Cars