The Toyota C-HR crossover utility vehicle might have slid off into anonymity along with the approximately 8 million other competent, stylish and utilitarian CUVs on the market right now. But that was before racer/tuner/tinkerer Dan Gardner got ahold of one. Gardner and his team, along with a big, fat check from Toyota, made the stylishly demure C-HR into a track monster.
Gardner has made something of a career out of taking Toyotas, from the sporty Scion F-RS and tC to the bland Sienna minivan, and making them do things Toyota Motor Corp. never dreamed of. He made a Land Cruiser that went 230 mph at Bonneville, for instance. And his first Sienna minivan had 426 hp and lapped the Streets of Willow racetrack in 1:27. A second Sienna competed in One Lap of America. He figures he’s remade 20 Toyotas so far and will probably do more as long as Toyota keeps writing checks and we press dopes keep writing the articles about them. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Or maybe it’s co-dependent.
Regardless, when the compact C-HR crossover debuted a year ago, Gardner and his DG-Spec crew set their sights on making it into a real performer. That may have seemed ridiculous, or at least incongruous on some level — the thing has a CVT transmission after all. But the DG-Spec team went at it nonetheless.
At the heart of the transition is a new powertrain. Gone was the CVT, gone was the sensible 144-hp 2.0-liter stock engine the C-HR comes with from the factory. Into the engine bay went a DG-Spec/Hasport 2.4-liter 2AZ-FE with a Garrett Custom GTX3076R Gen II turbo. Along with a Garrett intercooler, Dezod forged con rods, 9.0:1 forged pistons, stainless steel intake valves, Iconel exhaust valves, racing valve springs, titanium retainers and race bearings, the whole setup makes 600 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque, all still routed through the front wheels (if it was me, I’d have twisted the engine to a longitudinal alignment and run it all through the rear wheels, which is a lot easier to say than to do, I’m guessing).
Everything else, and I mean everything else, is upgraded and tweaked to make the C-HR scream like a flattened weasel. Among the more interesting additions is an OS Giken Super Lock limited-slip differential, which can be built to function at different rates of lockup in deceleration and/or acceleration. Very cool.
The aerodynamic changes, including that massive hatch-mounted rear wing, combine to make 400 pounds of downforce at 150 mph. The suspension is completely reworked, built around DG-Spec/Motion Control triple-adjustable remote reservoir racing coilovers and more individual parts than can be named here in less than a week and a half. In all there are 46 new power and performance parts listed on the laminated flyer Dan Gardner handed me out at Willow Springs the other day.
Yes, Willow Springs, where I found myself getting strapped into the six-point harness in the driver’s seat of the C-HR R-Tuned. The fools were going to let me drive it! Ha!
Next to me was NASCAR Rolex Grand-Am, ALMS and IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Championship driver Craig Stanton who may have looked a little concerned (am I that bad a driver? Had my reputation preceded me?). I made a mental note to NOT accidently kill Stanton, a guy I’ve ridden and driven with many times before and whom I liked, really! and then I fired up the C-HR R-Tuned.
Toyota C-HR R-Tuned the King of Wing
Despite all its racy credentials, the car starts with the twist of a Toyota ignition key. The clutch on the Toyota E-Series five-speed manual is light, about the same weight as any manual transmission out there, and engagement is about like any other street car, too. This is no Tilton racing clutch.
We eased down the pit straight and onto Big Willow’s Turn 1. The car bounced a little more than I would have thought it should, but the power was all there as I wound up through third and fourth gears on the way to the long, long, long right-hander of Turn 2.
For a race car that relies mostly on a monster big turbo to make its 600 hp, the power and torque bands are remarkably wide. There’s no discernable turbo lag. I don’t know how that’s possible, but there isn’t. It isn’t even that loud. Visibility out the back end is poor, but that’s the same with the stock C-HR. That big wing doesn’t even get in the way.
It held on nicely through Turn 2, which takes about a half hour to get through, then I got on the brakes early going into the uphill Turn 3, in fact I got on the brakes early in every turn, partly because that’s what I always do at race tracks -– better to brake too early than too late –- and partly to demonstrate to poor Stanton how safe a driver I was being. I was following the line Stanton had described and taken in the van drive earlier. Ask a hundred racers what line to take and you’ll get about a hundred answers, but if one of them is riding with you, take his line.
“Yes, yes, perfect,” Stanton kept saying, seemingly assured that I was not a homicidal maniac. At that point I wanted to quote George C. Scott in “Patton” and yell, “I read your book!” But I didn’t.
On the Big track at Big Willow
Uphill through Turns 4 and 5, which no one has any idea how to take so you just muddle through them and then hold on as you brake downhill into 6, the C-HR R-Tuned remained admirably – what? – powerful? stable? a sensible choice in the subcompact crossover utility segment? It isn’t like a sports car or a supercar, despite its ridiculous 600 hp. It feels larger than that, like piloting a small airplane that had accidently landed on the backstretch, or a barn in a Keystone Cops movie. But it is impressive for a CUV.
Way down on the east end of the track going into Turn 8 at what could have been anywhere from 130 to 150 mph (I didn’t look), the craft really started to bounce, and I remember thinking, “Well, you can’t set it up for everything but I’d have softened the springs a little.” I’m sure Gardner’s flinching reading that. “We couldn’t soften the springs ‘cause that’d mess with the flux capacitor intake plenum spool splooter,” he’s saying. “Why can’t anyone understand my genius?”
With the C-HR fully warmed up I blasted down the front straight as fast as the thing would go, took another lap at a little closer to what might have been full wallop, and relaxed a little as Stanton seemed to accept that death would not come for him from this particular car writer dope. And soon enough I was pulling into the pits and it was all over.
What did it all mean? It is good that outrageous exercises like this can be fully funded by large corporations. They’re kind of cool. Remember the Renault Espace minivan with the Formula 1 engine and chassis underneath? That was cool, too. Let’s hope Toyota keeps writing checks for stuff like this. And then letting us press dopes drive them.
Now everyone get back to work!
On Sale: Never (almost never)
Base Price: Hoo man!
Powertrain: DG-Spec/Hasport custom 2.4-liter 2AZ-FE, custom Toyota E-Series 5-speed manual, fwd
Output: 600 hp, 550 lb ft
Curb Weight: 2960 pounds
Fuel Economy: hahaha(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Looks cool, sports 600 hp
Cons: Bounces too much, you (probably) can’t get one unless you, too, have an unlimited budget