These 25 Sleepers Are a Vehicular Wake-Up Call

Cars with the most favorable bark-to-bite ratio.

We think the late-Eighties Mercedes E-Class, internal designation W124, is a supremely handsome sedan, but most would just see a Benz in limbo: not quite late-model, not quite vintage. That workaday shape, though, hides a 315-horsepower V-8 and a Porsche-tuned suspension.
Though boasting a juicier silhouette than the resolutely boxy Volvos of the Seventies, the V60 still reads “utility.” The best use of its hatch? Showing it to BMWs as you pull away with a burble from your 350-hp inline 6-cylinder engine.
The standard Mercedes-Benz SL is a fine boulevard cruiser—among the finest. Fast, competent and breezy. The virtually indistinguishable SL65? A topless terror with 621 hp from a twin-turbocharged 6-liter V-12.
Ever since ducktail spoilers became an add-on option for just about every Porsche 911, the true Turbos have been harder and harder to spot. That is, until you see a 911 going 197 mph. That’s a Turbo S.
No Model S is dull, each being an all-electric, American-made sports sedan with Aston Martin curves and Mercedes S-Class bones. Still, its arresting shape doesn’t even begin to hint at what it can achieve in P85D guise: 0-60 mph in a superbike-like 2.8 seconds. To achieve such a result, owners must first shift their cars into the aptly named “Ludicrous Mode.”
A pleasing if somewhat anonymous body driven by a Corvette V-8. That is a winning sleeper recipe, and that is the Chevy SS. We’d have ours in beige—all the better to court, and then obliterate, comparisons to Buicks (except for 17 and 23 on this list).
It appears to be just another box on wheels, albeit one in a very pretty blue shade, until you sneak a peek ‘round back. There, quad tailpipes indicate that this is a very special, 292-horsepower Golf that can match the 0-60 mph sprint of the 435 hp Ford Mustang GT.
In the market for a BMW 5 Series? It’s a wide spread, from the 2-liter 528i to the blazing M5 and its 560 hp V-8. The sweet spot? Think 550i, which looks mid-range but hides a 445 hp, M5-derived V-8. It catches the Porsche-driving dentists very much off guard.
“Oh, how sweet,” you say, “a plodding Mercedes-Benz sedan from the Sixties. Perfect for a cruise through a cemetery or a small-town Independence Day parade!” Then the 6.3 growls, sends forth a surge of vintage torque and crushes you.
Audi’s sedans project one concept: same knockwurst, different lengths. In dusky lighting the S8 could be mistaken for a lowly A4. Throw in couple of 8.5-second sprints to the century mark, though, and punters will be swiftly disabused of their ignorance.
Some economics professors swear by E28 BMWs from the Eighties: they’re both sensible and sporty. Do not compare the M5 to its lesser brethren, though. It will scream with a banshee’s cry: My father was an M1!
In anything below “Scat Pack” spec, the Dodge Charger looks fairly pedestrian. Despite the slit-eyed face, the body is standard, slab-sided Americana. The internals, though, are riveting: a 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi that burbles, snorts and generally terrifies the neighborhood. Billy will not be late to the orthodontist.
At just under 17 feet long and weighing over 4,600 pounds, the Odyssey bears the expected minivan proportions. Its high lard quotient, however, belies the Odyssey’s scouting ability, thanks to a meaty 3.5-liter V-6. Take that VTEC up to 6,000 rpm, and you’d swear you were driving an NSX with a thyroid imbalance.
The XTS makes for a thrilling Hertz upgrade, but otherwise it’s a car to satisfy septuagenarians who miss the Fleetwood. Gramps needs to be careful with the order sheet, though: ticking Vsport plops a torquey, 410 hp twin-turbo V-6 into the bay. Suddenly the barcalounger skews Recaro.  
Not that anyone would ding her for it, but we’re guessing the Queen of England doesn’t like to be late. Lucky for her, the Rolls-Royce Ghost LWB overcomes its city-bus wheelbase and three-ton heft en route to hitting 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. It seems physically impossible, but what Her Majesty decrees, Her Majesty gets.
In the early Eighties, with what must have been a hearty keg of Stroh’s lager in the room, GMC’s product planners green-lit two GMC’s, the Typhoon and Cyclone. One truck, one SUV, both able to rip to sixty in 4.3 seconds. Twenty years on, that’s still mental.
The baddest Buick ever, full stop. Yes, it was a souped-up 1984 G-body Buick Regal, but one that could outrun contemporary Corvettes. For a sleeper-car masterclass, seek out the 2013 Grand National documentary Black Air.
The only thing more soothing than the Avalon’s name (say it a few times and calm all infants in a three-mile radius) is its ride. But this proverbial cashmere throw packs a velvet punch, with a 3.5-liter V-6 motivating the soft leathers and plastic veneers to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds.
AMG’s surprise minivan is expectedly fearsome: four doors, three rows of seats and a 6.2-liter V-8 good for 503 horsepower. Incidentally, that is exactly the number of horses needed to liquefy a Labrador Retriever.
This Beetle is still cute, but the Turbo has the power to back up its pseudo-Porsche 356 looks: 200 horsepower, or exactly eight times as much as the original Type 1 Beetle.
Usually, a vehicle said to “drive like a truck” is one to avoid, but many Toyota FR-S drivers would murder and maim for the EcoBoost’s acceleration.
Taking up the “oddly sporty” mantle Saab once upheld, Volvo offers its brick-like XC70 wagon with a 325 hp engine. Rectangular speed!
A Buick-by-way-of-Europe, for the freakiest couple on the Naples, Florida, condominium block. Turbocharger! 260hp! A manual transmission! Watch out Mabel in 59B—these folks drink boxed sangria and play their Perry Como loud.
This beyond-brisk Brit will be unfamiliar to most Americans, but it may be the ultimate sneaky sedan. In a strange partnership, Lotus tuned a standard Opel to produce 375 hp, making it the fastest production sedan in the world at the time.
While the Mark II is used in movies to mark wealth and general upper-crustiness, it’s actually a bit of a barroom brawler. In the Sixties, the Mark II ruled the British touring car championships, and moonlighted as bank robbers’ favorite getaway car. (To their chagrin, the British police had a stable of 3.8s as well.

Hot rods are awesome. Supercars? Sublime. We hold a special place, however, for another breed: the sleeper. It’s a relatively nondescript car with something sinister under the hood and a penchant for upsets. Pick your battles with care...