Want to kick ass in an unsuspecting way? Then you need a sleeper car

Drivers who like to flaunt their financial wellbeing or their appurtenance to the society’s upper echelons have always had an appetite for flashy cars: red Ferraris, yellow Lamborghinis, orange McLarens, and so on.

At the opposite end of the table are the drivers that sit on a lot of horsepower but don’t want those around them to know that right away. That’s how sleeper cars were born and here’s 10 of the best such machines ever made.

What is a sleeper car?

The Best Sleeper Cars on the Market Today
- image 894044

Before we delve into the good stuff, we need to establish what’s a sleeper car and what are its main traits. So, here’s the thing.

A sleeper car can be of any shape and size (read SUV, pickup truck, hatchback, or sedan) as long as it packs a lot of performance but looks rather ordinary, dull, or even beat up.

To put things into perspective, the antonym of a sleeper car is a rice burner, or something an 18-year-old that saw 2 Fast 2 Furious is likely to drive. Don’t confuse a rice burner with a tuner car, because the latter can smoke the living daylight out of fully-blown supercars, while the rice burner is just a distasteful example of car mods wrapped around a puny engine that has seen no improvements whatsoever.

So, let’s recap. Certain cars are worthy of the sleeper car status because 1) they pack a lot of oomph and 2) they don’t show it until they’ve made you eat their dust. That said, here are our top sleeper car picks. Oh, and keep in mind that you can get a blast in cheap sleeper cars too. It’s all about having loads of power while remaining inconspicuous.

2017 Chevrolet SS

2016 Chevrolet SS High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 646684

The now-defunct Chevrolet SS was, in our book, one of the ultimate sleeper cars ever built. The U.S.-sold Chevy SS was, in fact, Australia’s Holden Commodore. Also, not to be confused with the Chevrolet SS concept introduced in 2003 at the Detroit Motor Show.

Motivated by a Sean-Connery-level-old-school, 6.2-liter pushrod LS3 V-8, the Chevrolet SS sent 415 horsepower and just as much pound-feet of torque.

It was all channeled to the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic or a Tremec six-speed manual that came as a no-cost option. Other goodies included Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension, Brembo brakes, and, of course, a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds. A sleeper sedan of epic proportions, that’s what we’d call it.

2016 Chevrolet SS High Resolution Exterior
- image 646679
2017 Chevrolet SS specifications
Engine 6.2L V-8 (LS3)
Displacement (cu in / cc): 376 / 6162
Bore & stroke (in / mm): 4.06 x 3.62 / 103.25 x 92
Block material: cast aluminum w/ cast-in-place iron bore liners
Compression ratio: 10.7:1
Horsepower 415 HP @ 5,900 RPM
Torque 415 LB-FT @ 4,600 RPM
0 to 60 mph 4.5 seconds

Read our full review on the 2017 Chevrolet SS

2004 Pontiac GTO

2006 Pontiac GTO
- image 27013

Another Aussie-US of A love story this one. A rebadged Holden Monaro, the Pontiac GTO was Bob Lutz’s American child so to speak, as the GM head honcho insisted the Chevrolet should offer it in the U.S.

For the GTO, the power coordinates were pretty straightforward.

Under the hood sat Chevy’s small-block 5.7-liter LS1 V-8 found in some Corvettes and Camaros.

Without flaunting an overly-burly body, the 2004 Pontiac GTO sent 350 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels exclusively via Hydra-Matic four-speed automatic gearbox. You could also opt for the $695 Tremec six-speed manual.

0-60 mph took 5.3 seconds and in optimum conditions, the quarter-mile run didn’t last more than 13.62 seconds at 104.7 mph.

2006 Pontiac GTO
- image 27022
2004 Pontiac GTO specifications
Engine 5.7-liter V-8
Horsepower 350 HP
Torque 365 LB-FT
0 to 60 mph 5.3 seconds
Top Speed 159 mph
Quarter mile 13.62 seconds at 104.7 mph

Read our full review on the 2004 Pontiac GTO

Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

2003 - 2006 Mercedes E55 AMG
- image 46498
Mercedes AMG E55

When it met the public at the 2002 Paris Motor Show, the E55 AMG was the world’s fastest production sedan. It was powered by a monster 5.4-liter V-8 slapped with a supercharger (the engine was the same as the one inside the SL55 AMG) and tweaked to produce 469 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. Power reached the asphalt through a quick-firing five-speed automatic gearbox, allowing the E55 to blast from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds while looking like your wealthy grandad’s daily driver.

It was not a sports car, not even a sports sedan, but it could beat those when needed.

Top speed was limited at 155 mph, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that the luxo-barge could send you to your destination in plushness and style alike. To put things into perspective, a same-era Audi RS 6 came with 450 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque on tap.

2003 - 2006 Mercedes E55 AMG
- image 46501
Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG specifications
Type 5.5L Supercharged V-8
Displacement (cu in / cc): 332 / 5439
Horsepower 469 HP @ 6,100 RPM
Torque 516 LB-FT @ 2,650 RPM
0 to 60 mph 4.5 seconds
Top Speed 155 mph

Read our full review on the Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

Audi RS2

The Best Sleeper Cars on the Market Today
- image 894050

The coolest thing about the Audi RS2 isn’t its power or road-handling abilities.

The coolest thing about the RS2 is that it’s part Audi and part… Porsche.

The Quattro all-wheel-drive setup made sure each wheel is fed with some of the 311 horsepower and 308 pound-feet of torque cranked out by the 2.2-liter inline-five engine.

The brakes were sourced from Porsche, the suspension too, while the wheels and the side mirrors were taken as is from the (964) 911 Turbo. To top everything off, 0-60 mph came in just 4.8 seconds and in case the law permitted it, you could carry on the sprint to over 160 mph. Or you could just as well take the whole family on a long summer road trip with enough room for everyone’s luggage without anyone suspecting of what hides under that Nogaro Blue bodywork.

The Best Sleeper Cars on the Market Today
- image 894090
Audi RS2 specifications
Engine 2.2-liter inline-five
Horsepower 311 HP
Torque 308 LB-FT
0 to 60 mph 4.8 seconds
Top Speed 160 mph

1991 GMC Syclone

The Best Sleeper Cars on the Market Today
- image 894089

Yeah, the Syclone is that truck that you saw pitted against Ferraris. Jay Leno used to drive his every day. Jeremy Clarkson said that the Syclone’s interior “has about as much style as the gentlemen lavatories at the motorway service stations.” None of this matters, though, because the Syclone was an absolut beast in terms of performance.

Power came from a 4.3-liter, turbocharged-to-14-psi-of-boost V-6.

In all, the Syclone cranked out 280 ponies at 4,400 rpm and smashed them on the asphalt via a full-time four-wheel-drive setup fitted with a center diff and a limited-slip diff on the rear axle. By the way, the rear axle got 65 percent of the grunt, while the rest went to the front wheels. The quarter mile was conquered in 14.1 seconds, with top speed set at 126 mph. And there was nothing about its appearance that gave away all that.

The Best Sleeper Cars on the Market Today
- image 894087
Audi RS2 specifications
Engine 2.2-liter inline-five
Horsepower 311 HP
Torque 308 LB-FT
0 to 60 mph 4.8 seconds
Top Speed 160 mph

2003 Mercury Marauder

The Best Sleeper Cars on the Market Today
- image 894046

The Mercury Marauder was nothing else but a Ford Panther-platform Grand Marquis underneath. However, its personality was completely different. Motivated by a 4.6-liter DOHC V-8 with four-valve cylinders good for 302 horsepower at 5,750 rpm, the Marauder sent power to the rear wheels via a four-speed auto ‘box, a limited-slip diff and an all-aluminum driveshaft - the last two were taken from the Ford Crown Victoria police interceptor. Torque came in at 318 pound-feet of twist, fully unleashed at 4,300 rpm.

While the Marauder’s appearance hinted just a bit at what lies under the hood (take the smoked taillights and headlights, for example), it didn’t quite reveal its nature unless you stepped on the gas.

0-60 mph came in 7.5 seconds and you could zap from start to finish on a drag race strip in 15.5 seconds at 91 mph. Just under 8,000 units were made, but boy, this sedan could smoke you in an instant if you didn’t give it the right amount of respect.

The Best Sleeper Cars on the Market Today
- image 894088
Audi RS2 specifications
Engine 2.2-liter inline-five
Horsepower 311 HP
Torque 308 LB-FT
0 to 60 mph 4.8 seconds
Top Speed 160 mph

Mazdaspeed6

2014 Mazda6 High Resolution Exterior
- image 470363

The Mazdaspeed6 (MPS for the rest of the world) was a lot of things: fun, well-balanced, and all in all, a declaration of on-the-road control. It was also a darn good sleeper car.

Offered only as a sedan and with an Aisin-sourced six-speed manual, the Mazdaspeed6 started at $28,555. Not quite the bargain, you’d say, and that would be true. Yet the bag of goodies it brought was worth every penny, including the full stable of 274 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.

The Atenza-borrowed all-wheel-drive setup read wheel slip, steering angle, and throttle position (plus yaw and lateral g forces) and sent power accordingly to where you needed it via a limited-slip rear diff taken from the RX-8. 0-60 mph came in 6.2 seconds thanks to a turbocharged 2.3-liter DOHC MZR engine (heavily revised) while top speed was 149 mph.

2014 Mazda6 High Resolution Exterior
- image 470327
Mazdaspeed6 specifications
Engine 2.3-liter DOHC MZR
Horsepower 274 HP
Torque 280 LB-FT
0 to 60 mph 6.2 seconds
Top Speed 149 mph

Read our full review on the Mazdaspeed6

Ford Taurus SHO (4th generation)

2010 Ford Taurus SHO
- image 285167

Super High Output. The 2010 Ford Taurus SHO had that in abundance. Unveiled in Chicago back in 2009, the Taurus SHO was slapped with all-wheel-drive and built on the Ford D3 platform. Have no doubts, it was a heavy beast, tipping the scales at as much as 4,358 pounds.

To move all that mass, Ford fitted it with a 365-horsepower, 350-pound-feet twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6.

Customers could also pick the SHO Performance pack, which chipped in with better cooling, high-performance brake pads, 20-inch aluminum wheels, a new track mode for the ESC, and Goodyear Eagle F1 tires. Other goodies included power steering, on-demand all-wheel drive, and brake-based torque vectoring. 0-60 took just 5.2 seconds, while the quarter mile was cleared in 13.7 seconds at 103.2 mph.

2010 Ford Taurus SHO
- image 285165
Ford Taurus SHO specifications
Engine twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6
Horsepower 365 HP @ 5,500 RPM
Torque 350 LB-FT @ 3,500 RPM
0 to 60 mph 5.2 seconds
Quarter mile 13.7 seconds at 103.2 mph

Read our full review on the Ford Taurus SHO

Volvo V70 R

2006 Volvo V70 R
- image 38068

Yes, the V70 R is one of the coolest sleeper cars available. A descendant of the bonkers Volvo 850 T-5R (yes, the Cream Yellow one), the V70 R packed a DOHC, 20-valve 2.5-liter turbo inline-five engine. Power was rated at 300 horsepower and came in full at 5,500 rpm, while the 295 pound-feet of torque got to scream the loudest from a low as 1,950 rpm.

Fitted with a five-speed auto, the V70 R offered only 258 pound-feet of torque, but those who wanted the six-speed manual got the full plate. It also featured a smartass electronic shock-valve control developed by Öhlins and Monroe, which kept it glued to the road.

0-60 mph needed as low as 5.4 seconds to completion and top speed was limited to 155 mph.

Seven people could be accommodated in the V70 R if needed, so yeah, it’s a sleeper alright.

2006 Volvo V70 R
- image 38078
Volvo V70 R specifications
Engine 2.5-liter turbo inline-five
Horsepower 300 HP @ 5,500 RPM
Torque 295 LB-FT @ 1,950 RPM
0 to 60 mph 5.4 seconds
Top Speed 155 mph

Read our full review on the Volvo V70 R

BMW E60 M5

2005 BMW M5 E60
- image 31007

We could never decide what’s more awesome about the BMW E60 M5: its V-10 engine and the fact that BMW offered it as a sedan AND wagon. Nevertheless, the E60 M5 is one of the best sleeper cars to come out of Germany, one that lapped the famed Nürburgring in just eight minutes and 13 seconds while looking like your run-of-the-mill executive sedan; except for the M wheels, perhaps.

The 5.0-liter S85 V-10 engine cranked out 500 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque.

It mated to the SMG sequential M gearbox (North America got a six-speed manual as well!!!) and could shoot from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.7 seconds in sedan guise and 4.8 seconds as a station wagon, although independent media outlets managed to record sprints of 4.1 seconds.

The E60 M5 was, back in 2005 when it came out of BMW’s Dingolfing plant, the fastest four-door production sedan money could buy, thanks to a top speed of 190 mph (unlocked with the optional M driver’s pack). However, the E60 M5 was known for rod bearing failure, so there was that.

2005 BMW M5 E60
- image 31006
BMW E60 M5 specifications
Engine 5.0-liter S85 V-10
Horsepower 500 HP
Torque 383 LB-FT
0 to 60 mph 4.7 seconds
Top Speed 190 mph

Read our full review on the BMW E60 M5

Tudor Rus
Assistant Content Manager - Automotive Expert - tudor@topspeed.com
Tudor’s first encounter with cars took place when he was only a child. Back then, his father brought home a Trabant 601 Kombi and a few years later, a Wartburg 353. At that time, he was too young to know how they worked and way too young to drive them, but he could see one thing – each of them had a different ethos and their own unique personality. As time went on, he started seeing that in other cars as well, and his love for the automobile was born.  Read More
About the author
What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: