5 “Sleeper” Cars that are Surprisingly Fun

The next time you see one of these on the road, it’s worth taking a second look.

Best Sleeper Cars You Can Buy TodayGenesis via Newspress

Article QuickTakes:

  • Skip to the list: , , , ,

In the early 1990s, famed British sports car company Lotus produced a twin-turbocharged sedan, called the Carlton. Despite being quicker than many contemporary Ferraris, it looked so benign that it was used as a getaway car in an infamous series of robberies in the UK, outrunning even the fastest police cars before blending unnoticeably into the ambient beige of traffic.

In the automotive world, there’s a word for such cars: sleepers.

A sleeper car is a fun and capable vehicle that hides its prodigious talent beneath a sheep’s clothing. You don’t have to be a professional criminal to own one, as the late actor-slash-race car driver Paul Newman proved when he famously stuffed a supercharged Ford V8 into a Volvo station wagon.

But as the name suggests, sleepers can be subtle; you have to know where to look for them. We’ve compiled a list of five that possess surprising performance straight off the showroom floor. The next time you see one of these on the road, it’s worth taking a second look.

Chevrolet Bolt EV

The 2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV has surprisingly good performance.


MSRP: $36,620

Standout Spec: Sport sedan performance, but with 119 mpg-e.

Why its performance will surprise you:

When you think of electric vehicles (EVs), there are likely two images sparring in your head: eco-first cars that are great for the planet but offer all the adrenaline-producing excitement of a turtle, and options that are as quick as they are pricey. The Chevy Bolt EV ticks both boxes, with quicker acceleration than the typical family sedan and handling characteristics that put European sport sedans on notice, all while offering up well over 200 miles on a single charge. GM’s unique “Regen on Demand” offers the novel experience of using a paddle on the steering wheel for light-to-moderate braking. Basically, it uses the electric motor to slow the car while also recovering more electricity for future use. Along with super-precise steering, it’s a fun-factor that Bolt holds over any EV in its price range.

Find a 2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV Near You

Toyota Yaris iA

The 2018 Yaris iA has surprisingly good performance.Toyota

MSRP: $15,950

Standout Spec: With a curb weight of under 2,400 lbs., Yaris iA is among the lightest cars on the road.

Why its performance will surprise you:

The automotive equivalent of a hot potato, the Toyota Yaris iA is built by Mazda and was originally sold as a Scion before the Toyota-owned brand ceased operations a couple of years back. Strip away the brand re-alignment, and what’s left is a sport sedan hidden in plain sight. It’s perpetually overlooked in the fun department, though, thanks in part to the relatively low 106 hp residing under the hood. But when roads turn delightfully twisty, the combination of diminutive size and Miata-esque lightness yields a willing dance partner. For the purists, it even offers a manual transmission, resulting in what has to rank near the top of the heap in terms of fun-per-dollar.

Find a 2018 Toyota Yaris iA Near You

Ford Fiesta ST

The 2018 Ford Fiesta ST has surprisingly good performance.Ford

MSRP: $21,285

Standout Spec:  Gymnast-like nimbleness combined with spritely acceleration.

Why its performance will surprise you:

Although ST is a performance-oriented trim, this is still a Fiesta, Ford’s most entry level vehicle in the United States. Many make the mistake of looking at it as nothing more than an inexpensive hatchback. In terms of acceleration, nearly 200 turbocharged horses make it a virtual match for Chevy’s Bolt EV. The Fiesta’s lightweight nature (at 2,720 lbs., it’s the second lightest car on this list) helps ensure performance that isn’t just surprising, but objectively good. Turn the steering wheel, and the front end is all too eager to do whatever you ask of it. Put this car up against a more celebrated (not to mention more expensive) rival like a MINI Cooper S, and you’ll find it to be a more-than-capable challenger.

Find a 2018 Ford Fiesta ST Near You

Kia K900

The 2018 Kia K900 has surprisingly good performance.Kia via Newspress

MSRP: $61,900

Standout Spec: In its V8 guise, K900 has 420 hp.

Why its performance will surprise you:

It’s a Kia. That’s not meant as a slight, but the brand wasn’t exactly known for scintillating performance until rolling out the Stinger sport sedan last year. More than that, K900 isn’t what one would call a small and nimble vehicle. At 200.6 inches, K900 is nearly three and a half feet longer than the aforementioned Fiesta, and literally weighs a full ton more (4,700 lbs.) This is a car that values luxury above sport, so that extra mass isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While you wouldn’t describe the King Kia as nimble, a 420 hp, 5.0-liter V8 under the hood is more than strong enough to make up for any cornering deficit. As a result, K900 is surprisingly quick off the line, and if your right foot is so inclined, it can best many “sporty” cars like Subaru’s WRX STI in a straight line. 

Find a 2018 Kia K900 Near You

Genesis G70

The 2019 Genesis G70 has surprisingly good performance.Genesis via Newspress


Standout Spec: A Genesis sedan with an optional performance package and manual transmission?

Why its performance will surprise you:

At just three years old, Genesis is still a very young brand, nestled under the Hyundai umbrella like Lexus to Toyota or Infiniti to Nissan. With a base price expected to start well below $40,000, G70 is its newest and least expensive offering. G70 is slightly wider, lower and longer than the BMW 3-Series to which the public will inevitably benchmark it. It’s no coincidence: parent company Hyundai lured performance-minded engineers from the German marque’s vaunted M Division to aid in chassis development. The base 255 hp trim offers a performance package featuring a manual transmission, high performance brakes and a traction-aiding limited slip differential, designed to give Korea’s newest sport sedan even more traction when accelerating out of corners. If that’s not enough, there’s a 365 hp V6 version that Genesis claims can hit 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. Translation: this is one Genesis that can dance.

Note: G70 is technically a 2019, but itundefinedll be available this summer.


This site is for educational purposes only. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
Aaron Miller
As a veteran automotive journalist, I have been fortunate enough to drive some of the most desirable cars on the planet and get to know some of the most important people in the industry. Before joining Capital One, I served as the Cars Editor for a major national website, and covered industry news and analysis for well-known automotive-specific sites. I also wrote feature articles and reviews for niche enthusiast websites. I’ve been obsessed with cars since—literally—before I can remember, with my collection of die-cast and slot cars taking center stage during my formative years. Simply put, for me, working isn’t really “work.”