Much like the Spanish Inquisition, a sleeper car is one that nobody expects. It’s ruthlessly fast, powerful, and efficient, with all the mechanical capabilities of a hardcore sports car, yet none of the persona.
Sleepers occupy the sidelines, hiding their high performance under unremarkable exteriors, content to let garish sports cars attract all the police attention. For as long as drivers have souped up their cars, the sleeper has been the unassuming badass in the background; naturally, manufacturers caught on, and every so often, some pretty amazing ones take to the streets straight from the dealership floor.
But, to sum up, the sleeper is the underdog of the drag world, when it first shows face, the crowd jumps straight to conclusion based on the car in its stock form. But that's to be expected, especially when you see a Nissan Juke getting ready to take on a Bugatti Veyron in a quarter mile – like in this video. But that's exactly what a sleeper stands for, all go and no show.
Here's a list of the worlds most famous sleepers straight from the factory with huge modifying potential:
1. Taurus SHO
Close your eyes and picture a sedan with a high revving Yamaha motorcycle engine and a bunch of other go-fast bits. Then open them and take a second look at the Taurus SHO, a car which many consider the ultimate sleeper car. Just as amazing, the third generation SHO had a V8 under the hood, built as a collaborative effort between Yamaha and the legend that is Cosworth.
2. Lotus Carlton
Yes, there was once a Lotus sedan. Sort of. To look at an Opel Omega (aka Vauxhall Carlton) from the early 1990s is to look at a boring, perfectly average sedan designed by GM of Europe. And then the lovable lunatics at Lotus got a hold of it. After some minor tweaks to the exterior, Lotus engineers tore the standard Vauxhall straight six apart, rebuilt it with much more robust performance goodies, and threw on a pair of turbochargers. When all was said and done, the 377 hp, nearly 180 mph-capable Lotus was the fastest sedan in the world and a favourite getaway car amongst brazen bandits looking to outrun cops.
3. Mercedes 500E
In the days before Mercedes bought AMG as its in-house performance division, the guys in charge of the E-Class turned to cross-town rival Porsche to beef up the 500E. The result was a V8-powered Autobahn killer capable of 170mph, but if you weren’t into cars, you’d never realise it was anything other than a nicely finished off E Class.
Common sense would dictate that a 270 hp, all-wheel-drive sedan with a manual transmission sounds either German or Subaru-esque by nature. Instead, the Mazdaspeed6 was one of the more subtle-yet-fast sports sedans produced a decade ago.
5. Volvo 850 T-5R and 850 R
Here's a little secret that Europeans have known for ages but only enthusiasts, such as Paul Newman, know in America: Volvo has been making damn quick station wagons for decades. The subtle Swedes took things up a notch in 1995, after consulting with Porsche, by producing the 300 hp 850 T-5R. It was a success, so Volvo created the 850 R based largely on the T-5R for 1996 and 1997 before retiring it in favour of a new generation of sleeper wagons.
6. Chevrolet Cobalt SS
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.
7. Supercharged Toyota Camry
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.
8. Subaru Legacy Spec.B
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.