Cars that go way faster than they look like they should.
A sleeper is a car that looks relatively unassuming while being surprisingly quick and unexpectedly fast. A sleeper packs the ingredients of a hardcore performance car under the hood while wearing the automotive equivalent of sensible shoes and a button-down shirt. It's the way to go if you don’t like drawing attention over what you drive and leaves the more obvious sports cars to gather any nearby police attention. There's also something uniquely satisfying in not being noticed right up until the point the car next to you is wondering why their foot is flat to the floor but they’re being left behind by nothing special. An added bonus to a sleeper is having the performance but not finding every pimply teenager with an eBay accessorized Honda Civic wants to race you from the lights.
These are our favorite sleepers you can drive off the lot this year without anyone noticing, but then drive home the long way like a true enthusiast.
If you’ve seen Fords latest ad where they call the Fusion a sports car, don’t worry because you’re not the only one that has shouted "No it's not!" at the TV. However, the Fusion Sport is no slouch and gives little away to the fact it’s packing a turbocharged 2.7-liter Ecoboost V6 with 325 horsepower and even more importantly, 380 lb-ft of torque.
We had to debate some of these, but we think the Golf R qualifies because it is understated and hard for people to spot it from a GTI. Also, when you park it next to its closest competitor, the Subaru WRX STI, then it just fades into the background as a car you wouldn't expect to make 60 mph in under 5 seconds.
Shorn of all the trimmings of an M2, the M240i still packs 335 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Moreover, that power comes packed in a contender for the best enthusiasts daily driver for sale right now. Think modern E46 M3 territory, and when the warranty runs out there’s plenty of options for tuning.
It’s the fast Ford everyone forgets about because, well, it's a Taurus. In traffic, a new Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, or Mazda 6 looks faster but the Taurus SHO has a 365 horsepower version of the 3.5-liter direct-injected twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 that also makes 350 lb-ft of torque. Things get even better if you look at the used market.
We debated this one long and hard, and came to the conclusion that if you keep the paint color subdued, don’t tick the box for the Black Optic package or sports exhaust, but do tick the option for the Dynamic Plus package then you have a car just shy of 400 horsepower and with a suspension and brake upgrade that should slip under the radar of anyone but the keenest of enthusiasts. It's 0-60 mph time though, that's better than Audi will tell you.
This is one of our favorite sleepers because nobody expects a Lincoln to be propelled by real horsepower. It’s on the same platform as the Fusion Sport, but option the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 and you’ll be wafting around as serene and enigmatically weird as Matthew McConaughey right until you put your foot down to unleash 400 horsepower and embarrass your local street-racers from the lights.
You could pick the 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 G80 Sport, but if you’re smart and want to keep a low but comfortable profile, you’ll go with the non-Sport 420 horsepower 5.0-liter V8 option. You also have the sense of enigmatic mystery from driving a Genesis because it’s still a luxury brand that still cruises under the mainstream radar.
Like the M240i, people lust after the pure M version, but if you want to play it cool then there’s a version for you. The BMW M550i xDrive will pop 60 mph in just under 4 seconds with the power from the 455-hp twin-turbo V8 going to all 4-wheels for maximum forward traction.
As an RS model, it does look sharp and sporty but so does a Toyota Camry SE. Audi doesn’t go too over the top, so the only real giveaway that this four-door sedan packs a real punch is the discrete badges. That punch comes from 605 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque delivering a 0-60 mph time clocking in under 4 seconds. If anything, the RS7 is a wolf in German Shepherd’s clothing.
When Joe or Jane public thinks of fast German cars, it’s BMW that tends to come to mind. And while the Audi and BMW models on this list are almost accidental sleepers, AMG’s take on the E-Class is quite deliberate. It’s not quite as understated as the older AMG E-Class models, but all the automakers are making their cars look aggressive nowadays so it still looks like a herd car. The biggest giveaways are the quad exhausts and the wheels, but pick the right options and the AMG E63 is still inconspicuous. The E63 S is nothing short of blistering with 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque leading to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds.
Although the CTS-V has power and performance that can make a supercar blush with its ballistic approach to acceleration, it doesn’t look that much different from a regular CTS until you look at the hood bulge that nearly kept it off this list. Even then, it still has a Cadillac badge that helps disguise the same supercharged V8 powertrain from a Corvette Z06 making 640 horsepower and 630 lb-ft of torque.
This is another one we had to question, but it’s made the list because although its brother is instantly recognizable, the Charger is pretty low-key. Sure, it looks like a sporty Charger but there’s little giving it away as a full-on 707 horsepower monster unless you start adding stripes and loud paint colors. White is definitely the best color for merging into traffic as it does a good job of smoothing out the bulge in the hood.
Even loaded up with seven people, Tesla’s crossover with the right option will smoke just about everything you’ll see day to day. Pop it into Ludicrous Mode and that instant massive torque from the electric motors will take it to 60 mph in an awe-inspiring 2.8 seconds. Yes, everyone knows about Ludicrous Mode, but Tesla cars come from the factory ready de-badged and this is a crossover. There's not many that will see that coming.