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Despite their unassuming designs and affordable price tags, these sleepers can take on almost any sports car on an open road.
Most gearheads dream of owning supercars with head-turning designs and exhilarating performance. However, there's a small group of gearheads that crave performance but don't want designs that attract attention everywhere they go. That's exactly why the sleeper car segment exists.
Sleeper cars have regular designs that blend in with normal traffic, but when the roads open up, they have the capacity to obliterate plenty of sports cars. The best thing about sleeper cars is that they offer great value for money, as they typically offer better performance than what their price tags indicate. Let's explore ten cheap sleeper cars gearheads should consider.
When Cadillac introduced the CTS in the early 2000s, its main goal was to compete with the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the compact luxury sedan space. While the CTS looked the part and had an upscale interior, it didn't match its competitors in the power department, which is why Cadillac built the CTS-V.
Cadillac equipped the CTS-V with the same engine as the Corvette C5 Z06 – a monstrous 5.7-liter V8 engine making over 400 hp. A 0-60 of just 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 163 mph made the first-generation CTS-V one of the fastest American cars of the day.
In the late '80s, Mercedes-Benz needed to build a new high-performance E-Class model that could take on the fastest luxury sedans of the day. However, with its engineers too busy developing a new S-Class generation, Mercedes-Benz hired Porsche to build the car, resulting in the iconic 500E.
Porsche quickly got to work and modified the W124 to ensure it could accommodate the 5.0-liter V8 from the SL of the day. Porsche was successful, and in the end, the 500E had 322 hp and 354 lb-ft to work with. With only around 10,000 examples made, the 500E is becoming increasingly hard to find. Mercedes-Benz 500Es are still selling for less than $30,000 at auction, but not for long.
Although Ford has never gone bankrupt, it has come close on several occasions. One time Ford came close to its end was in the '80s thanks to the fuel crisis, but thankfully the Taurus saved it.
The Taurus is a four-door sedan that Ford introduced in 1986 to appeal to buyers looking for a stylish, practical, reliable, and affordable car. The Taurus became a huge success, selling millions of examples in the process. The Taurus was so successful that Ford introduced a high-performance version in 1989 – the SHO. Equipped with a 3.2-liter Yamaha V6 engine making 220 hp, the Taurus SHO was among the fastest Fords of the day.
In 2006, Mazda unveiled the first high-performance version of the Mazda6 midsize sedan. Dubbed the Mazdaspeed6, this sedan looked a lot like the base model but had a revised front fascia with a slightly raised hood.
While there wasn't much to separate the Mazdaspeed6 from the base model in the looks department, it was an entirely different car performance-wise. It had a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 270 hp, a six-speed manual transmission, and an all-wheel-drive system.
Compact pickup trucks are meant to offer affordable service to workers all over the US. They're typically not meant to be fast, but that didn't stop GM from creating the insane Syclone in the '90s.
The Syclone started as a GMC Sonoma compact pickup truck but gained several upgrades that turned it into one of the coolest pickup trucks of all time. For one, the Syclone received a styling makeover that gave it a menacing blacked-out look and new bumpers that made it look a lot cooler than the Sonoma. It also had a performance upgrade, as it was equipped with a 4.3-liter turbocharged LB4 V6 engine cranking out almost 300 hp.
The seventh-gen Impala SS left many gearheads with puzzled faces when it debuted in the '90s. Apart from subtle badges, there was no way to tell that what gearheads were looking at was the Impala SS, as it looked like any other four-door sedan on the road – a far cry from the fabled muscle car it was in previous generations.
Thankfully, the Impala SS made up for its ordinary looks with its extraordinary performance. Powered by the same 260-hp V8 engine as the C4 Corvette, the Impala SS was super quick.
The Golf is Volkswagen's most successful model of the modern era. There are multiple iterations of the Gold available, but the R has to be the most underrated. Volkswagen built the first Golf R in the early 2000s and it has been a hit since.
Dubbed the Golf R32, this fantastic hot hatch shared many components with the Audi TT, including its superb 3.2-liter DOHC VR6 engine. The R32 also made history as it was the first production car to have a dual-clutch transmission. It's no surprise that the R32 is often included on the list of the best hot hatches ever made.
When the Cobalt replaced the Cavalier in the early 2000s, there wasn't much to write home about it. That all changed a year later when Chevy introduced the Cobalt SS. Anyone who knows about Chevy's history knows the significance of the 'SS' badge, and the Cobalt SS didn't disappoint.
Although the Cobalt SS drew a lot of criticism for retaining the Cobalt's boring design and basic interior, it made up for it in the power department. The Cobalt SS had several exciting engine options, with the best being a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine dishing out 260 hp.
The new Ford F-150 Lightning has been among the most exciting developments in the auto industry recently, as it's Ford's first-ever electric pickup truck. However, Ford has used the 'Lightning' name before on yet another incredible pickup truck – the SVT Lightning.
The SVT Lightning debuted in the early '90s and was among the first performance trucks. The First SVT Lightning was so successful that Ford introduced another generation in 1999. Equipped with a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 making up to 380 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque, the second-generation SVT Lightning was no slouch.
The GTO is, without a doubt, the car that makes us miss Pontiac the most. Without the GTO, there's a good chance that muscle cars would never have become as popular as they are today.
Sadly, the GTO had a tragic end to its story. After several decades of hiatus, GM decided to revive the GTO in the early 2000s, but instead of a muscle car, the fifth-generation GTO was a rebadged Australian coupe. Obviously, gearheads couldn't let this move fly, and the GTO failed miserably. However, if you ignore its name, the fifth-generation GTO is actually a great car. Despite its sedate styling, the fifth-generation GTO had a massive 5.7-liter V8 making 400 hp.
Martin is a seasoned content creator who has been writing about cars for over a decade, and has been in love with them for even longer. Growing up, Martin was surrounded by gearheads who instilled a deep love and understanding for cars in him at a young age. He loves to learn and write about all the developments happening in the auto industry – especially in the EV space. When he’s not writing about cars, he likes to spend quality time with his wife, kids, and fur baby.
10 Cheap Sleeper Cars Every Gearhead Should Own – HotCars
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