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Win stop-light getaway races in these sensible sleeper cars

2011 Ford Taurus SHO: The Taurus SHO version of Ford's flagship sedan offers premium performance and fuel economy with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6.


Some drivers take pleasure in winning those stop-light getaways, surprising the driver of that shiny, expensive Porsche or the pizza delivery guy with his soup-can exhaust. Life's little victories, indeed.

But you won't surprise anyone with a flashy, premium sports car or German uber sedan; you need a "sleeper" – four-door sedans that may look like your grandfather's Oldsmobile but have been blessed with something exceptional and usually large under the hood. These are special editions from auto makers, limited in numbers because of low demand. The beauty about sleepers is that they provide exhilarating performance without attracting attention; the downside is these cars are rare and often hold their value on the used-car market.

So while you can't literally avoid police speed traps, you can figuratively fly under their radar with a used four-door sleeper.

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In 2004, Subaru added a turbocharger to its all-wheel-drive Forester to boost power from its four-cylinder engine to 224 hp in the XT model. It still had capable traction and handling, the versatility of a small wagon and its historic reliability but in a sportier car; expect to find a 2005 for around $10,000.

Climbing up the ladder, Volkswagen decided its Passat four-door needed more Germanic oomph, so it dropped a 4.0-litre W-8 engine with 270 hp under the hood in 2002. The W-8 was discontinued in 2008, and is harder to find than hen's teeth, but it's a splash of power coming from a car you would normally associate with four-cylinder mills.

Speaking of going from staid to stirring, Ford's Taurus is the epitome of the family sedan. So it was a surprise in 1989 when Ford teamed with Yamaha to drop a hot V-6 and a five-speed manual gearbox under the hood of the new SHO derivative. The four-door would do zero to 100 km/h in just more than six seconds; that was Porsche territory. Ford continued the SHO until 1996, when it ended with a 3.4-litre V-8 good for 235 hp. It was revived in 2010 with a 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V-6 with 365 hp, so there's a good range of years and prices to choose from.

In 1997, the Pontiac Grand Prix GTP had the same 3.8-litre V-6 as the other Grand Prix variants but with one addition: a supercharger. The first GTPs boasted 240 hp and, by the time the model was shelved in 2008, it boasted more than 300 hp from a 5.3-litre V-8. You should find one for around $10,000.

Volvo, a brand known for safety, threw caution to the wind with the V70R wagon from 2000 to 2007. A torquey, 2.5-litre turbocharged inline five-cylinder threw out more than 300 hp in either all-wheel- or front-wheel-drive guise. Upgraded Brembo brakes helped with the fun, while the car was still graded with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest crash test ratings. Imagine the shock at blowing past someone with the kids waving from the back seat; again, expect to find a 2005 model for $10,000.


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The Chrysler 300C SRT-8 and its wagon stablemate, the Dodge Magnum SRT-8, are the heavyweights here; both have a 6.1-litre Hemi V-8 shoehorned into their engine bays, pumping out an incredible 425 hp. The 300C will get to 100 km/h in less than five seconds, the Magnum in just a tick over, all with the ear-splitting roar only a large V-8 with twin exhaust can offer. Interiors may be Spartan and fuel economy laughable, but with power like that, who cares? The 300C SRT-8 debuted in 2005 and is still in production. The Magnum was built from 2006 to 2008, so it commands a premium.


Everyone knows police cars have hot engines, right? Well, no. While they are fairly powerful, they're nowhere near as powerful as, say, an SRT-8. The real difference with police cars is that they come with stronger frames and suspension, and items such as oil and transmission coolers. You can pick up a police car at auction for dirt cheap, and it would probably be a good buy: they often have been well maintained. Its value isn't in outrunning other cars, but outlasting them.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at

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