The 2004-2005 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT
There’s no better proof that sleeper cars come in all shapes and sizes than this boxy looking car from the mid-‘90s. When you think of a Subaru SUV, you expect it to do certain jobs well, like driving on a rough forest trail or picking up the kids from school. You certainly don’t expect to reach 60 miles per hour from a complete standstill in 5.7 seconds. Well, that’s exactly what this Forester did, with the help of a magnificent turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four engine. The engine’s flexibility meant that if you kept it under 3,000 RPM it would behave as you would expect from a gentle family SUV, but once you passed the 3,000-mark and the turbocharger springs in, all hell breaks loose.
The 1986 Dodge Shelby GLH-S
Back in the 1970s, the fuel crisis in the US forced manufacturers to scale down, the spectacular looking and fast going models of the late ’60s making way for boring, economical cars that could rival the Asian competition. One of these was the Dodge Omni, an instantly forgettable compact car that did its job properly and sold well. In 1986, however, things were rosy again and Carroll Shelby was hired to spice up the boring Omni. The result was spectacular, with the turbocharged engine producing 175 horsepower and pushing the Shelby from zero to 60 in only 6.7 seconds, while also having superb handling. And if you’re wondering what the GLH stands for, it’s “Goes Like Hell”.
The 1998-2000 Ford SVT Contour
The Contour may look like a beat up old Mondeo, but Ford once had high hopes for this vehicle, and for good reason. Launched in the late ‘90s, the Contour was Ford’s attempt to make a sedan that would be successful both in the US and abroad, while also providing a serious rival for German sports sedans. It ultimately failed, having only sold 11.500 cars, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a very fast car, and as a matter of fact, it still is. Underneath the completely unspectacular body lies a 2.5-liter V-6 with 200 horsepower, especially tuned by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team. The handling and suspension are soft, meaning that the Contour doesn’t necessarily handle very well, but it makes up in comfort.
The 1990-1994 Mercedes-Benz 500 E
Everyone knows the classic ‘90s Mercedes Benz shape and the fact that they’re powerful and comfortable cars, so it would take something special for one to be considered a proper sleeper car. Special is the perfect word to describe the Mercedes 500 E, a classic four-door sedan with explosive acceleration. The automotive press at the time perfectly described it as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and the years have only added to the contrast between its looks and its performance level. With a massive naturally aspirated 5-liter V-8 engine, it was able to get from zero to 60 in only 5.5 seconds and had an electronically limited top speed of 160 miles per hour, all in a comfortable and luxurious environment.
The 1989-1999 Ford Taurus SHO
Another classic unspectacular and dependable sedan, the Ford Taurus had an evil twin from 1989 to 1999, called the Taurus SHO. Short for “Super High Output”, it was a Taurus on steroids with an engine that seemed to be more fitting for a motorcycle. The Yamaha 3.4-liter V-8 produced up to 235 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque, enough to make everyone notice when this ordinary looking car passes them on the highway. Unfortunately, the engine was as unreliable as it was fast, about one in every 20 breaking down around the 50,000-mile mark. This lack in reliability meant the end of the Taurus SHO at the end of last century, but its ten-year run makes it one of the most successful sleeper cars in history.