It’s no secret that it’s fun to drive fast. The thrill of rapid acceleration, burning rubber, and leaving lesser motorists in the dust— it’s good medicine for the heart and soul. Speeding tickets? Unwanted attention? Not what the doctor ordered. Fortunately, there are some great cars on the market that don’t scream, “I go really fast!” to the casual observer, allowing you to fervently unleash a terrible torrent of torque while remaining reasonably under the radar. Unassuming and grossly underestimated, think twice before you decide to red-light challenge one of these top ten sleeper cars.
2014 Audi SQ5, $52,795
Although it looks remarkably similar to the standard 2014 Audi Q5, the 2014 Audi SQ5 is a completely different beast. Only modest “S” badging, bigger wheels, and minor body changes such as aluminum mirrors and an upgraded roof spoiler, betray its performance-tuned 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 powertrain. The SQ5 has 354 hp and 347 lb-ft of torque stealthily hidden underneath its crossover body, which can launch from zero to 60 mph in just 5.1 seconds — that’s nearly a second faster than the 3.0T-equipped 2014 Audi Q5, and about two seconds faster than the 2.0T. Top speed is electronically-limited to 155 mph, and an eight-speed automatic dual-clutch transmission sends power to all four wheels. For well-to-do suburban families who want the puzzling combination of friendly utility and jowl-rippling performance, we’d definitely steer you toward the 2014 Audi SQ5.
2014 Cadillac XTS Vsport, $63,020
It’s still a big cushy sedan, but the 2014 Cadillac XTS Vsport is far brawnier than the Cadillac cruisers of old. No major red flags (aside from a black-chrome grille and Vsport badging) set the Vsport model apart from the base XTS. Keeping its tastefully luxurious exterior and Cadillac-patented, elegantly smooth ride thanks to specially-calibrated Magnetic Ride Control, punching the throttle will unleash the lurking warrior within. Packing a twin-turbocharged 410-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 with peak torque of 369 lb-ft available as low as 1900 rpm, the 2014 Cadillac XTS Vsport is no slouch despite its 4364-lb weight, and is not to be trifled with off the line. It’s a welcome member to our list of top ten sleeprs, so don’t be shocked when a well-coiffed businessperson blasts by on the highway with poised confidence.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV, $27,495
Don’t discount Chevrolet’s Spark EV as a cupcake-toting slowpoke. Yes, it’s almost comically adorable. Yes, it’s all-electric. It also has 400 lb-ft of torque almost immediately available from its 130-hp/100-kW electric motor. While the little EV hatch is never going to break any top speed records, there’s no doubt that it has surprising oomph for zipping around the city. Yet it doesn’t make too much noise while doing so; contributor Ronald Ahrens noted that the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV, “launched with a whir that one might hear from insects deep in a rainforest.” Its zero-to-60 sprint clocks in at approximately 8.0 seconds — hardly supercar performance, but far better than we expect from an affordable EV.
2014 Chevrolet SS, $44,470
As a newcomer to the U.S. market, the Holden Commodore-based 2014 Chevrolet SS is both understated and rare enough to be called one of our top ten sleepers — no more than 4000 will be imported annually from General Motors’ Holden division down under. The rear-wheel drive sedan uses a big 6.2-liter 415-hp V-8 engine capable of 415 lb-ft of torque, rocketing the Chevrolet SS from zero-to-60 mph down the straights in 5.0 seconds flat. “It’s a ghost,” said associate editor David Zenlea, of the car’s unremarkable looks that belie its staggering performance. The Chevrolet SS’s unfamiliarity here in U.S. makes it a no-brainer choice for those who want to stay disguised while burning some serious rubber.
2014 Ford FlexEcoBoost, $43,750
At 4828 lbs, the 2014 Ford Flex EcoBoost seems more like a linebacker than a sprinter. With its tall, boxy frame, its bulbous looks seem to reflect its nearly quarter-ton weigh-in. A look under the hood however, would reveal that the EcoBoost Flex is indeed a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A total of 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of surging torque emanate from the Flex’s 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine, hurtling the ungainly box forward with the quickness of a lithe sport compact. For reference, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 is also used to chase down criminals in the Ford Police Interceptor Sedan and Ford Police Interceptor Utility SUV, and to haul building supplies in the Ford F-150 pickup.
2014 AEV Jeep Wrangler JK350
The Jeep Wrangler isn’t generally known for its performance capability on the beaten path (and might seem a bit out of place on a list of top ten sleepers), but a version from American Expedition Vehicles with a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 simply doesn’t care about your preconceptions. While 470 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque are undoubtedly excessive off-road, the added power makes the AEV Jeep Wrangler a mud-colored blur on the highway. Riding on gargantuan 37-inch tires and jacked up suspension, it looks like it’s speeding to the battlefield while passing lesser vehicles. SRT uses the same engine in high-performance Challenger, Charger, and Grand Cherokee models. Who would ever expect that kind of raucous, explosive muscle from a supposedly purpose-built off-roader?
2014 Ram Express, $27,190
The 2014 Ram Express is the definition of old-school muscle and power. There are no flashy upgrades for this pickup—no shiny rims, no sparkling grilles, no LED taillights or fine wood-trim interior — just the affordable price tag and a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque that will keep power junkies coming back for more. Even with a truck bed full of cargo, the Ram Express is a no-nonsense hot rod that will leave most cars firmly in its wake once the light turns green. First introduced in 2011, the Hemi-powered Ram Express remains the ideal truck for those who want to show up, not show off.
2014 Tesla Model S 85 kWh Performance, $87,070
Even with the carbon-fiber rear spoiler and red brake calipers that distinguish it from the regular 85 kWh-powered 2014 Tesla Model S, most people would never guess that an all-electric vehicle was capable of reaching 60 mph from a dead stop in 4.2 seconds. The trendy rear-wheel-drive Tesla is much better known for its 265-mile all-electric range and zero-emission figures rather than its shocking 416 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. Like most electric vehicles, the Tesla does not need time to accelerate to reach peak torque in the rev range, which is readily available from zero to 5,100 rpm. This makes the Tesla Model S a weapon off the line, and with its silent electric powertrain, it’ll vanish like a whisper in the wind. In fact, we raced it against a BMW M5 — and the electric car won.
2014 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible R-Line, $29,815
One of the cutest darn things out on the road today, the 2014 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible R-Line is also surprisingly peppy. It uses the same 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injection engine as the outgoing Volkswagen GTI, which is continually regarded as one of finest hot hatches on the market. In the Beetle Convertible, the turbocharged four-cylinder yields 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, which is plenty to make the topless Bug both stylish and unexpectedly quick. Although it is available with a slick six-speed manual, the six-speed dual-clutch automatic has a selectable sport mode that amps up the performance experience even more. When you see the rev-happy Volkswagen Beetle Convertible dart around town, those perennial “Awwww!” sounds might soon change their tune to “Whoa!”
2015 Volvo V60 Polestar, Price TBA
While most people would pull up next to the 2015 V60 Polestar wagon and remember a flush of memories from a rear-facing third-row seat on the way to soccer practice, this is not your neighbor’s mother’s Volvo wagon. In fact, it’s a 350-hp screaming blue dynamo, powered by Volvo’s turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine. A new turbo and intercooler bump up the torque to a healthy 369 lb-ft, helping launch the all-wheel-drive wagon from zero to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. If you need to haul a lot of groceries but want to escape the parking lot as soon as physically possible, pick up a 2015 Volvo V60 Polestar when it hits U.S. showrooms in June 2014.