There are a lot of people who enjoy cars that are overtly beautiful and naturally for attention. They drive Aston Martins and Jaguars, and they usually don't mind. There are also people who drive cars like the Subaru WRX STI that are loud, brash, and built for grabbing attention. It's a matter of personal choice, and that's completely fine.
Other people still enjoy the thrill of being behind the wheel of a driver's car, but they're not as interested in driving one that draws the attention of crowds and law enforcement. Their cars of choice might appear much more plain, but that doesn't mean their performance capabilities are any lower. In fact, some of them could blow the wheels off an STI.
Here, in no particular order, are 12 of the best sleepers built in the last 25 years.
1. GMC Syclone/GMC Typhoon
If you need a reminder of how awesome the 1990s were, look no further than GMC's decision to build the Syclone. 280 horsepower isn't a lot for a truck to make today, but back in 1991, it was enough that 60 MPH arrived in right around five seconds. You can thank the truck's all-wheel drive system and the 350 pound-feet of torque the turbocharged V6 made for that kind of acceleration.
If someone doesn't know what they're looking at, though, all they're going to see is a small, old pickup truck. They'll also have no idea how fast it is until it blows them away at a stop light.
2. Buick Regal GS
When you mention the name Buick, most enthusiasts scoff. That might not be good for Buick sales, but for people trying to avoid attention, it's perfect. The Regal GS, Buick's sport sedan, is arguably the least attention-grabbing American performance car on the market.
The GS shares much of its looks with the normal Regal, save for a bumper and some wheels. The car looks like any other boring American economy car, but packs a 259-horspower turbo-four under the hood. If you're looking to have fun without catching any stares, the GS fits the bill.
3. Audi S8 Plus
The Audi S8 has been around for awhile, but the new Plus version earns a spot among the greatest sleepers ever. With 605 horsepower from a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 hiding under an extremely understated sedan bodystyle, no one will give you a second look as you fly by in the left lane.
A few years ago, Audi's signature daytime LEDs would've made the S8 Plus stand out on the freeway, but nowadays, almost every car has a set. Option it in silver with some basic wheels, and you've got yourself the ultimate under-the-radar Autobahn battleship.
4. Mercedes-Benz S600
Even people who don't know much about cars know about the S-Class. They know it's expensive and luxurious, but that's about it. Most of them probably wouldn't even notice a W220 S-Class anymore. Its styling is handsome but generic enough that it slides under the radar with ease.
That's even true about the S600 and its surprisingly-powerful V12 engine. Any S600 is going to be quick, but the update in 2003 made the W220 even faster. The 5.5 liter, twin-turbo V12 made 493 horsepower and 590 glorious pound-feet of torque. That's some serious torque.
5. Mercury Marauder
The Panther platform always had so much potential for performance, but with Ford more interested in selling Crown Vics, Grand Marquis, and Town Cars to retirees, limo companies, and law enforcement agencies, most of that performance potential was left on the table for enterprising wrenchers to extract on their own.
In 2003, though, the Mercury Marauder finally gave the world the muscle sedan it deserved. Not many people could tell the difference between a Marauder and a Grand Marquis on the road, but under the sheetmetal, a 302 horsepower V8 and an improved suspension made it drive like a completely different car.
6. Volvo V70 R
Station wagons haven't been popular in a long time, and even when they were popular, they were never really cool. They were practical, sure, but they were never cool. A station wagon with a Volvo badge will probably be recognized as safe, but it's also the last vehicle most people would want to drive aggressively.
Those people have also probably never heard of the V70 R. With an inline five making 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, it had some serious power to put down through its all-wheel drive system. It could also hit 60 MPH in less than six seconds, making it a real performance bargain for the dad who wants a Miata with room for his wife and two kids.
7. Saab 9-2X Aero
The Subaru WRX is an awesome performance car, but it's also the exact opposite of a sleeper. It's loud and brash, and it's built almost as much for getting attention as it is for providing an incredibly affordable driver's car. If you liked how the WRX drove but wanted something a little more subtle and grown up, you used to not have that option.
Then, GM decided that Saab needed to get into the premium compact market, and the result was a Saab-badged Subaru called the 9-2X and the even more desirable WRX-based 9-2X Aero. The interior was more premium, and the look was toned down, but even if no one can tell, the Saab 9-2X Aero is almost all Subaru WRX.
In the midsize sedan segment, if you don't want to completely lull yourself to sleep every time you get behind the wheel, you buy a Mazda6. It's more fun to drive than the Hyundai Sonata or the Toyota Camry, but at the same time, it's nothing special. After all, it's still a midsize sedan, and midsize sedans are built to be practical cars for sensible people.
In 2005, though, Mazda decided to throw practicality and sensibility out the window, opting to let its Mazdaspeed team do its dirty work. The result was an all-wheel drive sports sedan with a 270 horsepower, turbocharged four and a six-speed manual transmission. It could hit 60 MPH in less than 5.5 seconds, and yet to the untrained eye, it's still just a sensible, practical family sedan.
9. Chevrolet Cobalt SS
The Chevrolet Cavalier was not a good car, and while its followup, the Cobalt, was a significant improvement, it still wasn't a great car. It was an inexpensive car that sold well to people who wanted a new compact sedan at all costs and who didn't care that a three year old Toyota Corolla was still a better car, though.
Somehow, out of that pile of crushing mediocrity, Chevrolet managed to extract the Cobalt SS, an unexpectedly fast driver's car that was perfectly at home on the track. A 205 horsepower version came out first, but the real gem was the 260 horsepower version sold in 2008. Even with a huge wing, no one expects a Cobalt to be that fast.
10. Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
As far as sleeper SUVs go, it's hard to top the Grand Cherokee SRT8. To everyone else, it looks like your run of the mill Grand Cherokee, but to people who truly know, it's a 5,000 pound rocket with a sledgehammer of an engine under the hood.
The first generation SRT-8 could hit 60 MPH in under five seconds, but the second generation received 50 more horsepower, making it the fastest Jeep ever produced. Sadly, the SRT versions of the Grand Cherokee are not trail rated.
11. Ford Taurus SHO
The original Taurus SHO is a legend, but the current generation might actually be even more of a sleeper than the original. As a large sedan, it's a car you expect to see cruising down the I-95 towards Florida or parked at the Piccadilly at 4:00 PM on a Tuesday. It's a comfortable cruiser and apparently a decent police car, but it's nothing special.
What makes the current Taurus SHO even more of a sleeper is that the automotive press largely wrote it off after its introduction. Even in SHO guise, the Taurus is a large sedan built for comfortable cruising, not a canyon carver. Even so, you better be careful challenging one to a race since it can hit 60 MPH in just a tick over five seconds.
12. Chevrolet SS
This is a list of sleeper cars from the last 25 years, but honestly, the Chevrolet SS might even deserve to be included on a list of the best sleepers of all time. After all, how many cars can claim the honor of having next to no one know they exist? 95 percent of people you pass in the SS will think it's a Malibu if they even notice it at all, and while some reviewers consider that a flaw, they're wrong.
It's a rear-wheel drive muscle sedan that packs a 415 horsepower V8 sourced from the Corvette, a six speed manual transmission, and a magnetic suspension. It's the kind of car that you need to look anonymous because if it looked as awesome as it actually is, you'd be getting speeding tickets left and right.
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