The Toyota C-HR is a stylish and utilitarian crossover utility vehicle. What we didn’t expect was that the C-HR is awfully fun to toss around at speed, at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, California. That is until we got to sit passenger in the Toyota C-HR R-Tuned. DG Spec made the stylishly demure C-HR into a track monster. The Toyota C-HR R-Tuned is a one-off, race tuned rae car that was debuted by Toyota at the 2017 SEMA Show.
Dan Gardner has made something of a career out of taking Toyotas, and making them do things Toyota Motor Corp. never dreamed of. He also helped with testing on a Land Cruiser that went over 230 mph, and his first Sienna minivan he built lapped the Streets of Willow racetrack in 1:27.
“We’re the guys that take on the projects that other people won’t,” says three-time national road-racing champion and DG-Spec creator and R-Tuned builder Dan Gardner. “What we did here isn’t putting lipstick on a pig” Gardner explains. “We get stock vehicles and figure out the best characteristics that the chief engineer built into the car. And then we amplify.”
The deputy chief engineer for the C-HR, Hiro Koba, is a racing fan who celebrates Toyota’s concept of waku doki, which means “heart-pumping excitement.” Koba insisted that the C-HR (which stands for Coupe High Rider) have a stable chassis, balanced steering, and be tested on the Nürburgring. “The more you steer it, it turns exactly that amount more,” says Gardner of the stock C-HR. “The more you push on the brake pedal, it brakes exactly. It’s not overboosted; it’s responsive.”
“[Koba] didn’t know how far we could take it, but we set the bar at supercar performance,” says Gardner. It’s a target that Toyota announced at SEMA had been achieved by lapping the long course at Willow Springs in 1:25.22, which is quicker than serious machinery such as a Nissan GT-R NISMO and a McLaren 650S Spider, although well off the pace of a McLaren 720S or a Lamborghini Huracán Performante.
“We went simple everywhere we could, and then the things that were complicated, we took them on as we had to, system by system.” Gardner and his team swapped in a 2.4-liter inline-four (Toyota’s 2AZ-FE) and a five-speed manual (Toyota E-series), for the stock internals, then positioned the engine and gearbox as far back and as low as possible. However the kept true to the originals roots as it is still a front-wheel-drive vehicle, like every C-HR Toyota sells in America.
DG-Spec swapped the engine internals for forged and polished aftermarket parts and cryogenically treated the transmission’s cogs and gears. The C-HR R-Tuned has three-way adjustable suspension by racing supplier Motion Control, which can be tuned for rebound and low- and high-speed compression control. Toyo Proxes RR tires—size 275/35R-18—sit at all four corners, Brembo developed a pair of four-piston monoblock calipers for the front brakes, and an OS Giken Super Lock limited-slip differential eliminates torque steer. The C-HR R-Tuned weighs about 3000 pounds—340 pounds less than the stock C-HR.
The team tested multiple different turbocharger setups and settled on a unit from Garrett, a Garrett Custom GTX3076R Gen II turbo, fed by a four-inch intake. At full bore on racing fuel, the C-HR R-Tuned makes a conservative 600 horsepower and puts down 550 lb-ft of torque. Gardner and his team did have some challenges with the rear wing. It had little lateral rigidity and swayed in the wind, so DG-Spec affixed cross supports to firm up the structure. Complementing the wing is an adjustable carbon-fiber front splitter that helps the C-HR R-Tuned produce about 300 pounds of downforce at 120 mph and about 400 pounds at 150 mph.
What did it all mean and what did I come away with? It is fantastic that projects like this are greenlit by large corporations like Toyota. I mean honestly this is incredibly cool. Let’s hope Toyota keeps signing off on stuff like this. My only hope is that next time Toyota has me drive.