Modern sports car development combines massively powerful engines, complex suspension geometry, and computer-designed aerodynamic exteriors in radically expensive packages that few drivers could ever hope to own. Cars like the Koenigsegg Agera and Bugatti Veyron stand out not just for their insane performance and burbling exhausts, but also simply because they look the part of a world-beating supercar. Even relatively tame sports cars from mainstream manufacturers have begun incorporating active aero details, adaptive suspension, and enormous rear diffusers and spoilers to help keep their tires glued to the road. And the truth is that plenty of buyers choose their cars equally as much for style points as for actual performance.

Updated March 2022: Whether you're looking for an understated performance car, also known as a sleeper, or something that's a bit flashier but doesn't pack quite as hard a punch, you'll be happy to know that we've updated this article with more information regarding the various models.

But aggressive sports cars tend to inspire drivers to push their cars to the limit, even in traffic on city streets, and they also draw the attention of other drivers on the road, including the police. However, there are a rising number of performance car fans these days who have chosen to take another route, opting to find simpler cars with serious performance potential to rival their fancier competition. The classic sleeper recipe is to drop a big-block Detroit V8 into a boring commuter car, but short of serious custom projects, plenty of manufacturers have released legit sleepers that hide their true colors beneath average exteriors. From big turbos to all-wheel drive and six-speed stick shifts in station wagons, some stock sleepers can truly challenge even the most ridiculous-looking sports car on the market today. Keep scrolling for 10 sleepers that can definitely outperform 10 of the flashiest slowpokes ever built.

20 Sleeper That Goes Under The Radar: Volvo V70 R


Nothing is sleepier than a station wagon with gobs of power, all-wheel drive, and a six-speed stick shift. Especially a big, boxy station wagon like the earl7-2000s V70 R from Volvo, a company whose main reputation is for building the world's safest family vehicles.

Most drivers probably wouldn't even realize what was happening if they tried to take on a V70 R, but under its staid exterior lurks a turbocharged inline-five engine that produces 296 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, while a Haldex-based system shared with a few Audis like the TT and S3 helps with traction in the snow and off the line.

Related: 5 Cool American Sleeper Cars Under $20,000 (And 5 Japanese)

19 Flashy Slow Car: Porsche Boxster


Porsche fans nearly lost their minds when the brand unveiled a new generation of sports cars in the late 1990s that featured water-cooled engines and a significantly revised exterior. The 996-generation 911 was immediately reviled by many, perhaps excessively so, and part of the hatred stemmed from its close relation to the simultaneous introduction of the new Boxster model.

To fans of Porsche's historically pure designs, the 986 Boxster was a flashy convertible with too much going on on the exterior, and especially in the earlier base, non-S spec, the exterior was far too bold for the 201-horsepower, 2.5-liter flat six mounted amidships.

18 Sleeper That Goes Under The Radar: Chevy SS


The short-lived Chevrolet SS appears to be little more than another boring sedan from a company that also builds the currently awesome Camaro. The exterior design of the SS is actually part of why it didn't manage to sell nearly as well as it could have: for the simple fact that most buyers didn't even realize that the SS was one of Detroit's best sleepers for its entire four-year run.

With a 6.2-liter LS3 V8 borrowed from the Corvette that pumped out 415 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque, the SS was definitely a far cry from Chevy's other commuter sedans.

17 Flashy Slow Car: Honda Civic Type R

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Honda made their name in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s by delivering a steady stream of affordable, reliable commuter cars that prioritized little more than economical driving. The Civic came to be known as perhaps the best budget car on the market, and its popularity helped cement Honda as one of the world's leading brands.

The newest generation of Civic, however, has completely abandoned everything that made the model so quietly incredible, and especially in Type R trim now includes a ridiculous amount of unnecessary vents, scoops, fascias, and an enormous rear wing which is all the more confusing given the car's front-wheel-drive layout.

16 Sleeper That Goes Under The Radar: Saab 9-2x Aero


Saab never had the biggest following in this country thanks to the Swedish manufacturer's typically strange styling, front-wheel drive layouts, and early adoptions of turbocharged engines (perhaps before the typical buyer in the United States was ready to accept such things).

The Saab 9-2X seemed to follow in the same mold, but few drivers realize that it was actually a team-up with Japanese rally car legend Subaru. The 9-2X has a slightly revised design relative to its WRX and STI siblings, but under the hood, it essentially combined the two to produce a unique and sleepy station wagon that only diehard Subie fanboys might recognize on the street.

Related: 10 Modern Sleeper Cars You’ll Never See Coming

15 Flashy Slow Car: Scion FR-S


When Toyota and Subaru teamed up to produce the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ (now known as the Toyota 86), the whole point was to produce a simple sports car with impeccable handling. But even the relatively tame exterior of a stock FR-S, much less with the plentiful tacky add-ons that owners seem highly inclined to modify their cars with, the model is simply underpowered with less than 200 horses on tap.

But executives have steadfastly refused to up power output with a turbocharger paired perhaps to an all-wheel-drive system like on so many Subarus, opting instead to stick with a car that can handle in the curves well but fails to pull away in the straights.

14 Sleeper That Goes Under The Radar: Subaru Legacy GT


Most drivers on the road know that owners of the Subaru WRX and its higher-performance STI variant are typically aggressive drivers with speed on the mind. But Subaru also produces tamer vehicles like the Forrester SUV and their larger Legacy, which comes in both sedan and station wagon form.

The Legacy was actually Subaru's original rally racer, however, and the Japanese manufacturer has continued that tradition by producing the super-sleepy Legacy GT, which reached peak sleeper form for model year 2005. With an STI-sourced engine, a manual transmission, and all-wheel drive in a station wagon format, the rare 2005 Legacy GT wagon is a serious performer that just happens to look like a soccer mom's grocery-getter.

13 Flashy Slow Car: Audi R8


The Audi R8 is one of the best-looking sports cars on the market today, combining Audi's Bauhaus-inspired design aesthetic with a bit of futuristic flair in a smooth, mid-engined layout. With Quattro all-wheel drive in the mix, the R8's handling has been widely praised, as has its luxurious interior, and it was one of the last sports cars to be sold with a manual transmission, as well.

But despite all its positives, the model suffers from a significant lack of serious power, as Audi failed to utilize one of their seriously beefy turbocharged engines, instead opting for normally-aspirated V8 or V10 options that can't produce nearly enough low-end torque.

12 Sleeper That Goes Under The Radar: Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG


Mercedes-Benz has had a few stages of development throughout their long history of automotive manufacturing. The company hit it big with the 300 SL "Gullwing" sports car, then spent much of the 1970s and 80s producing big, reliable tanks, and now has returned to premier sports car manufacturing.

But in the early 2000s, they also brought the world the E55 AMG, which debuted as the world's fastest production sedan in 2003. A station wagon version even hit the streets with a supercharged 5.7-liter V8 under the hood cranking out up to 469 horsepower and a mind-melting 516 lb-ft of torque.

11 Flashy Slow Car: Ford Focus ST


With the increasing popularity and success of hot hatches in this country, Ford had to get into the mix with a couple of upgraded versions of the Focus. The model's strength has always been its affordable practicality, but Ford's designers tacked on a plethora of questionably aggressive design details to produce the ST and RS trim packages.

The range-topping RS at least has the power to back up its style, but the ST has little under the hood to warrant its exterior's looks, with a disappointing 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine producing 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque that is routed only to the front wheels.

10 Sleeper That Goes Under The Radar: Mercedes-Benz 500E


One of the rarest production Mercedes-Benz vehicles ever made, the 500E is nonetheless making a bit of a comeback in the popular eye. Despite its boxy exterior, the 500E hides some a seriously special, legitimately sleepy, powertrain which was developed with help from fellow German manufacturer, Porsche.

Each 500E was hand-assembled, with chassis first constructed by Mercedes-Benz before being shipped to Porsche's Zuffenhausen factory where a normally aspirated V8 producing 322 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque was tucked under the hood. Distinguished by its subtle fender flares, the nearly 4,000 pound 500E could sprint to 60 miles per hour in as little as 5.5 seconds - not bad for the early 90s.

Related: 10 Awesome 90s Sleeper Cars You’ll Never See Coming

9 Flashy Slow Car: Fourth Generation Ford Mustang


The Ford Mustang has had its ups and downs throughout its life, with the best iterations coming in the form of the original first gen and the current sixth generation. But perhaps the ultimate low point came in the 1990s, when Ford phased out the boxy Fox Body generation in favor of a smoothed out design complete with aero lines and a swoopy body kits.

Under the shell, the fourth-gen Mustang also disappointed with a series of underwhelming engine options, a slushbox automatic transmission that came standard, and mushy suspension - and a subsequent facelift for the 1999 model year did little to help its struggles.

8 Sleeper That Goes Under The Radar: Lancia Integrale


Actually seeing a Lancia Delta HF Integrale on the streets in the United States is an incredibly rare and special occasion - but one that most drivers would probably pass by without a moment's thought. Though the Integrale (especially in the simpler 8V spec) may look like little more than a heavily customized VW Golf to the average person, in reality, it is the road-going homologation special of the most successful rally car of all time.

With a turbocharged four-cylinder engine sending power to all four wheels with a rear-axle bias, the Integrale can fly under the radar while casually competing with more aggressively-styled Audi Ur-Quattros.

7 Flashy Slow Car: DeLorean DMC-12


The DeLorean DMC-12 may be a legitimate movie star after its role as a time machine in the Back to the Future film franchise, but it received a casting call entirely for its looks and not at all for its actual real-life performance. That stainless steel exterior, those gullwing doors, and a mid-engined layout make the DeLorean an exciting car to look at, but its 2.85-liter V6 (the result of a highly questionable Peugeot-Renault-Volvo production team-up) produced only 130 horsepower.

The DeLorean could barely even get to the 88 miles per hour it needed for time travel, with a slow run to 60 mph taking all of 8.8 seconds with a stick shift and a snail-like 10.5 seconds when equipped with a three-speed automatic gearbox.

6 Sleeper That Goes Under The Radar: Volkswagen Golf R32


Volkswagen's fourth generation Golf doubled down on the understated style of the world's most successful hot hatch. Even GTI variants were simple, boxy little hatchbacks with little to differentiate themselves from their lower-spec siblings - but in among the Golfs, a monster lurked.

The Golf R32, first of its name, combined a VR6 engine producing 238 horsepower with either a six-speed manual transmission or the world's first production dual-clutch gearbox, as well as a Haldex-based all-wheel-drive system. Today, the first R32 is so desirable it can easily fetch more than its original sticker price on the secondhand market, but a stock R32 still looks just as sleepy as a slower-than-slow Golf TDI.

5 Flashy Slow Car: Ferrari Testarossa


The Ferrari Testarossa is one of the Italian manufacturer's most iconic cars, and can reasonably be credited with keeping the firm afloat during the 1980s and early 90s. With a sleek exterior highlighted by some of the most distinctive side vents ever designed, the Testarossa had at the same time a futuristic yet quintessentially 1980s look.

A mid-mounted flat-12 engine would seem like a good pairing with the Testarossa's style, but in reality, its powerplant was barely worthy of the Ferrari name. Each Testarossa weighed in at over 3,700 pounds, and despite a respectable peak of 385 horsepower, the flat-12's low-end torque suffered, peaking at 361 lb-ft way up at 4,500 RPM.

4 Sleeper That Goes Under The Radar: B5 Audi S4


The first cars that Audi shipped to the United States did little to help establish the brand's rally-bred sports car heritage. So few Quattro Coupes ever made it across the Atlantic that most drivers probably wouldn't even recognize one today, while a series of boxy sedans and wagons were mostly famous as reliable snow-day commuters.

But after this country also missed out on the insane RS2 hatchback, Audi fans were ecstatic to receive the B5-generation S4, which despite looks that still give it a sleepy vibe, hit the streets as the world's fastest production sedan and station wagon in late 1999.

3 Flashy Slow Car: Porsche 914


Just about every new generation of Porsches seems to throw diehard fans of the brand into a tizzy, but few models have presented as radical a departure from historical trends as the 914 which debuted in 1969. At the time, Porsche was just starting to find true success with the 911 and its lower-spec 912 sibling, upon whose impressive sales the 914 was supposed to improve.

But with a similar Volkswagen-sourced, 1.7-liter engine that produced only 80 horsepower (at the crank!) in early models, the 914 had little hope of living up to its edgy design and mid-engined sports car aura.

2 Sleeper That Goes Under The Radar: GMC Syclone


Most drivers might see a GMC Syclone and pass on by without a second of hesitation. But fans of sleepers love the Syclone, which paired radical performance with an understated exterior that gave away little more than a few Syclone badges.

The heart and soul of the high-performance Sonoma pickup truck was its turbocharged 4.3-liter V6, which sent 280 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels (with a 65/35 rear/front bias). That power was good enough to launch the Syclone to 60 miles per hour in only 4.3 seconds, making it the fastest factory pickup for its time.

1 Flashy Slow Car: C3 Chevrolet Corvette


The third generation Chevrolet Corvette debuted in 1968 as the newest iteration of one of this country's most iconic sports cars. After the smooth first generation and the incredible style of the second generation (which was paired to some seriously massive V8 engines), the C3 seemed poised to take the model into the future with aggressive styling that continued on the theme of a long hood, powerful haunches, and unique detailing.

But the C3 proved a huge disappointment in power production, with efficiency prioritized over performance, typified by 1975 models, which peaked at only 205 horses with the higher-option L-82 V8 under the hood.

Sources:,, and

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