The Best Sleepers Sold in America in the Past 25 Years

Many people like to own cars that are beautiful and naturally garner attention. They drive cars like Aston Martins and Jaguars. There are also a lot of people who can’t afford cars like those, but still want their cars to grab attention, so they drive cars like Subaru WRX STI’s and Ford Mustangs. Those cars are loud and proud of it. They grab attention through their noise. It just comes down to a matter of personal choice, and that’s fine.

Many people really like having a car that has great performance, but doesn’t attract throngs of people and law enforcement. Their cars of choice are seemingly Plain Jane cars on the outside, but that doesn’t mean that their performance capabilities are any less than something like an STI.

Here, in no particular order, are the absolute best sleepers that have been sold here in the past 25 years.

  • GMC Syclone/Typhoon: Some of my readers grew up in the 1990s. It was a technological revolution, and also a time of rebellion and shattering societal norms. GMC’s decision to build the Typhoon and Syclone was probably one of their best. 280 horsepower isn’t very much horsepower for a truck, but all the way back in 1991, it meant 60 mph in five seconds. That’s right on pace with a modern Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang. Thank the 350 lb-ft of torque and the AWD system for that. Most people won’t know what they are looking at. They will see an old truck or SUV that is pretty darn small. That punk in the Honda Civic next to them will have no idea that it will blow his doors off at the stoplight. Trust me, you’ll have to have a bona-fide performance car to beat a Syclone or Typhoon in a drag race. Plus, they are very reliable – Jay Leno daily drove one for years without any problems.

    One of the most legendary trucks, let alone sleepers, of all time. It looks so innocent!
  • Mercedes-Benz S600: Even people who know nothing about cars know about the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. They know it’s expensive and luxurious, but nothing past that, really. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice the W220 (chassis generation, just like people know generations of the Ford Mustang as the Foxbody, the SN 95, the S197 and S550) anymore. It still looks dapper, but at this point, it’s generic enough that it flies under the radar with ease. Only us car people will know what they are looking at. Any S600 is going to be quick, but the 2003 update made it something fearsome. The 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 snarled out 493 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. It’s the banker’s hot rod, just like the Hudson Hornet was in the 1950s. Oh, and if you put a straight piped exhaust on the S600, it sounds like a Formula 1 car.

    While it still looks nice, the average person would brush it off as just another Mercedes-Benz. However, any Mercedes with these wheels will blow the doors off of just about anything.
  • Mercury Marauder: Ford’s Panther platform always had potential for performance, but Ford was always interested in selling Crown Victorias, Grand Marquis and Town Cars to retirees, limo companies, law enforcement agencies and taxi companies that they left most of the performance potential untapped to enterprising tuners. That all changed in 2003. The Mercury Marauder was a souped-up Grand Marquis that had a lot of parts borrowed from the Crown Victoria P71 (Police Interceptor Package). It also borrowed some go-fast goodies from the Mustang. Very few people could tell the difference between a Grand Marquis and a Marauder, but under the generic sheetmetal, the Marauder was something to be feared. It had a 302 horsepower V8 and a heavily improved suspension. It didn’t drive like a Grand Marquis or a Crown Victoria. The entire point of the car was to show the world “Why not?”

    Doesn’t look like much, does it?
  • Volvo V70 R: Station wagons haven’t been the preferred method of kid schlepping in many years, which is a true shame. Even when they were popular, they weren’t cool. Any station wagon that has a Volvo badge on it is going to be recognized as safe, but nobody ever drives a Volvo aggressively. Now, chuck all of what I have just said out of the window. Never think or speak of it again. The Volvo V70 R had an inline five cylinder engine that cranked out 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque that went to the wheels via a Haldex AWD system. It hit 60 mph in under six seconds, which made it ideal for the dad who wanted a Mazda Miata with room for his wife and their kids and dog.
  • Saab 9-2X Aero: While the Subaru WRX is a great car in it’s own right, it’s the exact opposite of a sleeper. It’s loud and it attracts more attention than the cute girl in high school. If you liked how the WRX drove, but wanted something more toned down, look no further than the Saab 9-2X Aero. It used to be that there was no option like the Saab 9-2X Aero. Then some brilliant mind at GM decided that they needed to dive into the compact luxury car market. The result was the Saab 9-2X Aero. It was based off of the WRX, but the interior was much more premium, the car wasn’t nearly as loud, the looks were toned down, but at heart, it’s still a Subaru WRX.

    It’s just a luxurious Subaru WRX. It’s really compact, which is great if you live in a city.
  • Mazdaspeed 6: In the midsize sedan segment, many cars will put you straight to sleep. The Mazda 6 has never been one of those cars, and as such, is always my first suggestion for a family sedan. Even though it’s fun to drive, it’s still nothing special at the end of the day. However, Mazda decided to throw practicality and sensibility out the window. They handed a Mazda 6 over to the brilliant minds over at Mazdaspeed, and let them work their magic. The result was a 270 horsepower, turbocharged, AWD sedan with a six speed manual. Pure brilliance. It could hit 60 mph in under 5.5 seconds, yet looked like an average Mazda 6 to the untrained eye. And yes mom, it still has all the practicality of a family sedan. It just happens to be far faster than any other family sedan.

    It looks like just another family sedan. However, anybody who has read this post knows what’s up with this car.
  • Chevrolet Cobalt SS: The Chevrolet Cavalier was a truly terrible car. While it’s replacement, the Cobalt, was a vast improvement, it wasn’t a good car by any stretch of the imagination. It was an inexpensive car that catered to those who needed a brand-new economy car despite the fact that a three-year-old Toyota Corolla was a much better car. It sold well. Chevrolet somehow managed to redeem the Cobalt. The Cobalt SS was probably one of the greatest pocket rockets to ever race around. It was unexpectedly fast, and incredibly adept on any race course or autocross course. A 205 horsepower version came out first, but the real gem was the 260 horsepower turbocharged version. Even with a gigantic rear wing, nobody expects a Chevrolet Cobalt to be that fast. One way to make it even more of a sleeper is to remove the wing and put on non-SS Cobalt wheels. Talk about a sleeper of epic proportions!

    It looks like just another Chevrolet Cobalt, but with big wheels. Acceleration is best achieved by flat-footing it (where you keep the gas pedal planted, and shift without lifting).
  • Ford Taurus SHO: While the original Ford Taurus was a great car, the original Taurus SHO (Super High ) is a legend in the performance sedan world. The current generation does not look at all like a performance car. It’s a comfortable cruiser and a good police car, but it looks like nothing special. Part of what makes the current SHO such a sleeper is that the automotive press basically wrote it off when it was introduced. Even in the SHO trim, it’s meant for being an effortless cruiser, not a canyon carver. This doesn’t mean that you should try and do a stoplight drag race with one. An SHO can hit 60 mph in just over five seconds to 60 mph.

    If you’re a fan of fullsize sedans and the word stonking fast, look into getting a Ford Taurus SHO.
  • Chevrolet SS: Even though this is a list of sleepers sold in America over the past 25 years, the Chevrolet SS truly deserves to be on the list of all-time sleepers. How many cars can claim the accomplishment of having basically nobody know they exist? While some reviewers would consider it a flaw that the SS blends in with all of the boring cars, it’s actually a good thing. 99% of the people you pass in the SS will think it’s a Malibu, if they even notice it at all. They are wrong because it has a 415-horsepower Corvette engine, a six-speed manual and a magnetic suspension sourced from the Corvette. It’s the car that’s so anonymous that no cop will pull you over.

    Really looks like nothing, doesn’t it? Here’s to hoping that the FBI has good taste in cars and starts using these!

The Best Cars for the End of the Holiday Season!

I think that this is a bit of a tradition for me.  Last year, I wrote a post about the same time as this one.  It was also about the best cars for the end of the holiday season.  I have fond memories of picking through cars that I thought deserved to be on this list.  While my list may not be as prestigious as Car & Driver’s 10Best, I would like to think of it as my personal version.  Except, I will be doing a list like this for every season!  That’s right:  Winter, spring, summer, and fall!  After much thought, I have finally decided what cars deserve to be on my list.  The criteria for the cars:  The cars on the list must all be new or substantially updated, they must be able to be entertaining in a snowy climate, and they must be able to seat at least four people comfortably (that way you can go on a road trip with the kids or friends!).  Enjoy my list!

  1. Bentley Flying Spur:  The Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed was on my list last year.  However, the Flying Spur is no longer burdened with the Continental name.  It does still share a platform with the Continental, though.  It’s a brute of a car, weighing in at 5644 pounds.  It’s definitely as large as an elephant – it is 17.4 feet long, and it it weighs as much as a male elephant bull.  Don’t despair – this car rockets to 60 mph in an equally stunning 4.3 seconds.  This car will keep pace with a sprightly Lotus Evora S all day, without much drama or effort.  This car has 616 horsepower mated to a superb ZF 8-speed automatic transmission.  The powerful W12 engine is more efficient – it gets 12/20 MPG city/highway, according to the EPA.  However, snowy hoonage will likely lower that number…  It has every option one can imagine, including private multimedia screens for the kids.  Bang & Olufsen sound-deadening wireless headphones will keep the people in front sane.
  2. Ford F-150 FX2/FX4 Sport Tremor:  The Ford F-150 SVT Raptor Crew Cab rumbled and burbled its way onto my list last year because of its substantial updates, most notably the 6.2 liter V8.  This year, it’s more efficient, yet just-as-fun sister joins the party.  The Sport Tremor comes in 2WD or 4WD, regular cab only.  It comes with Ford’s powerful, efficient 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6.  Power gets there through a 4.10:1 rear end, so these trucks will be fast.  I know that it doesn’t seat four, but don’t despair – you can always get the Raptor!  The performance figures for the Sport Tremor aren’t out yet, but a 2012 Ford F-150 XLT 4X4 Crew Cab got to 60 in a quite-respectable 6.2 seconds.  Expect the Sport Tremor to get there in about 5.8-5.9 seconds.  While it won’t keep up with the Bentley in a straight line, it CAN haul a whole lot more, and get better gas mileage!
  3. SRT Viper/GTS/TA:  The Viper has a ground-shaking 8.4-liter V10 that pumps out 640 horsepower.  It comes with a 6-speed manual transmission and RWD only.  This will play with the boys.  I know that it doesn’t seat four, but hey, it’s a Viper.  It’s not a Bentley!  The RWD, 640 horse Viper should be a hoot to hoon around in the snow.  Stability control and traction control will help.
  4. Porsche 911 Turbo/Turbo S:  The Porsche 911 Turbo is a great car to own.  Not only will the 991-generation Turbo remain a collectible for a long time, but the 991 911 Turbo/Turbo S has a bunch of new technology designed to help the driver get around a track faster.  It has AWD, 560 horsepower in the Turbo S, and seats for four.  While the rear seats may only be fit for presents, the kids will have to suck it up and squeeze in there for a bit.  But, the drive there will be worth it.  The 911 Turbo/Turbo S is turbocharged, which makes it a cinch to drive fast, especially in wet or low-traction environments.  This car was designed to make the worst of drivers look good, and the best of drivers look legendary.  Have fun with this car.
  5. Porsche 918 Spyder:  If you own this car, I want to go for a spin in it!  Porsche has had the 918 Spyder in testing for years – prototypes were running around Germany as far back as 2007.  The 918 Spyder has a hybrid-electric system that distributes the gobs of 874 horsepower and an astounding 944 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels.  The 918 Spyder Weissach Package loses 88 pounds by using ceramic wheel bearings and film wrap instead of conventional aluminum and paint.  It won’t seat any more than two, but that’s okay.  This car will blow your mind at the speeds it reaches without effort, as well as the confidence it gives the driver at any speed.
  6. Subaru WRX:  Subie is legendary in the rally world for building fast, reliable cars that don’t look like much.  The 2015 WRX lives up to these statements.  It loses the massive rear wing found on the previous generation of WRXs, but it has power and fun.  It is bigger, but it makes 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.  It’s suspension has been firmed up 39% in the front, and 62% in the rear.  This car will play all day with a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, and be as flat as a Porsche Cayman S while cornering.  The torque vectoring system uses the rear differential instead of the brakes to vector the torque.  It doesn’t look pretty, but then again, no Subie in recent memory has looked mesmerizing.  Subaru invests money in engineering, not in styling.  That’s fine with me.
  7. Jeep Cherokee:  For those of you who remember the Jeep Cherokees of yore, close this tab, shut off your computer, grab your wallet, and go get a Jeep Wrangler.  This Cherokee is NOTHING like the harsh-riding Cherokees of the 1980s and 1990s.  This Cherokee comes standard with FWD, but 4WD is optional.  The Cherokee Trailhawk will keep pace with a stock Wrangler or SVT Raptor all day long without breaking a sweat.  The Cherokee is packed with lots of useful, cool tech.  I won’t bore you all of that technology, but I will say that for those in need of something affordable with 4WD, the Cherokee deserves a second look.
  8. Chevrolet SS:  The Chevy SS is the thunder from down under.  It’s based off of the Holden Commodore, and it’s got a high-performance 6.2-liter V8 with 415 horsepower.  The SS is the first RWD Chevy sedan since 1996 for civilian use – the Caprice PPV is available for lucky cops, and it’s truly spectacular.  It is capable of making those who owned a muscle car as a teenager feel young again, while allowing Mom and the kids to experience the fun.  It’s not all about burnouts – the SS can hold its own in the twisties.  The 415-horse V8 and six-speed automatic mated to RWD will make it entertaining for anybody to drive, any season, at any time.  I want one, if you haven’t noticed!
  9. 2014 Chevrolet Silverado:  Chevy is good at this game!  Two cars on my list is kinda hard.  Yet, Chevy introduced two cars capable of being on this list, which both of them are.  The 2014 Silverado truly gives the buyer everything that is needed or wanted, and then some.  There are literally 50 different cab/bed combinations, let alone the plethora of engine/transmission/2WD/4WD combinations.  The 2014 Silverado was designed to be one of the best in the game, and it doesn’t disappoint.  It’s got clever tech for all of the engines to make the engines more competitive in an ever-evolving segment.  The Silverado doesn’t come with the option of an extended cab anymore – safety regulations and loss of demand killed it for Chevy, but it comes with a “Quad Cab” option that offers more space than an extended cab, as well as the look of a crew cab.  It starts off as a perfectly nice base model, before climbing the ladder of expensive and unneeded options to become a pure luxury truck.
  10. Ram 1500:  The Ram 1500 has long been one of my favorite 1/2 ton trucks.  Ever since it’s massive – and popular redesign in 1993, the Ram 1500 has always had a brutish Hemi V8 underhood.  Recently, Ram introduced an EcoDiesel V6 shared with the Jeep Grand Cherokee.  It’s the first diesel in a 1/2 ton pickup since the 1980s.  I know the deal about diesels.  My dad owns a 2003 GMC 2500 4X4 with the Duramax diesel.  But, the Ram 1500 offers the same noise levels as the Ram equipped with the Hemi V8.  If you don’t want a diesel, you can always opt for the refreshed Hemi V8, which has more cool tech to aid in towing and hauling.

Have a fun, happiness-filled end of the holiday season!  In these final days of 2013, I urge you to take a walk in the park with friends, your kids, and/or the family dog (if you have one), and do whatever fills your heart with enjoyment.  Have a wonderful Winter Break!

Enjoy the pictures of the cars (and trucks!) on my list: