I Raced a 600-Horsepower Toyota C-HR Against a Nissan GT-R

The Toyota C-HR R-Tuned is no mundane crossover, although it retains much of the body and the front-wheel drive layout from Toyota’s newest compact CUV. That’s where the similarities end, as the R-Tuned can hit 60 miles per hour in just 2.9 seconds, it produces 1.2G when braking and and it bends your body and mind with 1.7G around corners. I got to spend some time with Dan Gardner, who designed and developed the R-Tuned for Toyota USA through his DG-Spec tuning house. Then I hit Willow Springs raceway in the R-Tuned with him at the wheel — and I experienced the 600-plus-horsepower R-Tuned at its full fury as we raced a Nissan GT-R around the big track.

Before I get there, some background on this ridiculous SEMA-Concept-turned-racer. Hiro Koba, the deputy chief engineer for the C-HR, set about to achieve something special for the C-HR. A racing nut, Koba wanted Toyota’s latest crossover to be legitimately fun to drive. Toyota flew me out to Los Angeles and then gave me the keys to a loaner to head way out to Willow Springs International Raceway, so I could not only experience the cool new tuned version, but also drive the regular C-HR itself on track. I won’t categorize the latter as "fast," as it has a fairly underpowered 144-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder — though that’s hardly the point of the C-HR.

Nevertheless, at full chat with a race driver guiding me around both the small and big tracks at Willow Springs, I had a blast. They also ran us through some handling drills to show us how well-balanced the C-HR chassis is set up as stock. I’ve spent a lot of time on track with a variety of cars, both fast and slow, and I left with a solid "not bad" face with regard to the C-HR. But I came for the R-Tuned, and it was our turn to head to the big track.

Dan Gardner had already given us some history of the car, he was involved from the start as Toyota commissioned a C-HR that would be "supercar fast." And it is, lapping the long course at Willow Springs in 1:25.22. That’s faster than a Nissan GT-R NISMO and a McLaren 650S Spider, among others. So while it’s not the fastest car to ever lap the track, it’s up there — which is impressive for a car that has retained its basic structure and FWD layout. Gardner and his team ditched the 2.0-liter and the CVT and tossed in a 2AZ-FE 2.4-liter 4-cylinder and a 5-speed manual transmission. A Garrett turbocharger with a whole bunch of boost came next, and it gets the Toyota C-HR R-Tuned up around the 600-horsepower mark.

Obviously the chassis has been upgraded, as well, with Motion Control adjustable suspension, Brembo 4-piston monoblock calipers up front, and Toyo Proxes RR tires (275/35R-18) all around. Since the C-HR retains the FWD configuration, Gardner added an OS Giken Super Lock limited-slip differential. The result is pretty staggering. As you may have seen in the video, the C-HR is quite fast. I strapped into the passenger seat with Gardner at the wheel for a warm-up lap, trailing a Nissan GT-R piloted by race driver Craig Stanton. Through the first lap, Gardner gets the temperatures up and the tires warm. Coming around to the main straight at Willow, both the R-Tuned and the GT-R drop the hammer.

The lateral Gs that both cars can hold is impressive. I later rode in the Nissan with Stanton, and he wasn’t on a Sunday drive. After a hard left-hander at turn one at the end of the track, the Brembo’s scraping off triple digit speeds, we dove into turn two, which is a wide arcing right-hander. The R-Tuned maintained a huge amount of grip and blew past the GT-R before the main apex of the turn. From there it was full tilt, Gardner giving it the beans throughout the rest of the session. As you can tell by my face, it was quite an experience.

So while the basic C-HR may not be a track monster, it’s pretty cool to see just how fast today’s crossovers can go in the right hands.

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