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Top 20 Sleeper Cars Drivers Need To Know About

Performance cars are often the opposite of subtle. To show off their performance, they’re usually styled as loudly as possible. It’s no surprise, given how these cars are usually expensive and how many owners use such cars as status symbols that let everyone know how deep their pockets are. Others are styled in the most aggressive way possible to make the car look as angry as its exhaust is loud. Beyond this, owners often further this by installing an even louder exhaust, fitting larger rims, and respraying the car in a color that's so bright that it can be seen from space. All these showy features are highly desirable among car enthusiasts, and many expect them to be a part of their new sports car.

However, there are some drivers who want a car that hides its performance. Sleepers are cars that are much faster than they look. There are many cars out on the market that are surprisingly fast but don’t let anyone know from a quick glance. These are often normal cars that are offered with surprisingly powerful motors stuffed under the otherwise bland body. There are even cars that are purpose-built as sleepers from the factory. These cars date back to as early as the ‘60s, when certain muscle cars looked much like the ordinary models they were based on. Regardless, here are 20 modern cars that are faster than you expect.

20 Honda Civic Si

Via Wikimedia

There are several performance cars that hide their performance really well, and the Honda Civic Si is one of them. Other than a model from the mid-2000s that looked nothing like the base Civic, the other Si models don’t look all that different from the standard cars. The easiest way to hide this car’s Si status is to use a heat gun and pull off its identifying badges. Past Civic Si models offered VTEC motors that had an incredible rev range. These motors allowed for these cars to out-accelerate more powerful, turbocharged vehicles.

The current model, however, is powered by 205-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder, which easily motivates the little Civic.

Today’s standard Civic models are aggressively styled and are absolutely covered in vents, making it even more difficult to differentiate the standard models from the Si.

19 Mercury Marauder

Via Flickr

The Crown Victoria will live on for many years as a classic cop car of the past. Despite the car’s frequent status as a police cruiser, it's never really been a fast vehicle, with its most powerful model producing only 250 horsepower. Ford decided to spice up the old model by selling a hotrod version of the ancient car. Based on the Mercury Grand Marquis, a Mercury-badged Crown Vic, the Marauder was given considerably more power than its geriatric cousins.

While its motor had the same displacement as the others, the Marauder’s engine was a dual overhead cam, four-valve V8 that put out 302 horsepower.

And it did this while merely looking like a blacked-out Crown Vic. If that isn’t enough power, there are many supercharger options available for this car.

18 Cadillac XTS V-Sport

Via Flickr

Cadillac hasn’t been terribly successful in its attempts to steal sales from the German luxury competition. While the cars themselves have proven themselves to be plenty capable, they haven’t attracted many customers. Cars like the XTS probably don’t help matters. The XTS is a large luxury yacht that's designed to iron out bumps instead of corner flat. However, there’s a twin-turbocharged V-Sport option. This makes the boat’s V6 pump out over 400 horsepower, and it can run to hit 60 in just over five seconds. If that’s not fast enough, there are ECU tunes that'll increase your turbo boost, putting far more power to all four wheels. Best of all, its looks aren’t changed from the standard version that was designed for your grandma. If you want a performance land yacht, the XTS is a perfectly covert choice.

17 Ford Explorer

Via Flickr

It’s hard to think of a more boring example of a modern car than the current Ford Explorer. The original model was a truck-based SUV that's largely the fault of today’s crossover takeover. Even the Explorer itself became a crossover in 2011, possibly getting rid of its only interesting feature. However, the current example is available with a new interesting option.

While most Explorers are equipped with a weak, naturally aspirated V6, some will receive the EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6, possibly the most exciting engine to be put in a bland crossover.

With 365 horsepower, this soccer-mom car can easily shoot past some of Ford’s own Mustangs. If you’re in the market for one and have low standards for interior quality, the Police Interceptor can be found for cheap, and its worn look only adds to the sleeper factor.

16 Chevrolet SS

Via Chevrolet

There aren’t many performance cars that fly under the radar of car enthusiasts. The Chevrolet SS, however, was exactly that car, as it saw no advertising from Chevy and didn’t feature particularly intriguing styling. Even though Chevy sold the car in in bright colors, such as orange and green, the SS just looks far too much like the lesser Malibu. Despite its fairly boring styling, the SS is a true gem that can hide in plain sight.

It's powered by a 6.2-liter LS3 V8 that produces 415 horsepower, and it sends its power to the rear wheels.

The SS could even be optioned with a six-speed manual transmission in later years. While some may be able to recognize this covert performance car, you’ll still be fooling the majority of car enthusiasts.

15 Chrysler 300

Via NHTSA

The Chrysler 300 was once an aspirational car that was a shock to the automotive industry in 2004. Its styling looked higher-class than the car actually was. Many owners even took it upon themselves to install dreadful Bentley-esque grilles to make it look even more expensive. Then, there’s the SRT variant. Powered by large Hemi motors, this car was powerful enough to compete with considerably lighter cars. While the SRT version has been discontinued in the US, the current 300S can be powered by a 5.7-liter V8 that sends its power through an excellent eight-speed gearbox. This stately sedan can accelerate to 60 in around five seconds. The S model even lacks the more aggressive SRT body cladding, allowing it to fall under the radar easier.

14 Honda Accord

Via Flickr

There are few cars that see as much daily use as the Honda Accord. While the Accord has many different variations, it's most often ordered with the least powerful, basic four-cylinder motor. However, the higher-performance engines are a well-hidden secret inside the boring wrapper that is the Accord.

For years, the car has been offered with a V6 motor that, in its most recent configuration, put out 278 horsepower. These cars could accelerate to 60 in under six seconds, which is fast enough to overtake a surprising number of performance cars.

While the V6 motor has been discontinued, the Accord is now offered with a detuned Civic Type-R motor that can be unlocked with an ECU tune to make it more powerful than its Type-R origins. These cars can even be purchased with a manual transmission.

13 Dodge Ram SRT-10

Via Ultimatecarpage.com

The Dodge Ram is possibly the most aggressively styled pickup on the market. However, given that it's one of the bestselling vehicles in America, the effect gets diluted. Plus, the old models are starting to look tired after so many years. This makes for a perfect sleeper, as some of these older Ram pickups hide quite a secret under the hood. While most Rams of the 2000s were powered by a 5.7-liter Hemi V8, the SRT-10 has the same 8.3-liter V10 from a Viper. Producing 500 horsepower, this huge truck can accelerate to 60 in around 5.5 seconds and is one of the fastest pickups ever made. Other than some Viper-looking rims, a small spoiler on the bed cover, and a front air dam, the SRT-10 doesn’t look that much different from the already aggressive standard pickup.

12 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

Via Wikimedia

Small economy cars can be hit and miss when it comes to their performance versions. Some turn out terribly, producing too little power and not being able to corner well. However, models like the Cobalt SS turn out much better than they have any right to. The standard Cobalt simply isn’t worth discussing, as it’s simply too slow for any enthusiast applications. However, Chevrolet managed to transform it into an incredibly capable machine from being an otherwise bland car. It was initially powered by a supercharged four-cylinder motor that was very powerful for a car like this. The supercharger even eliminated turbo lag that could be experienced in competitors. However, the supercharger was later swapped out for a more powerful turbocharger. Regardless, both versions of the Cobalt SS are extremely capable cars that can embarrass considerably more expensive machines.

11 Supercharged Toyota Camry

Via Flickr

If there’s a poster child for boring daily drivers, it would be the Toyota Camry. While the Accord is secretly a performance car in a boring wrapper, the Camry holds no such claim. Even though the V6 motor is decently powerful, it’s still not an exciting car, no matter how much Toyota tries to convince consumers otherwise. However, when it comes to TRD performance, Toyota offers a secret option that many don’t know about.

This boring family sedan has a supercharger option.

While it may seem pointless to supercharge a Camry, of all things, this can make it into a highway pull machine. Plus, you’ll be able to embarrass many cars that used to be faster than your practical ride. If you own a Camry, try to find the TRD supercharger for it.

10 Chevrolet Malibu SS

Via IFCAR

A long time ago, the Chevy Malibu was a highly modular platform that, today, is mostly remembered for its performance options. The Malibu SS was offered with several large V8 motors, making it a solid muscle car back in the ‘60s. However, the model was transformed over the years into an extraordinarily boring sedan that was a pathetic alternative to the newer, better made Japanese cars at the time. That changed in 2006 when Chevy brought the SS name back to the otherwise bland Malibu.

While it wasn’t powered by an enormous V8, it did have a 3.9-liter V6 that produced 240 horsepower, which was a huge boost over the standard four-cylinder motor.

And of course, it’s in the body of a horribly boring Malibu, making it quite a sleeper. While it isn’t the fastest car on the list, it’s still considerably quicker than it has any right to be.

9 Ford Fusion Sport

Via Wikimedia

There aren’t many mid-size performance cars on the market right now, but Ford decided to make an entry into the segment. The Ford Fusion isn’t a particularly interesting car in its standard form, as it's usually solely powered by a standard four-cylinder motor or hybrid system. However, the Sport model is something different. Rather than just throwing a turbocharger onto a four-cylinder motor, it has the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 from the F-150. And in the Fusion, that motor has far less heft to pull around. That stout motor produces 325 horsepower and is enough to propel this practical machine to 60 in just over five seconds. Ford themselves claim that this is the most powerful car in its class. Giving it true sleeper status, the Sport model doesn’t have anything noteworthy on the exterior to distinguish itself from lesser Fusions.

8 Chevrolet Caprice PPV

Via Flickr

In the past, the Chevrolet Caprice was a gigantic land yacht that occasionally had a performance version, usually in the form of a police car. In 1996, Chevy discontinued the Caprice, which was available with Corvette power. For the longest time, it was the quickest police car, even years after it left the force. After an 11-year hiatus, the Caprice nameplate returned, this time on an Australian platform. This time it was designed for police use only. When equipped with a street-appearance package, the Caprice’s simple lines allow it blend in seamlessly with traffic. And, of course, one of the motors was an optional 6.0-liter LS V8 that could get this big cop car to 60 in around six seconds with all the heavy police equipment inside. And if that’s not good enough, the motor can be easily modified for more power.

7 Ford F-150 Harley Davidson

Via The Car Spy

While performance trucks have died off in recent years, giving way to sporty SUVs, these powerful behemoths are still quick machines. Possibly the most well-known example of these trucks is the supercharged Ford F-150 Lightning. However, with its low stance, flareside bed, and obnoxious tail lights, the Lightning is hardly a sleeper. For a more subtle fast Ford truck, there was the F-150 Harley Davidson.

The fastest variant of these motorcycle-inspired pickups was the 2002 model that could sprint to 60 in around six seconds.

And if you know what you’re doing, more power can be coaxed out of the supercharged 5.4-liter V8. These trucks don’t look very subtle, given their loud paint jobs and large badging, but that works in its favor. It looks like a vulgar high-end truck that’s for show rather than go. It’ll catch everyone off guard that such a ridiculous truck can be so fast.

6 Chevrolet Impala SS

Via IFCAR

The Impala is possibly one of Chevy’s most iconic names, just falling short of Corvette and Camaro. While it was frequently purchased in its most basic form, it’s most fondly remembered for its SS versions, which granted these cars with suitably large motors. This trend went through to the ‘70s until emissions regulations and fuel shortages made the SS unviable. It eventually made a return in the ‘90s and stayed around, for better or worse. The 2006 Impala was a quite nondescript large sedan that could be equipped with the shockingly powerful SS package. Powered by a 5.3-liter LS4 V8, this 303-horsepower sedan could out-accelerate considerably more expensive cars. And the only thing to give away this car’s power was model-specific rims and a few SS badges. The only drawback is that its speed is limited to straight lines, due to its front-wheel-drive layout.

5 Subaru Legacy spec.B

Via Wikimedia

Subaru has made many interesting cars over the years, with its most well-known performance models being the Impreza WRX and the STi models. The Legacy, however, is not one of Subaru’s performance vehicles. It was simply a boring sedan or wagon that had all-wheel drive as its only claim to fame. However, there was a performance model of the Legacy that was basically an STi in all but name.

The Legacy spec.B produced 250 horsepower, which was a lot in 2006, and it sent that power to all four wheels via a mandatory six-speed manual transmission.

It came with a modified suspension that let the heavier Legacy corner more like its smaller WRX cousin. What really makes the car earn its sleeper status is how it looks no different than the lesser Legacy GT.

4 Chevrolet HHR SS

Via Flickr

The Chrysler PT Cruiser is possibly one of most hated cars in recent memory. Ironically, the car was popular when it was new before everyone realized how many problems it had. Strangely, Chevy decided to steal some of the PT Cruiser’s sales well after the car had stopped being popular. This new Chevy, the HHR, was even styled by the same designer as the Chrysler. Besides the styling being slightly more palatable than the PT Cruiser, there was at least one other reason to buy the HHR. The SS version of the retro Chevy was powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produced 250 horsepower and could even be optioned with a manual transmission. Plus, the car was largely based on the same platform as the excellent Cobalt SS, just in a wrapper that doesn’t look as fast.

3 Saab 9-2x Aero

Via Wikimedia

One of the most desirable tuner cars ever built is the Subaru WRX STI. Its powerful motor, six-speed manual transmission, and all-wheel-drive system make the STI an incredible machine that can haul metal over all kinds of terrain. And if its performance on paper isn’t good enough, the car has proven itself on the rally stages in many WRC races. However, these cars look just like the race cars that they're based on, complete with huge spoilers and wide fender flares. As a result, if you want everything that a WRX STI has, but without the boy-racer looks, you’ll have to get a Saab 9-2x Aero. Yes, there's a Saab-badged Subaru WRX STI. While its general shape is similar to the Subaru that it’s based on, all the details that made the car visually interesting are smothered under a layer of Saab sensibility.

2 Buick Regal GS

Via Wikimedia

The Buick Regal has historically been a small mid-level luxury car that has an unexpected performance model. During the ‘80s, this performance model was the Grand National, a powerful turbo V6 muscle car that could outrun just about any V8-powered muscle car at the time. However, the rear-wheel-drive car couldn’t keep going forever and was replaced with a bland front driver that was powered by a normal V6. However, performance returned to the car years later in the form of the GS model.

The GS was powered by a larger, supercharged V6 that produced 240 horsepower and enough torque to pull the heavy car past a lot of its competition.

Given the durability of the Buick V6, it can handle a smaller supercharger pulley and ECU tune that'll easily make the car quicker. Considering the car can be picked up for less than $5,000, it’s quite an affordable sleeper.

1 Lincoln MKS

Via Flickr

If there’s a car that really epitomizes the sleeper, it would be the Ford Taurus SHO. It was so much faster than the standard car while only having a few subtle badges to distinguish it from the other models. Today’s SHO is plenty quick with its twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 and only has a black grille to spice up the styling. While that does make it a strong choice for a sleeper, Ford has made an even more discrete version of the SHO. The Lincoln MKS EcoBoost was the same car as the Taurus SHO—just styled to appeal to old people. It still has the same 365-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and all-wheel-drive system as the impressive SHO. And since the motor is an EcoBoost, it can easily be tuned to produce over 400 horsepower—all in a car that doesn’t let anyone know what’s under the hood.

Sources: Ford, Motor Trend, Autotrader, Wikipedia, Car and Driver

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