A family car that can go very fast is often known by another name: the sleeper. It’s the sort of car that looks like any normal family mover but has a powerful secret under the hood. Pretty much a wolf in sheep’s clothing..
You see any modern day 140hp 1.8 liter Honda Civic and you know it’s a fast family car but that’s not the point here. The cars (from the past) that we are going to share with you below, had an impression of just another common family cars, but there were certain trims that perfectly defined these family cars as true sleepers. And if you come across a well maintained one today, be advised not to mess with them!
Honda City Steermatic
The 4th generation Honda City with a 1.2 liter (L13A) iDSI engine was known to be sluggish. It was designed to be an economical vehicle and was never meant to be fast. However for a limited period (2006/2007) Honda offered a 1.5 liter (L15A1) VTEC version of the 4th gen City facelift with a 7-speed transmission called as the ‘Steermatic’. It produced 109 horses compared to just 83 of the standard 1.2 liter City.
Related: 21 Years of Honda City in Pakistan
Unlike its iDSI sibling, the Steermatic was quite nimble and surprised many faster cars available at that time. Honda had to discontinue the Steermatic due to poor sales. The company ran special promotions & even offered zero own, instant delivery, free registration & free 500 liter fuel with the purchase of the City Steermatic, but the car wasn’t able to attract buyers in numbers good enough for Honda to keep the car alive.
The City Steermatic can still be found in good condition in used-car market and if you come across a 4th gen City which you feel is hard to put in the rear-view mirror of your car, be sure to know it’s a Steermatic!
Suzuki Baleno GTi
Baleno in Pakistan came with the 1300cc Efi engine. It was considered as the most technically advanced car of its time when introduced in 1998. It was also the first 1.3L sedan to come equipped with an Efi engine, it was also the first 1.3L sedan to offer an engine immobilizer in its facelift models (2002).
Although commonly known as a 1300cc sedan, the Baleno did offered a 1.6 liter version called as the GTi for a short period of time from 1999 to 2001. This car had a slightly different radiator grille upfront and had a different dashboard and steering wheel too. The key difference was under the hood, where the standard Baleno had a G13B, the GTi had a G16B which roughly produces the similar hp figures (G13B- 100hp, G16B 95hp) but churns out more torque (G13B 82Nm, G16B 100Nm).
Related: Pak Suzuki And The Sedan Segment
However one of the reasons why the GTi was discontinued quite shortly is because it had numerous design faults such as the very weak block which used to crack ever so often, bore liner coming loose etc. Nevertheless the Baleno GTi was a fast car but with a question mark on the reliability factor.
Toyota Corolla 1.6 GLi
The seventh generation Corolla commonly referred as ‘Indus Corolla’ was an apple of eye for most people. It was a reliable and efficient workhorse most commonly available with a 1.3 liter 2E carburetor engine, and 2.0 liter 2C diesel engine. But not many people know that even in the 1990s the 7th gen Corolla was available with a 4A-FE 1.6 liter (114hp) fuel injected version called as the 1.6 GLi.
If you think an Indus Corolla can’t run fast enough, you better get behind the wheels of a 1.6 GLi and experience the difference. It was a hell of a fast car and had the capability to outperform any modern car of its era, a perfect example of wolf under the sheepskin. Even today, a well maintained 4A-FE 1.6 GLi can be a nightmare for any modern family sedan on the roads.
Honda City 1.5 EXi NEO
Honda launched the 3rd generation City subcompact sedan in January 1997 with a 1.3 liter D13B carburetor engine under the hood. However the pre-facelift 3rd gen City also had a fuel injected variant called as the Exi NEO with a 1.5 liter 103hp D15B engine under its hood, and was considered as one of the fastest road going cars in Pakistan.
Related: Honda City SX8- The Game Changer
The City Exi NEO weighed just under 1000 kg thus offered an excellent acceleration, great balance and impressive fuel consumption. Although available in a very limited number (as the NEO wasn’t available in facelift models), the car with its relatively smaller size and low-slung body can still surprise the faster cars of today.
Daihatsu Charade GTTI/GTXX
Daihatsu Charade was a popular hatchback in our market during the 1980s. Commonly available with 1.0 liter petrol & diesel engines, the Charade (G10/G11) also came with turbocharged petrol and turbo-diesel versions.
But the real pocket rocket were the G100 series GTti/ GTXX models. Equipped with a 1.0-litre twin-cam fuel injected intercooled turbo delivering 101hp, these were only available as a 3-door hatchback as opposed to 5-doors in regular Charades.
The Charade GTti/GTXX was the first production car to produce 100 brake horsepower per liter and the fastest 1.0-liter car to be produced. Both GTti and the GTxx were mechanically identical, but the latter features many added luxury items including full body-kit, lightweight 14-inch alloys, air-conditioning, power steering, one-touch electric window down, and electric sunroof. In certain markets some of these options were also available as optional extras on the GTti.
The GTti/ GTXX kept reaching our market even in the 90s as reconditioned cars/ used imports. Although these Charades are a rare sight on our roads today, but if you do come across one, it’s better to stay behind!
If you ever had a chance to drive any of the above, or have an experience of keeping one, do share with us your story.
(Local Images courtesy: Pakwheels)
A computer animation professional with over 23 years of industry experience having served in leading organizations, TV channels & production facilities in Pakistan. An avid car enthusiast and petrolhead with an affection to deliver quality content to help shape opinions. Formerly written for PakWheels as well as major publications including Dawn. Founder of CarSpiritPK.com