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!

A Lincoln Town Car for the Modern Day

Fans of Ford’s Panther platform will no doubt cry “blasphemy” and a whole other host of names.  Haters gonna hate.  If you’re a Panther fan, keep it to yourself and read this blog post, or come back next Tuesday.

Not only does the Hyundai Equus Ultimate serve as Hyundai’s flagship, it also costs as much as a premium midsize sedan like the 2014 Cadillac CTS.  I’m not suggesting a comparison – the CTS is in a completely different league than the Equus.  While Hyundai’s execution of a fullsize flagship sedan is good, it’s not quite as good as the Lexus LS460, Mercedes-Benz S550, and BMW 750i/Li.  It’s just that you can’t really build a value-oriented flagship and expect it to compete against manufacturers that have at least 25 years of practice.  It’s the equivalent of In-n-Out going completely vegan.  You just don’t expect it to be good.

Panther platform enthusiasts will be quick to point out that the 12.3-18.3 inch-shorter Equus doesn’t have body-on-frame construction.  The Equus DOES, however, have a 2.7-inch longer wheelbase than ANY Panther platform car.  Like the Town Car, the Equus is styled much more conservatively than the love-it-or-hate-it Cadillac XTS and bulbous Lincoln MKS.  The Equus has a roomy, comfortable interior filled with amenities and options that the Lincoln Town Car never offered.  It’s also rear-wheel-drive, and it’s got a smooth, very powerful V8 shared with the Hyundai Genesis.  It’s the only modern car to have clear Lincoln Town Car DNA in it.  It’s obvious who Hyundai is trying to attract.

Rear seat passengers can now individually control the infotainment system, look up restaurants on the go, and even enter destinations while moving.  All 2014 Equus models get a standard three-zone climate control system (driver, passenger, rear passengers) standard.  Ultimate models now seat five people instead of four.  Very few of its competitors offer four seats instead of five in top-of-the-line models.  Ultimate models also come with cruise control with a unique 0 mph stop-start function, front, rear, and multi-view cameras.  It also comes with a proximity key that turns the exterior and interior lights on and off, as well as unfolding the side mirrors.  The doors automatically close a la minivan, and power lumbar support for rear outboard passengers.

For those drivers who want to have performance, fear not.  The engine is a 429-horsepower 5.0-liter V8.  The front bushings are completely new.  As for the Sport and Tour modes, they have been revised for improved ride and handling, respectively.

Because its cabin is so insulated, and its powertrain is so smooth, the optional heads-up display is justifiable.  Since the suspension is engineered for comfort, lots of brake dive and body roll make it less than ideal for back road barnstorming.  It also probably diminishes driver confidence on the street, especially in the city.

While the Equus isn’t quite up to par with the Lexus LS460 in terms of interior quality, it has a 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with separate lumbar controls.  The front passenger seat has 10 ways to make you more comfortable.  Outboard rear seats have four ways and lumbar.  Like the S-Class, the Equus has many of its front and rear switches conveniently located high on the doors.

Up until the end of the 2013 model year, the Equus Ultimate only sat four people.  It had a massage function for the driver and the right rear passenger (where many passengers sit).  The 2014 model offers seating for five people, but no massaging seats.  The 2014 model also has controls for the:  Infotainment system, rear climate control, and rear seats on the fold-down center armrest in the rear seat.  A “Relax” button moves and tilts the front passenger seat forward before reclining the rear passenger seat.  The “Return” button returns both seats to their previous positions.  Now that both rear seats recline, the available power footrest is no more.

Like the Lincoln Town Car, the Hyundai Equus Ultimate offers full-size space and all of the luxury touches one would expect in a flagship.  Another similar thing between these two vehicles designed for those like to be chauffeured around – neither lives up to the standard set by the Lexus LS460, Mercedes-Benz S550, and BMW 750i/Li.  While the value-oriented Equus can be compared to a modern Lincoln Town Car, it does have something that the big Lincoln never had – a 429-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8 and 8-speed automatic transmission.  In my mind, the Hyundai Equus picks up right where the Lincoln Town Car left off.  Now, the one thing that Hyundai has left – the monumental task of convincing everybody the virtues of a bargain-priced flagship sedan.