We can mostly all agree that more power coming from your engine is a good thing. That extra go-faster feeling pressing you into the back of your seat as the speedometer goes up and the gas gauge goes down is one of the universal joys of driving a true performance machine.
One of the ways car makers add performance to their cars is through boosting the intake through a turbo or supercharger. In fact, many manufacturers these days have opted to develop boosted four bangers in place of larger displacement engines in their vehicles. The Jaguar XF, the BMW 3-Series and the Hyundai Sonata are a few examples of cars that have replaced larger displacement with turbo technology. The results yielded from this approach are fun low torque curves and improved fuel economy.
Of course not all cars that have received boosting are what you would call your stereotypical performance vehicle. Here are a few of my favorite sleepers that fly under the radar.
Oldsmobile LSS, 1996-1998
This car could be optioned out with GM’s supercharged 3.8L V6 that put out a healthy 240hp and 280 lb. – ft. of torque. That may not seem like much, but it was enough to propel this Olds to 60mph in around 7 seconds – and if we remember what passed for performance back in the mid-90’s, that’s pretty good. Sure, GM put this motor in everything from the Monte Carlo to the Buick Park Avenue Ultra, but I feel that it’s in the best sleeper guise in the LSS. It makes no effort to appear sporty on the outside and it’s still small enough for the supercharger to make a noticeable impact.
Mercedes-Benz C230, 1999-2000
This the first four door to wear the Kompressor badge on its rear end. The C230 was the base model C-Class available in North America at the time, but the engine under its hood delivered much more than entry level performance. The motor in question is a supercharged 2.3L four cylinder producing 185hp and 200ft-lb of torque. Although it seems kind of underwhelming on paper, this baby-Benz is a blast to drive. The boost doesn’t kick in right away, but when it does the car changes personality and rockets you down the road. And whereas the Oldsmobile puts its power down from the front wheels, this Merc spins its tires at the back... just like a proper performance sedan should!
Ford Thunderbird Supercoupe, 1988-1995
Ok, so the Thunderbird may have more of a sporty image than the last two lending less credence to the whole sleeper theme of this post. So, just keep in mind this car was more of a personal luxury coupe rather than a sports car (that, after all, was what the Mustang was for). That being said, the introduction of a supercharged 3.8L V6 with over 300ft-lb of torque was certainly blurring the boundaries of where the Thunderbird fell on the performance spectrum. Acceleration to 60mph happened in a hair over 6.5 seconds (just a half second or so behind the 1988 Corvette).
Volvo S70 T5, 1998-2000
This one is probably my favorite sleeper car that I have never driven. No one suspects a boxy safety-mobile like a Volvo, right? This brick on wheels was powered by a turbocharged 2.3L 5 cylinder engine that put out about 240hp and about the same amount of torque. However, it was one of the fastest production four door cars of its time. It could go from 0-60mph in under 6 seconds and it had a top speed of 155mph! With all that speed, it’s a good thing Volvo makes some of the safest cars on the planet!
So that’s just a small sample of some of the neat cars out there that maybe you never really considered to be sporty or fun. It pays to do your research, especially if you’re in the market for a fun vehicle, since the cars listed in this post can usually be found in pretty good condition for just a few thousand dollars. That makes them amazing value for the money. I know if I ever scrape enough cash together for a funmobile, I’ll definitely be taking a close look at some of these boosted sleepers!