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The Best Used Sleeper Cars You Can Buy For Undercover Performance

Best Used Sleeper Cars 0 Hero
Photo: Volvo Cars

As much as we can appreciate exotic sportscars and supercars, their exaggerated aero elements, and super sleek appearances, we don’t always appreciate the attention that these vehicles draw — from both the general public and law enforcement. For those interested in driving a car that offers extreme performance capabilities in an unassuming-looking package, there’s truly no better option than a sleeper car. In celebration of these undercover track weapons, we’re taking a deep dive into the segment, breaking down just what exactly a “sleeper car” is and what makes them so special, along with our picks for the greatest sleepers cars ever made. 

The Best Sleeper Cars Rundown

What Exactly Is A Sleeper Car?

A sleeper car is a type of high-performance vehicle that boasts the appearance of a much tamer, more understated-looking model. These self-effacing automobiles are often based on the platform of more utilitarian, less-performance-focused models that have been bestowed with larger, more powerful engines, upgraded suspension, and other elements to bolster speed, acceleration, and handling — all while typically maintaining the appearance of the platform’s regular or base model. What’s more, sleeper cars also have to be based on ordinary automotive offerings rather than being even higher-specced versions of existing sportscars — such as the BMW M3, which wouldn’t qualify as a sleeper considering it’s already based on the sporty 3 Series model. Sleeper cars also also commonly referred to as “Q-cars” in UK — a monicker derived from World War One-era Q-ships, which were secretly-armed Royal Navy vessels disguised as merchant ships in a bid to avoid being attacked by German U-Boats. 

What Makes Sleeper Cars So Special?

Most high performance cars readily announce themselves as such just through their appearance. Sleeper cars, on the other hand, conceal their immense performance capabilities underneath plain-looking bodywork. The fact that their aesthetics don’t hint at their true performance prowess is a major part of what makes sleeper cars so revered. This combination of an unassuming, plain-looking appearance and what are often track-ready performance capabilities is also incredibly rare in the automotive world — a fact that’s made sleeper cars highly-sought-after by enthusiast and collectors. Another monumental aspect of what makes sleeper cars so special is the fact that, unlike their tamer counterparts, they weren’t designed to be practical or economical, and instead were engineered by true driving enthusiasts for true driving enthusiasts for the purpose of delivering tire-shredding fun, and little else. Combined, these aforementioned factors collectively contribute to why sleeper cars are held in such high regard by both casual and hardcore automotive enthusiasts alike. 

Editor’s Note: All average used prices based on the Hagerty Valuation Tool Or Kelley Blue Book Value In “Good” Condition. These figures may not always reflect the true amount these vehicles are trading hands for. 

1987 Buick GNX

1987 Buick GNX
Photo: Shutterstock
Why It Made The Cut
  • An ultra-rare, boxy-bodied limited edition Buick that’s become wildly sought-after — and wildly valuable.

Though the order of this list is admittedly based on the vehicles’ age, it’s only fitting that we start with what we consider to be the greatest sleeper car in history. Produced for just a single year in which only 547 units were built, Buick’s limited-edition Grand National GNX was famous long before its debut in the Fast and Furious movie series or Run The Jewels music videos, but it wasn’t until it was thrust into the national spotlight that it was realized to be the ultimate sleeper. This angular vehicle was at its peak in 1987, where it was an ahead-of-its-time release that demanded respect from its street-fairing counterparts; largely due to its below-the-radar persona. If you were unlucky enough to come upon the beastly GNX, however, the final nail was already in the coffin. Below its subdued hood, a turbocharged, 300-horsepower V6 gave the vehicle the gumption it would need to outrun almost any automotive platform, including Chevrolet’s legendary Camaro and Corvette — albeit, with a much less refined aesthetic. And, while it may be dated by today;’s standards, it’s 124-mph top speed and sub-5-second 0-60mph time were objectively impressive in the mid ‘80s. 

Engine: Turbocharged 3.8L V6
Power: 300HP & 380FT-LBs
Top Speed: 124MPH
0-60MPH Time: 4.9 Seconds
Average Used Price: $109,000

1989 Ford Taurus SHO

1989 Ford Taurus SHO
Photo: Ford
Why It Made The Cut
  • An SHO-built model with a Yamaha-designed V6 that’s the absolute epitome of a sleeper car. 

Perfectly encapsulating the concept of a sleeper car, the 1989 Ford Taurus SHO looks iike your ordinary family hauler and grocery getter, though under the surface packs a myriad of performance-focused hardware that afforded the vehicle some pretty extreme capabilities for its time. At the heart of the car was a 3.0-liter V6 that was both designed and built by Yamaha for the Blue Oval. Unofficially known as the “Shogun,” this 24-valve six-banger featured a slew of high-performance internals and allowed this “Super High Output” model to achieve a 6.7-second 0-60mph time and a top speed of 143mph. Good for 220hp and 200ft-lbs of torque — at 6,000rpm and 4,800rpm, respectively — the Shogun six came bolted to a Mazda-supplied five-speed manual transaxle sending power to the front wheels. In fact, the Taurus SHO wasn’t even offered with an available automatic tranny. Completing the package was a modified suspension setup. 

Engine: 3.0L V6
Power: 220HP & 200FT-LBs
Top Speed: 143MPH
0-60MPH Time: 6.7 Seconds
Average Used Price: $8,100

1991 GMC Syclone

1991 GMC Syclone
Photo: Wikimedia
Why It Made The Cut
  • An early predecessor to today’s “Super Trucks” that was capable of going toe-to-toe with the day’s sports cars.

Based on the brand’s purely utilitarian Sonoma pickup, the GMC Syclone is another undercover performer that perfectly captures the notion of what it means to be a true sleeper car. In addition to a lowered stance and modified body kit, the Syclone packed a 4.3-liter LB4 V6 that came fitted with a Mitsubishi-made turbocharger and Garrett intercooler. Equipped with all-wheel-drive, the proto-Super Truck made 280hp and 350ft-lbs of torque, allowing it to clock a 5.3-second 0-60mph time. With a curb weight that barely exceeded 3,500lbs, the Syclone was the fastest stock pickup truck in the world when it first debuted. In fact, a ’91 Syclone even famously bested a brand-new Ferrari 348TS in a standing quarter mile test performed by Car and Driver in the magazine;’s September 1991 issue. Even by today’s standards, this more-than-30-year-old vehicle still boasts pretty solid performance. 

Engine: Turbocharged 4.3L V6
Power: 280HP & 350FT-LBs
Top Speed: 126MPH
0-60MPH Time: 5.3 Seconds
Average Used Price: $30,600

2001 Volkswagen Passat W8

2001 Volkswagen Passat W8
Photo: Volkswagen
Why It Made The Cut
  • A plain and unassuming-looking German-built family sedan that concealed an exotic W8 under the hood. 

First introduced in 1973, the Volkswagen Passat is a fairly tame, German-made sedan designed with a focus on practicality, utility, and value. For a brief period around the turn of the millennium, however. VW offered a version of the Passat that come equipped with an exotic W8 engine making 275hp. Paired with a Torsen-based permanent all-wheel-drive system, this 4.0-liter lump was essentially comprised of a pair of 15° V4 mills sandwiched together at a 72° angle. Allowing this Passat variant to reach a top speed of 155mph, the W8 utilized a narrow-angle design that allowed it to be surprisingly compact despite its displacement and cylinder-count. Upon its debut this W8 was also the first commercially produced engine of its kind. While incredibly unique, this W8-powered family hauler was unfortunately notoriously unreliable. 

Engine: 4.0L W8
Power: 275HP & 273FT-LBs
Top Speed: 155MPH
0-60MPH Time: 6.4 Seconds
Average Used Price: N/A

2003 Volvo V70 R

2003 Volvo V70 R
Photo: Volvo Cars
Why It Made The Cut
  • A turn-of-the-millennium-era take on a lightweight true driver’s car that offered an incredibly spirited experience behind-the-wheel. 

The 2003 Volvo V70 R was devised as the wagon to end all wagons. What the automotive community got, however, was a boxy, unattractive vehicle that will go down in history as one of the industry’s most confusing platforms, especially when you take its design into account. The car’s saving grace came in the form of a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder transverse engine that would output 300 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, allowing it to rocket from 0-60 in just under 5.6 seconds. And if that wasn’t enough, the V70 R was also introduced with the company’s Haldex all-wheel drive, semi-active suspension, and Dynamic Stability and Traction Control, allowing it to keep its composure amidst all that power. A turbocharger never hurt either.

Engine: Turbocharged 2.5L Five-Cylinder
Power: 300HP & 295FT-LBs
Top Speed: 155MPH
0-60MPH Time: 5.6 Seconds
Average Used Price: $3,150

2004 Cadillac CTS-V

2004 Cadillac CTS V
Photo: Wikipedia
Why It Made The Cut
  • An all-American “Super Sedan” that borrowed the C5 Corvette Z06’s 400-hp 5.7-liter V8 engine.

In 2003 Cadillac introduced the world to the CTS sedan. The following year, the Wreath and Crest company would unveil its first-generation CTS-V, shocking the automotive community. Taking aim squarely at the BMW M5s, Mercedes C55 AMGs, and Audi S4s of the day, this gen-one “Super Sedan” largely maintained the base model CTS’ appearance, though under the hood Cadillac had treated the thing to the 5.7-liter LS6 V8 used in that era’s C5 Corvette Z06. Offering pretty remarkable bang for your buck — at least compared to its German-made competitors — the CTS-V generated 400hp and 395ft-lbs of torque, all of which was sent to the rear wheels via a Tremec six-speed manual. With the LS6 mill shoehorned into its engine bay, this V-spec Caddy was capable of rocketing to 60mph from a complete standstill in only 4.6 seconds, plus could achieve a top speed of over 160mph.

Engine: 5.7L V8
Power: 400HP & 395FT-LBs
Top Speed: 163MPH
0-60MPH Time: 4.6 Seconds
Average Used Price: $31,600

2003 Mercury Marauder

2004 Mercury Marauder
Photo: Ford Performance
Why It Made The Cut
  • A cousin of the Crown Vic powered by the more than 300-hp V8 plucked from the 03-04 Mustang Mach 1.

In much the same vein as the Crown Victoria — an unassuming Ford sedan that was adopted by American police forces due to its dependability and power — the 2003 Mercury Marauder looks like a vehicle from decades past. From the get-go, its inability to capture the eyes of passersby makes it a quintessential sleeper vehicle. A rounded body, medium-range seating, and interior peripherals from a bygone era give the Marauder a bad reputation, but for those who actually bought the car, a true surprise was about to be revealed. Beneath its hood, a 302-horsepower, 4.6-liter DOHC V8 engine — and the very same that had made its home in the 2003-2004 Mustang Mach 1 — served as its pounding heartbeat. Weight and outward appearance aside, the Marauder could leave most other vehicles in the dust, thanks to its 7.5-second 0-60mph time, making for common hilarity while out and about.

Engine: 4.6L V8
Power: 302HP & 318FT-LBs
Top Speed: 117MPH
0-60MPH Time: 7.5 Seconds
Average Used Price: $11,800

2008 Audi S6

2008 Audi S6
Photo: Wikipedia
Why It Made The Cut
  • A luxury German sedan equipped with a Lamborghini supercar’s 5.2-liter V-10. 

Far more than just an S-line version of the brand’s A6, the 2008 Audi S6 is a fairly unassuming-looking German luxury sedan that has a very clever trick up its sleeve in the form of a Lamborghini V-10 engine cranking out 435hp and 398ft-lbs. Later used in the Audi R8, the S6’s engine was borrowed from the Raging Bull’s Gallardo, though the Lambo’s more high-revving 5.0-liter V10 was bored out to 5.2 liters in an effort for the mill to better lend itself to use in a sedan. The S6 also boasted a respectable 5.1-second 0-60mph time and a top speed that was electronically-limited to155 mph. Weighing less than 4,500lbs, this exotic V-10 engine was paired with Audi’s quattro permanent all-wheel drive system, upgraded sport suspension and electronic differential locks fore and aft, and a Torsen torque sensing center differential with a 40-60 split. Its rather plain, mild-mannered styling make the fact that it packs a supercar V-10 engine under the hood even more noteworthy — and push it even more squarely into bonafide sleeper car territory. 

Engine: 5.2L V-10
Power: 435HP & 398FT-LBs
Top Speed: 155 (Electronically Limited)
0-60MPH Time: 5.1 Seconds
Average Used Price: $8,200

2008 Pontiac G8 GT

2008 Pontiac G8 GT
Photo: Wikipedia
Why It Made The Cut
  • An ordinary-looking sedan packing an impressive mix of practicality and performance capabilities. 

The 2008 Pontiac G8 GT is a car that you probably wouldn’t think much of upon seeing next to you at a stoplight. And while its plain-looking body design may not hint at its true performance capabilities, the throaty roar of its small-block 6.0-liter V8 — and its more than 360 horses — certainly does. Using the tried and true L76 motor, the G8 GT was able to reach 60mph from a complete standstill in just a tad over five seconds, plus was able to achieve a top speed of 140mph — nothing record-breaking, but also nothing to scoff at, either. A major part of what made this vehicle so special was the fact that, despite the addition of a much more powerful engine, this American-made model maintained its base model counterpart’s generous amount of storage space, comfortable seating, and general utility. Having said that, this car gets pretty terrible mileage and certainly wasn’t cheap to fill up. 

Engine: 6.0L V8
Power: 361HP & 385FT-LBs
Top Speed: 140MPH
0-60MPH Time: 5.2 Seconds
Average Used Price: $21,500

2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8

2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
Photo: Jeep
Why It Made The Cut
  • A 470-hp HEMI-powered Grand Cherokee that put the “sport” in “sport utility vehicle.”

What happens when you take a flagship SUV, upgrade its running gear, and shoehorn in a nearly 500-hp HEMI V8? Well, the answer is the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. Putting the “sport” in “sport utility vehicle,” the Grand Cherokee SRT8 was kicked along by a massive 6.4-liter SRT HEMI V8 that allowed it to do 0-60 in just 4.7 seconds — giving it the same acceleration time as a Roush 427R Mustang, Bentley Mulsanne Speed, or Porsche Macan GTS. Tipping the scales at only 5,150lbs, Jeep’s second-gen Grand Cherokee SRT8 also came loaded with an electronically controlled Quadra-Trac transfer case, a processor-regulated limited-slip rear differential, top-of-the-line adaptive Bilstein dampers, and enormous multi-pot Brembos chomping down on 15” rotors up front and 13.8” discs in back. It’s also worth noting that upon its debut, the SRT8-spec Grand Cherokee represented one of the fastest SUVs that money could buy.

Engine: 6.4L V8
Power: 470HP & 465FT-LBs
Top Speed: 157MPH
0-60MPH Time: 4.7 Seconds
Average Used Price: $26,500

Racing Stations: The Best Sport Wagons

Best Sport Wagons 0 Hero
Photo: BMW M3 Touring

Want to check out another selection of vehicles that conceal some seriously impressive performance capabilities? Then be sure to cruise on over to our guide to the best sport wagons for a curated selection of shooting brakes and super station wagons.