Looking for a discreet getaway car, or something fun for the commute? Here are ten of the most understated Q cars money can buy
Sports cars and supercars are great, but they can sometimes draw some unwanted attention. If you like to drive quickly, and discreetly, there is a select group of cars to suit your needs. Q cars combine high performance engines and suspension with understated looks and everyday practicality – meaning you needn’t leave the family at home. Here are ten great Q cars, each one offering something unique, while giving those two-seater performance cars something to worry about.
BMW E34 M5
Everyone knows what an M5 is, but remove the badge off an early E34 model and there’s little to tell it apart from a regular 5er. Unlike most of the cars in this list though, the M5 isn’t just good at one thing: it’s the complete package. The handling is simply sublime, with one of the best-sounding in-line six engines of all time propelling the four-seater saloon to a limited 155mph. Buy an the ultra-rare Touring model for some extra Labrador-carrying practicality.
Vauxhall Insignia VXR
The Vauxhall Insignia VXR wades into battle with a 2.8-litre turbocharged V6 engine, pushing out 321bhp in most recent SuperSport specification. There’s four-wheel drive and the Vauxhall’s 170mph party trick. Performance like that in something resembling your average Enterprise fleet car can be an appealing prospect.
VW Passat W8
It seems an unlikely combination, but when Volkswagen decided to shoehorn its new W8 engine and four-wheel drive transmission into the everyday Passat. This 4.0-litre saloon is hardly a road-going racer, choosing to position itself as a comfortable and hugely refined cruiser. Most were automatics, however if you can find a manual, the 275bhp car will do 0-62mph in 6.2secs, and go onto 155mph – which is certainly quick enough to have some fun.
Volvo S80 4.4 V8
Volvo has a great history of building Q cars, from the original ‘Flying Brick’ 760 GLTs to the BTCC-competing 850 T5s of the 1990s, but for the ultimate ‘blend into the background appeal’, the S80 4.4 V8 wins hands down. The S80 might be uninspiring at the best of times, but it’s worth putting up with for the sake of it’s wonderful Yamaha-built V8 engine. With an open exhaust it simply sounds amazing, and 310bhp it’s a capable machine.
Mazda 6 MPS
The Mazda 6 MPS was a bit of a surprise when it landed in 2006. It shares it’s potent 2.3-litre turbocharged engine with the smaller 3, but a clever four-wheel drive system allowing some Mitsubishi Evo-style power oversteer is quite fun if you try hard enough. Tuning company BBR offers a few power upgrades, to take power to 350bhp and beyond.
It might look like a regular Mercedes W124 taxi cab from a distance, but look a little closer and those slightly puffed-up wheel arches hint at the performance within. It’s still extremely subtle though, especially on the standard wheels. The cars were developed and built by Porsche, featuring a 326bhp 5.0-litre V8 engine borrowed from the SL Roadster, with devastating performance the result.
Lancia Thema 8.32
Of all the cars in this list, the Thema 8.32 has the most bragging rights thanks to its Ferrari V8 engine mounted up front. That engine was actually built by Ducati, and detuned to around 215bhp, but it still sounds absolutely fantastic and goes surprisingly well. The amazing engine aside, the Thema features a lavish wood and leather-clad interior.
Citroen Xantia Activa V6
Thanks to a 3.0-litre V6 24v engine, this unassuming-looking Citroen is usefully quick, but where the Xanita really does its best work is on fast twisty roads. The special Activa model combines Citroen’s legendary Hydropneumatic suspension with a pair of computer controlled active anti-roll bars for almost perfectly level cornering. Citroen originally marketed the system as an added safety feature, but the huge levels of grip and stability make it one of the fastest cars ever produced by the company.
Rover 620 Ti
Rover’s own 2.0-litre Turbo engine turned this restyled Honda Accord into a genuine performance saloon. The addition of a mechanical limited slip differential meant that it could leave its contemporary BMW 3-Series and Audi A4 rivals standing. Today, most have disappeared, but the old-man image hides a 150mph hooligan waiting for some action.
The C6-generation Audi A6 is a reasonably common sight on the roads. Would you even take notice if you saw the subtly-badged S6 pull up along side? Unlike the more boisterous RS6, the S6 packs it’s 5.2-litre V10 punch in a much more restrained manner. While the Lancia might boast a Ferrari engine, this 429bhp Audi estate packs Lamborghini power.