By on December 20, 2012

Domestic cars don’t get enough attention on TTAC, but we can also be prone to heaping too much praise on particular examples; I may be the lone dissenting voice on the roster that does not swear a blood oath to the Panther. The W-Body Impala, which is set to go into Panther-like fleet-only production until mid-2014, is similarly polarizing. Some adore it, some despise it while others reflexively disdain it due to the effusive praise heaped upon it.

Personally, I think the later 3.6L cars are fantastic bargains, and even better sleepers. The “High Feature V6″ is a gem, even when hooked up to GM’s pokey 6-speed automatic. The interior and trunk are both cavernous and the massive depreciation occuring within 12 months of their purchase date makes them a compelling used car choice.

From the Blue Oval, my pick would be the Flex Ecoboost. The boosted box-on-wheels is hardly the value proposition that the Impala represents, but it’s pretty hard to argue with a family wagon capable of running high-13s in the quarter mile. The relative rarity of the Flex makes it even sweeter.

Lastly, the Pentastar brand has a wealth of options. Any of the Pentastar cars could be viable candidates. How about a Pentastar powered Dodge Avenger or Chrysler 200? The 6.4 second 0-60 sprint is more than class competitive. Those who want a bit more flash could opt for the V8 powered Chrysler 300C (not the 300S or Varvatos Edition), but my own pick would be the redneck-special Ram Express, driven over some jagged rocks to ensure maximum damage to the mufflers.

Feel free to nominate your favorite domestic sleepers from the past or present. Having been before slightly before the Internet, I delight in hearing my Dad and Uncles tell stories about their old Satellites that they’d race up and down the winding streets of Montreal, or the 440-powered New Yorker that left frequent rubber deposits at every intersection. First person to say “LT1 Roadmaster” loses the game.

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62 Comments on “QOTD: Your Favorite Domestic Sleepers...”


  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Don’t we cover this territory with the TWAT award?

  • avatar
    SqueakyVue

    My 2002 regal gs was a true sleeper.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      The late 1990′s to early 2000′s Buick Regal GS was a true sleeper. I had a smalley SC pulley and exhaust and had no problems with 300 HP Cadillac STS’s, Mustang Cobra, Audi A6 2.8 TT and WS6. The later at least I could hold them off to 100 mph.

      Nothing like moving fast with class. The Pontiac Grand Prix cousin was too easy to identify the supercharged model from the lesser models.

      • 0 avatar
        Helfrichi

        I call BS on the WS6. If you held them off til 100mph, it MIGHT have been an automatic going half mast.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        My friend GTP would trap at about 103-105 mph on cool night. Hello Mustangs and LS1′s. :)

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        A WS6 with the LS1? Not sure I buy that. Not hard to beat a Camaro V6 though according to YouTube.

        Also, you are confusing two different Audi engines — there’s the 2.8 (non-turbo) V6, and the 2.7TT V6. If it was a 2.8, then no surprise. If it was a 2.7TT, that 2.7TT was unmodded, because otherwise it would have smoked you easy.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        Yes, 2.7TT. The heavier A6 would require updated intercoolers, downpipes, and full exhaust. Even the lighter S4 could only trap -n the low 100 mph range trap speed with just an ECU tune. And the AWD doesn’t help at higher speeds.

      • 0 avatar
        Helfrichi

        Also I take it we’re talking mostly stock sleepers. Adding a pulley for more boost is totally cool and sleeperish, but dropping motors and doing extreme mods doesnt really fall into this discussion I dont think.

        The things you would have to do to a gtp to make it outrun an LS1 with airlid and catback is very extreme.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        The Supercharged 3800 Series ll just needs a pulley swap to see 13′s. Back in the day that was C5 Corvette with an automatic transmission. Stock my GS saw 14.7 1/4 mile. Drop another second with intake, exhaust, and a tune. The motor and transmission for the 3800 are near bullet proof and daily driveable.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I owned a mostly stock WS6 and a well-modified GTP at the same. I even had the chance to run them both at the same strip on the same night.

        The GTP was just slightly faster. There is a bit more to it than just putting on a smaller pulley, but I didn’t have to spend CRAZY money either.

      • 0 avatar
        Helfrichi

        You do realize a stock ls1 can see high 12′s, right? Stock. Cool story though.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        My 1999 C5 Fixed Roof Coupe saw a 12.9 @ 109 mph at Bowling Green in 100F heat…on stock runflats. Even in sandy/beige Pewter color it was hardly a sleeper attracting many races with sportbikes.

        But most car guys know if a car has an LSX engine, having owned a couple LS1′s, LS6′s, and an LS2, expect for maybe the G8. Those are difficult to know from the front if they have a V6 or V8. 300C’s, new and old, are easy to pick out the V8 versions from the rear.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I’m sure they COULD run high 12s, but mine never has.

        My LS1 Pontiac runs mid-to-high 13s, which is about what the GTP ran. Maybe I suck at drag racing or my engine output isn’t what it should be, but it is what it is.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        @ ajla

        Your times are probably reprentitive of what most people got out of an LS1 powered F-car, like the 10.xx Z06′s or 11.xx Boss 302s it was probably a host of favorable conditions that lead to those times – namely a great DA, a great driver, and great traction.

  • avatar
    W.

    I’d really have to say (even though it’s a year or two out of production) that the Buick Lucerne is a damn quick, comfortable car (even with the V6 over the V8).

  • avatar
    west-coaster

    I’m going to go w-a-a-a-a-y back and nominate the ’64-65 Ford Falcon Sprint.

    It obviously lived in the shadow of the Mustang beginning in the spring of 1964 (and it’s well known that they shared a lot of parts), but to me, anyone brave enough to opt for one of these instead of a Mustang gets kudos for marching to a different beat.

    No disc brake or four-barrel options, but if you checked the right boxes on the order sheet you could have a nice littler performer for the day. A 260 (1964) or 289 (1965) V8, 4-speed manual transmission, bucket seats, and so on. They even beat Carroll Shelby to the punch with a spiffy dash-mounted tachometer. The cars had some real performance cred too, as Ford campaigned them for years in European rally racing.

    Unfortunately, stock examples are very rare today. The majority of the ones you see at car shows or for sale online have been “upgraded” with garish interiors, goofy wheels, and all manner of chrome-festooned engine modifications, likely by owners who would have done the same to a Mustang but saved a lot of bucks by picking on a Falcon instead.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      Back then, any of the “low priced three” had V-8 compacts, sometimes available with 4-speed transmissions, in sedan or even wagon body styles, like the ’64 Chevy II wagon with 4bbl 283 and 4-speed. A Valiant equipped like a Barracuda was also a lighter weight lower cost sleeper.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Sign me up for the 3.6L Impala fanclub! Test drove an LT at the dealer, as well as a rental that my dad got. 2012s are coming off of 1 year fleet leases and rentals, I’ve seen them advertised for $13,999 here in central NY. I find the awfully-fake woodgrain charming, I love how simple the rest of the dash is, and the exhaust note has a wonderful burble to it around town. I like the open layout, cushy and wide seats, and relatively low beltline. 17 inch alloys and leather wrapped steering wheel are nice touches. I can live with the unmarked floor shifter (I’d love to find a column shifted one).

    As for the sleeper factor: man does that 3.6 rip! Sounds awesome doing it too.

    • 0 avatar
      afflo

      I rent cars frequently for work and personal travel. The Impala was a delight! And unexpectedly, for such a grandmotherly profile. I drove a ’12 Impala with the 3.6 from San Francisco down Skyline drive to meet some old friends at the (locally) famous Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside, and back to the coast and up through Devil’s Slide. I would never have believed that the car would be so poised and balanced on the back roads of NorCal.

      The Avenger though… I had one as a rental a few weeks ago in Florida. It felt sloshier on straight Florida roads than the Impala on the mountain twisties, and the interior made me pine for a Cavalier. True, it was a low-end rental spec model, but it made me want to go nowhere near a Mopar lot.

      At least the seat recline lever didn’t break off in my hand like the one in the Cruze, which only added to the ‘yuck’ factor initiated by the dashboard fabric ripped mercilessly from a Kindergarten bulletin board.

  • avatar
    gessvt

    I was at the IMIS show in Indy earlier this month, and a rep from Livernois Motorsports told me about their mildly tweaked Flex Ecoboost that runs low 12 second ETs, and thousands of daily driving miles, reliably.

  • avatar
    Scott_314

    Good topic, unfortunately there really aren’t that many. I take ‘sleeper’ as meaning an enthusiasts car in sheep’s clothing, not necessarily a fast car.

    For that reason, I’d say the Ford Fiesta offers a hellofa lot more than most people give it credit for. On the other end the new Taurus offers a lot (the Fusion too but it is going to be too popular to be considered a sleeper).

    Funny thing is I mention the above two, and I don’t even know anyone that owns a Ford.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Say what you will about it being big and heavy, but the Cadillac Escalade is darn quick with a 6.2 0-60 time.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    A tuneable 400 horsepower in a car weighing less than a Corvette I’d have to go with one that would handle and it’d be a turbo Kappa platform of Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice.

    • 0 avatar
      Helfrichi

      You mean 260 HP for the highest trim.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Actually, in the highest trim you could get 300 HP and 340 lb. feet of torque (I might not be 100% on the torque number, it might have been 325).

        The GMPP Stage I upgrade was a dealer installed option, cost about $600 back when the Solstice/SKY was being built, and wast mostly a reprogramming of the engine requiring premium fuel (and a few other tweaks). The GM DI 2.0 Eco-Tec turbo-four is a very tweakable motor.

        I know for the Mallet conversion (LS2 install) there was no change to the chassis, engine mounts, and the stock transmission and rear end could take the power right out of the box.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      You mean people want to use the trunk AND have top down? Complete ignorance of the sports car market is another GM fail.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Sleepers you can by right now (using the old “Q-ship” definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleeper_%28car%29)

    I would go with an LS Impala (no spoiler and 16in rims for me please) unless you’re an enthusiast and know to look for the dual exhausts you’ll never know the car is wicked fast (I’ve even learned to tell the difference between a 3.9V6 powered dual exhaust car and a 3.6VVT V6 powered dual exhaust car.)

    The Avenger and 200 with V6 are good sleepers too, partially because so many were sold with the lowly 4cyl engine that nobody expects the V6.

    Oh and I almost forgot you can get a Buick Verano Turbo now with a six speed manual. Very few will expect Grandma’s car to haul that fast.

    Hemi Ram 1/2 ton is a good one.

    Sleepers of the past? A sick part of me would like to get a turbo GT Cruiser manual trans model and stick a woody and a continental kit on it and then go out and embarrass teen boys in ricers. Just for giggles you understand.

  • avatar
    C. Alan

    I would pick the current generation of mopar mini-vans. Since 2011 they have been putting the 3.6L Penstar V-6 in them. So that gives you 283 hp mini-van. Now that is a sleeper.

    • 0 avatar
      west-coaster

      I had read somewhere a few years ago that Dan Gurney had TRD stiffen up the suspension of his Toyota Sienna.

      He loved smoking people on a windy road, who’d be amazed that they were just dusted off “by some old man in a minivan.”

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    “Domestic cars don’t get enough attention on TTAC.”

    Really?

    Ford and their products get as much attention as any foreign cars, if not more so.

    As I’ve said before, because it’s true, Ford is the anti-GM on TTAC.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Heh. I was going to reply something very similar.

      “As I’ve said before, because it’s true, Ford is the anti-GM on TTAC.”

      My other thought is: If you can’t say anything bad about GM, you shouldn’t post here.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Yes,GM FTL but FordEscapeEngineFiresNotDiagnosable (deep breath) OrRepairableGetragGrenadingTransmissions (another deep breath) AsWellAsDualClutchTrannyFailMyFordTouchFail (final deep breath) AndManyOtherProblemsIdon’tHaveLungCapacity2discuss FTW.

        +Lincoln Fail

        oops, “The Lincoln Motor Company or Coach Works Something Company, HMS”.

        Sorry.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    My list: Along with the Impy 3.6, try a lower level Malibu (LT1) with 3.6 V6. They’re surprisingly quick.

    I have to echo the Pentastar powered Dodges, the minivan and the Avenger SE. The other trim levels of Avenger add more stuff, but the SE is the hot rod.

    In fact, the Avenger in the pix above looks like it could be liveable…

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Looked into 3.6 Malibus last year, at some point they became only available in the LTZ a bit out of my price comfort zone. Perhaps early on they were available in LT1?

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @28: Good question.

        I know the cars I’ve seen (or rented) were LTs, but I don’t recall *exactly* the equipment level.

        I really remember my surprise at seeing the dual exhausts at the Avis row while seeing “LT” on the back of the car.

        Maybe they were LT2′s?

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I know the first one I rented (an 09) felt quick but it wasn’t a V6 because I actually checked.

        According to the internets, for 2012 you could get a V6 in 3LT:

        All Malibus are front-wheel drive. Standard on the LS, 1LT, 2LT, and 1LTZ is a 169-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. The 3LT and 2LTZ have a 252-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, and model-year 2012 will almost certainly be the last where you can purchase a Malibu with a V6. Regardless of engine selection, a 6-speed automatic is the sole transmission.

        http://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks dot com/2012-chevrolet-malibu.htm

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @28: It could have been a 3LT. I’m not that intimately familiar with all of the trim levels and your post from website seems to make sense. I was under the impression that all LTZ would be V6 cars, but imagine my surprise when I saw a single exhaust LTZ (indicating 4 cylinder power).

        My experience is similar with the Ecotec motored Epsilons, it was part of the reason what I was saying the other day about the lack of a V6 in the 2013 Bu. For normal driving, the V6 really isn’t necessary. When I was selling Toyotas, the vast majority of Camrys were 4 cylinder cars.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I agree 4 banger is adequate for most uses, but in my view a V6 should always be available in a midsize’s retail trim with an up charge… I’ve always paid it.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I nominate the obvious…of course!

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I remember taking a couple of 2004-2007 Grand Prix GT’s with the 260 HP version of the 3800 series III engine for a spin. They are really quick for a FWD car and feel quicker than the 97-03 gen 240 HP cars. The current Impala or even a V6 Avenger would be on the table to replace the 08 Impala I currently have when the time comes.

  • avatar

    The 1996-99 Buick Riviera with the supercharged L67 3800 Series-II engine block was quite the sleeper in its day…

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Buick Lacrosse Super. Wish I had been able to get one of those instead of the Impala SS I settled for.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      What was wrong with the SS that would have been solved by the Super? Why not a Grand Prix GXP V8?

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I would go W-body Buick/Pontiac over W-body Impala if I could. My GP feels like much more of a driver’s car than similarly equipped 3500/3900 Impala.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        I ‘accidently’ rented the GXP when it came out and spent three days driving all around LA in one – wow was that a blast! My friend and I were asked if we wanted an ‘upgrade’ at the Budget rental counter for an additional $10/day or so, so we said ‘sure,’ having no idea what we were going to get (and didn’t know what it was when we got it – just a Grand Prix sedan, we thought).

        We had to pull over at one point to pop the hood and check out the engine as it was an amazingly quick car, and it took quite a while for me to realize that they had actually stuffed a SBC V8 into a FWD car – something I thought would never happen.

        I don’t think that the automatic transmission was shifting quite the same when we turned the car back in ;<)

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        @redmondjp

        From what I understand the transmission is the Achilles’s heel in that model, specifically the torque converter so it probably wasn’t you who miffed it up.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        @PrincipalDan

        The W-body 4-speed auto tranny just couldn’t take the LS4 torque in the Pontiac Grand Prix GXP, LaCrosse Super, and Impala SS. Tranny failures are common (relatively speaking in this age of overall reliability) – 28-cars later nails it down below.

        The 4-speed auto was part of what made it crazy fast, you could do the 1/4 mile and never get to 3rd IIRC. But the deep gears means you’re not in the power band on the shift.

    • 0 avatar
      west-coaster

      @redmondjp

      In the early 1990s, Hertz had tons of Ford Thunderbirds in their fleets. Most had V6s, but a handful at each location had the 5.0HO V8. The trick was to request a car with a sunroof, as those had the bigger engines. (They’d charge an extra $3 a day for them.)

      A girlfriend at the time had family living near Jacksonville, and I got one of the eight cylinder ‘Birds for a week of driving around northern Florida, Georgia and Alabama. It was no Mustang GT, but it was close, and had a definite sleeper quality to it. I might have accidentally done a few smokey burnouts when leaving stoplights.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimmy7

      I just traded my Lacrosse Super in and it was a great highway car. But the trans went south at 75,000 miles under warranty, and I didn’t want to own it when it went south a second time. A true q-ship.
      I traded it in on a Volt, which is sneaky-fast.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Ya, the FWD 4-speed auto in the W-Bodies just can’t get take the LS4 torque. Tranny failures on the Grand Prix GXP, LaCrosse Super, and Impala SS (LS4 version) are rather common.

  • avatar
    Numbers_Matching

    Pentastar Avenger loaner. That thing had so much torque-steer I would automatically put the turn signal on when accelerating.

  • avatar
    RatherhaveaBuick

    There are a lot of possible choices here, but to narrow it down to only NEW cars, I’d say the Verano Turbo is a great example, minus the inflated GM pricing. Also the regular Regals with the little turbos are very sleeper-ish, but nothing when compared to a 97-04 GS. A Panther would’ve been my choice if they were still in production…Another one is the new Chrysler 300 or Charger, especially when fully loaded. Probably the only modern Chrysler product I’d buy.
    Those tail lights…

  • avatar
    markholli

    Surprised the Taurus SHO hasn’t been mentioned yet. If you look up “sleeper” in the dictionary, there’s a picture of one.

    Also, my hat is off to the Regal GS. I saw a pretty impressive youtube video of one the other day. I’d never buy one, but it’s cool to see it smoke some unsuspecting bros.

  • avatar
    Helfrichi

    I would say a sleek beak ls1 trans am or formula. People assume it’s a v6 so you are basically fishing for hilarity passively.

  • avatar
    kjb911

    I nominate the car I learned to drive on and took my drivers test with. My father’s 2002 Bonneville SSEI. You could say it had everything: space, power, looks, relative fuel economy, value…compared to the La Sabre and Lucierne the Bonneville had true style in a time of over plastic cladding. My family of 4 had more than enough space on trips to Florida and Canada while averaging near 28 mpg if the engine wasn’t pushed. The 3800 series should be nominated in itself I mean my god what an amazing engine! (one side note being the supercharged variant, we never had an issue that usually tends to plague it) I loved that car, it was the cause of many heart stopping moments of speeding by cops or attacking corners with more authority than any full size fwd sedan deserved. As soon as I got my license I bought a 1985 Pontiac Fiero SE 5 spd while my dad kept the Bonneville until 2009 when he traded it for an amazing deal on a G8 GXP…Now I just need to stay in his graces for the next few years to convince him to hand down when the time comes ;-) If it’s not too late I’d also like to nominate the G8 for reasons listed in the reviews on this site!

  • avatar
    celebrity208

    I nominate the Pontiac 6000. In 1993 I was racing a friend. He was in a 6000 and I was in my dad’s Maxima SE 5-spd. I COULDN’T SHAKE HIM! I’m sure I’ll catch static for admitting it but, we were neck and neck at around 120 on Rt2 just out side of Sandusky on our way to Cedar Point. Dangerous? Stupid? Ashamed? Yes, Yes, Yes. Surprised? Holy smokes, YES!. I was in the “4DSC” as in four door SPORTS CAR and he was in a boring GM family sedan. Totally unexpected.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Domestic sleepers – back in the day I ended up being stuck with a Dodge Caravan turbo as a rental. I think those kids in a Celica are still traumatized that they were laid to waste by a minivan – but this is back in 1989 or 1990.

    A lot of good sleepers called out by all makes/models.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Had a 66 beetle that I put a judson supercharger on. Embarrassed many a v8 owner. Don’t know how fast it was but it was quick. Just about everything passed at 80-85 mph. Just about nothing passed until then.

    I think that is a pretty good definition of sleeper. The engine lid looked broken and the exhaust was not stock but nobody noticed till it was too late.

    • 0 avatar
      oldfatandrich

      Starving Teacher, that must have been you I passed in my father’s ’62 Electra 225 Coupe. Black over red leather. Drive in a straight line, don’t turn the steering wheel and don’t attempt to stop. Wicked pissah and wicked fast. Still turns heads after fifty years. Very much a sleeper.


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