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The sleeper car is a strange little sub-genre of the car world. This term basically means an unassuming car that actually has a lot of power. A few affordable used cars still exist in this category, though they are getting harder to find these days. These are seven of the best affordable cars that make perfect sleeper cars. 

A red 2012 Mazdaspeed 3 photographed from a high angle while driving shows that its the perfect affordable used car that is also a killer sleeper car.
2012 Mazdaspeed3 | Mazda

The sleeper car genre is getting depleted

Back in the wild old days, before speed cameras and increased policing, street racing used to be a more popular pastime. While some racers wanted the flashiest cars on the block, others wanted to keep their cars’ performance under wraps to hustle other racers and fly under police radar. 

Most sports cars are made to be flashy. We tend to pay extra for body kits and decals showing off the performance package we just got. However, there are still a few normal-looking sleeper cars out that no one would suspect of being a tire-roasting powerhouse. These affordable used cars are keeping the sleeper car culture alive.

The Pontiac GTO is the go-to affordable used sleeper car

This car, in particular, sums up the sleeper car genre perfectly. Although the Pontiac GTO rose from the dead in the mid-2000s, it didn’t quite make it to the retro car boom that we see today. 

As noted by Gear Patrol, the 2004-2006 Pontiac GTO was basically a two-door Chevy with Corvette engine wearing grandpa’s clothes. This little sleeper was not a pretty car, but it could boogie. There were no clues other than the GTO’s name that this ugly duckling could blow the doors off a few cars. The top trim had a 6.0-liter V8 making 400 hp. It may be a sleeper, but the driver better be very awake. 

The Mercury Marauder was aptly named 

At first glance, the Mercury Marauder will make you do a double-take to make sure you aren’t being tailed by the feds. They look like a sleepy old Crown Vic that has been blacked out. However, there is a little more going on here. 

Ford held on to the Panther Platform for over 30 years. In all that time, Ford never fooled with a performance version until the Mercury Marauder in the early 2000s. Not only was the marauder villainously blacked out, but it also got higher-performance suspension, unique wheels, and the same engine block from the Mustang Mach 1. However, sales were slow, and the result was a total production run of only 11,000 units. 

Is a Subaru WRX really a sleeper car? 

The Subaru WRX is an affordable used car. This stock car shows no signs that it's fast, but it might surprise you.
Subaru WRX | Subaru

Although the Subaru WRX has a reputation for being a sporty, often modded street racer, the WRX run from 2007-2011 looked pretty unassuming. With its flashy colors and monster wing, the WRX STI gets all the attention, but the regular WRX stays incognito, still with decent performance. 

This generation pulled back on the theatrics with the aggressive bodywork but left the performance. For some people, this just means the Subaru WRX just got ugly for a little while; to others, this means an affordable used car that makes the perfect sleeper car. They may be ugly, but the performance is enough to speak for itself. 

Don’t sleep on the ultimate sleeper car, the Volkswagen Golf GTI

this 2008 VW golf GTI is at the 95th f=French autoshow. It is one of the coolest sleeper cars ever made
Volkswagen Golf GTI | ERIC PIERMONT/AFP via Getty Images

We love the Volkswagen Golf GTI. It is pound-for-pound one of the best-looking, economic, and fun-to-drive cars on the market. Although in the car world, the Golf GTI is a well-known hot hatch, in the rest of the world, it’s just a little compact hatchback. 

A newer model GTI won’t be super affordable, but if you are willing to search through some listings on used models from 2010-2012, there are some killer sleepers in there. The GTI looks fairly plain but fully optioned; it can have a 200-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired with a six-speed manual transmission or a dual-clutch six-speed automatic. 

The Mazdaspeed3 continues the hot hatch trend

The mid-to-late-2000s Mazaspeed3 is an affordable used car that will certainly fly under the radar. These little hatchbacks are so low profile that most enthusiasts won’t even look twice. However, Mazda has long been known for its ability to make a less-powerful car more fun to drive than other cars with monster horsepower. 

These may not run off between stoplights, but the Mazdaspeed3 will carve up a corner faster than you can say “zoom zoom.” 

The sleepiest sleeper of them all is the Ford Taurus

The Ford Taurus has long been synonymous with painfully plain. Even Ford said the 2010 revamp was going from “Homer Simpson design to Superman design.” We aren’t totally sure what that means, but it feels accurate. 

The old Taurus died made way for a new 365-hp twin-turbocharged V6- powered Taurus with all four wheels getting power. Even though the new Taurus came, correct few buyers were willing to look past the years of offensively plain design and the connotation therein. As a result, not many of the SHO versions were sold. Now, this super-Taurus roams the streets waiting to be awoken. 

Don’t sleep on the Chevy SS

A key aspect of sleepers is that they don’t look like anything special. Well, this affordable used car fits the bill perfectly. The Chevy SS looks like a page out of the phone book: not very memorable. 

This is a four-door Chevy if I’ve ever seen one. However, beneath all that white-rice bodywork is a true blue LS3 Corvette engine. So compared to a Corvette, they are still quite affordable, but the prices are going up. It may have been sleepy for a while, but it’s waking up. 

How many affordable used cars can continue to stay sleeper cars? 

While car culture is constantly shifting, there is still plenty of room for sleeper cars. The needle is just moving. As horsepower figures continue to grow at alarming rates, the definition of what constitutes as a sleeper car may have to change and grow with it. 


You Really Should Buy a Volkswagen Golf GTI