Sleeper cars or Q (for quiet) cars are all about keeping their performance a secret from the outside world, by adopting that cunning automotive disguise of looking like a run-of-the-mill sedan or hatchback. They don't look ‘flashy,' are less likely to get vandalized or stolen, they're immensely practical and only those that know, know. But the best thing about sleeper cars is that that no matter what your budget or transportation needs, there is one out there resting 'dormant' for you.
The latest-generation Smart car is a joint venture between Daimler and Renault and has spawned the Smart ForFour and the Renault Twingo. Neither could be described as performance cars. However, that was until Renault's Sports department and Mercedes tuner par excellence, Brabus, both started getting creative. The results - the Smart Brabus and the Twingo GT are both capable of hitting 100km/h in 10 seconds - remarkable for a 3-cylinder 898cc turbocharged engine and there's 170Nm of torque plus 109hp going to the back wheels. And with a 4.3m turning circle, the cars are phenomenally maneuverable.
Taking a step up in size, Audi's RS3 looks like a sensible family hatchback, but it behaves like it's been possessed by the devil. Every RS-badged Audi is a guaranteed sleeper hit but by working its magic on something so small, the RS 3 takes things to another level. Its 2.5-liter, five-cylinder turbocharged engine outputs 465Nm of torque and 362bhp to all four wheels and it means 0-100km/h in 4.3 seconds (faster than a Porsche) and at top speed of 280km/h with the limiter removed.
The latest edition to the sleeper car ranks is the Skoda Superb 280, so called because it has 280PS or 276bhp. Unveiled this month, it can accelerate from rest to 100km/h in 5.8 seconds and boasts permanent all-wheel drive to keep it under control. To emphasize just how quick it is in a straight line, Skoda raced it against a host of classic 1970s, 80s and 90s supercars and provided video evidence of the results. What makes the clip even more embarrassing is that all of those dream cars of yesteryear were beaten by the estate, rather than the sedan version.
Torque is not cheap
The Ford Fusion (or Mondeo beyond US borders) with any engine under its shapely hood is a great family car and one that makes sure that its immense practicality doesn't detract from driver involvement. However, the latest Sport model gets a 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 that delivers 325hp to all four wheels and, more importantly 515Nm of torque. That's more than an Audi A6 3.0TFSI, a BMW 535i and even an entry-level Porsche 911. Unfortunately, Ford is yet to confirm the car's other performance figures but with all the fanfare, they're shaping up to be good.
The muscle car in a Savile Row suit
From AMG-tuned Mercedes to BMW M cars, at the top end of the market, there is no end of choice for those looking for an executive barge that can go toe-to-toe with an Italian automotive thoroughbred. However, what makes the Jaguar XJR stand out is that it's the best of the bunch at keeping its capabilities a visual secret. Despite measuring over 5 meters from nose to tail and tipping the scales at 1875kg, its 5-liter 543bhp supercharged V8 will catapult it from rest to 100km/h 4.6 seconds and onto a top speed of 280km/h.