You can’t judge a book by its cover. And you can’t judge the performance of a car by its sheet metal. That’s the theory behind these factory-built new vehicles. Each offer a deceptive amount of high performance compared to their relatively humdrum exteriors.
Call them what you like: Q-cars, stealth bombers, wolves-in-sheep-clothing, or sleepers, you won’t find any sporty coupes or sports cars on this list:
2012 Acura TL SH-AWD
The base model, front-wheel-drive TL is a “nice” car. The type of car you see a lot of real-estate agents chauffeuring their clients around in. But the similar-looking $43,490 SH-AWD version is a different beast altogether.
With the added traction of parent Honda’s sophisticated Super Handling-All Wheel Drive system (with its rear-torque-vectoring feature), a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, and a larger 3.7-litre vee-six engine (with 305 hp and 273 pound-feet of torque), the “really nice” TL SH-AWD can rocket from rest to 100 km/h in only 5.4 seconds.
2013 BMW M5
Since the 1988 original, the BMW M5 — the high-performance version of the more pedestrian 5 Series mid-size sedan — has set the standard for sleeper cars. So the all-new 2013 iteration arriving at dealers later this summer has a lot to live up to.
Spec-wise, the new rear-wheel-drive $101,500 M5 impresses. A 5.5 L “M TwinPower Turbo” vee-eight makes 560 hp and 502 lb.-ft. The eight is attached to an M-spec seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, with an electronic limited-slip differential. The result is a half-second 0-100 km/h run improvement over the outgoing model, down to under four seconds.
2013 Buick Verano Turbo
In regards to meeting Buick’s previous small car standards, the new-for-2012 Verano compact sedan is a huge improvement. But then the last Buick compact, the 1989 Skyhawk (a badge-engineered Chevy Cavalier) set the bar rather low.
But only months after going on sale, it looks like Buick isn’t sitting on its haunches. The General Motors demi-luxury brand has announced a new Verano Turbo model for this fall, sporting a detuned version of the 2.0 L turbocharged four-cylinder found in the larger Regal GS, and making a healthy-for-its class 250 hp and 260 lb.-ft. Estimated 0-100 km/h times are in the 6.7 second range.
2012 Cadillac CTS-V SportWagon
It’s understandable if I say “station wagon” you immediately think of Clark Griswold’s Wagon Queen Family Truckster from the National Lampoon Vacation movie series. Nothing says “borrring!” like a wagon. But the first of my two sleeper wagon choices, the $75,100 V version of Cadillac’s CTS SportWagon, is anything but a yawner.
Let’s get straight to the rear-drive Caddy wagon’s numbers. Adding the “V” means a massive 6.2 L supercharged vee-eight, making a prodigious 556 hp and 551 lb.-ft, is now under the hood. Rowing its six-speed manual gearbox catapults this family ride from 0-100 km/h in 4.4 seconds. Just the thing to get the family to Wally World swiftly, eh?
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
Any SUV the size and weight of the Grand Cherokee has to be slow and awkward, right? However, someone forgot to tell Jeep’s engineers just that when they were developing the second-generation SRT8 model.
Like the original 2006 to 2010 version, the new-for-2012 $55,395 SRT8 iteration seems like just another Grand Cherokee family hauler from a distance. But its new bulging bodywork hints to what’s lying underneath: a 470 hp and 465 lb.-ft. 6.4-litre vee-eight. And yeah, it’s a Hemi. Which when combined with a pavement-gripping all-wheel-drive system, allows the brute-ute to scoot from 0-100 km/h in five seconds flat.
2012 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec
As a mid-size luxury sedan, the Genesis is about as conservative as cars come by. Its mission in life is to mimic your neighbour’s Lexus. As such, you can get a Genesis with an equally generic vee-six. It’s a nice engine. Makes 333 hp. But the killer app in the refreshed-for-2012 Genesis is the R-Spec model, specifically its 5.0 L vee-eight.
With a displacement normally associated with muscle cars, the $53,499 Genesis R-Spec delivers muscle car motor ratings. Try 429 hp and 376 lb.-ft., channelled through an eight-speed autobox. With a 5.5 seconds 0-100 km/h time, the R-Spec buries any memories of snail-like Hyundais from the past.
2012 Infiniti M56 Sport
You could argue that the entire lineup at Nissan’s luxury brand are sleeper cars. Even after more than 20 years on-sale in Canada, a lot of new car buyers don’t have a clue what an Infiniti is or stands for. But one ride in the M56 Sport mid-size sedan and the words “deceptively fast” would be an appropriate description.
Like the Hyundai, the five-passenger rear-drive Infiniti starts with relatively conservative looks. But hidden under its luxury-sedan bodywork is a NASCAR-worthy mill, a 5.6 L vee-eight, in fact, grunting out 420 hp. and 417 lb.-ft. Mated to a seven-speed automatic, the $73,500 M56 Sport is even quicker than the Hyundai, snapping off a 5.0 second 0-100 km/h time.
2012 Lexus LS 600hL Hybrid
As the full-size flagship of the Lexus line, the hybrid LS 600hL (long-wheelbase) sedan sets few driving enthusiasts hearts fluttering. For one, it’s (yawwwn….) a Lexus. And two, it’s a (double-yawwwn …) hybrid, a car designed for fuel economy, not smoking tires.
Yet, with the goal of producing vee-twelve-like performance but with vee-eight fuel consumption, the $121,750 LS is surprisingly quick. The marriage of all-wheel-drive and its 5.0 L engine/electric motor combo create a non-hybrid-like 438 hp. Not surprisingly, its fuel ratings remain excellent (10.6 L/100 km city; 9.1 highway). But it’s the Lexus’s 0-100 km/h time of 5.5 seconds that makes it a sleeper.
2012 Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG Wagon
While the Cadillac CTS-V can haul more than your kid to their violin lesson, perhaps you’d prefer your sleeper wagon with a German feel. Wait no more. The $102,100 Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG Wagon looks like a Munich taxi, but it’s nearly as quick as the automaker’s SLS AMG Gullwing super car.
A new, turbocharged 5.5 L vee-eight replaces the naturally aspirated 6.2 L mill. Horsepower remains at 518, but torque jumps from 465 to 516 lb.-ft. at a more accessible 1750 r.p.m. The result? A super car-like 4.4 second 0-100 km/h time.
2012 Volkswagen Golf R
Unlike its Mitsubishi and Subaru sports compact rivals, the new Golf R wears its performance sublimely. It may not have the bloated fenders or extraneous air scoops and spoilers like the Lancer Evolution or WRX STi, but the VW can still deliver a wallop.
With all-wheel-drive and a 256 hp version of the front-wheel-drive Golf GTI’s 200 hp 2.0 L four-cylinder (a set-up also used in the Audi TT-S), the $39,650 Golf R can post a 0-100 km/h time of 5.5 seconds. Interested? Better act fast. Only 500 examples are being imported to Canada this year, and VW won’t confirm if a 2013 model will appear.
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