Once Upon a Time
I remember stepping foot inside the '15 Los Angeles Auto Show like it was yesterday. It was where I caught my first glimpse of the world debut of Scion's C-HR Concept. Sitting on 21-inch wheels, it was a futuristic five-door crossover that screamed "Scion" from its youthful and fun design. But as you know, it wasn't but three months after the concept was revealed Toyota dissolved the Scion brand. With my head down along with many other enthusiasts, I was bummed. pbskids has always been a huge supporter of Scion and we've been proud advocates of cars like the xB, tC and FR-S. After a brief moment of mourning, it was later announced that Toyota would keep the FR-S under its umbrella as the 86, and the crossover I saw at the LA Auto Show would be introduced to the global market as the Toyota C-HR.
Big in Japan
The C-HR officially started rolling out in Europe and Asia first, and it became an instant hit in Japan with eight trim levels and two different powertrains (1.2-liter turbo and 1.8-liter hybrid). For the month of April '17, the C-HR accomplished what no other crossover or SUV could in ten years; it became the top selling vehicle in Japan with more than 13,000 units sold. In fact, after its first six months, Toyota Japan had sold nearly 80,000 C-HRs. Its modern design, awesome fuel economy and overall size and package made it big in Japan. But there were also some performance features that made it cooler than your average commuter car.
The C-HR's Deputy Chief Engineer, Hiro Koba, is a hardcore motorsport enthusiast and even races open-wheel racecars. His personal goal was to ensure the chassis and suspension was capable of aggressive driving; so gung-ho about it that he spent days on the Nurburging fine-tuning the C-HR's handling characteristics before it went into production.
With a foundation built on performance, it's also no wonder why all of our favorite tuners in Japan ate up the C-HR when it launched. I saw several builds and available parts at the '17 Tokyo Auto Salon from companies such as TRD, Blitz, HKS and T-Demand, which made it even more of a reason why pbskids needed to get behind Toyota's latest offering.
Coming to America
Last April, the C-HR started hitting our local dealerships and while the styling and chassis of the vehicle stayed true to its roots, North America received a slightly different powertrain than what was offered in Japan - a 144hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to a CVT automatic. Not exactly what I had hoped for, but the C-HR was never meant to be a powerhouse, but instead a functional and stylish daily driver that started at $22,500.
Despite a lack of a turbo or manual transmission offered, I knew there was still potential, having seen modified C-HRs first-hand at Auto Salon. I was confident we'd be able to turn a project of our own into something special. As fate would have it, my prayers were answered when Toyota dropped off an early production model at our office to work with, and the goal was simple: give our audience a taste of what they're missing in Japan and build a C-HR that would rival those at Auto Salon. But that would be easier said than done...
With no turbo or supercharger kits in sight, and an engine swap definitely out of the equation (we're poor!) the C-HR build would focus mostly on aesthetics and handling using high quality parts. We started by lowering the crossover with a set of RS-R coilovers. Already developed in Japan, the 36-way adjustable monotube coils let us lower the ride height between 15-50mm. The only difference from our suspension relative to the Japanese-spec coilovers is the 6K spring rates to account for the difference in weight. The result was sport-tuned suspension that's still comfortable for daily driving that I believe chief engineer Koba-san would approve of.
After suspension, the next items on the checklist were wheels and tires. I put in an order for a fresh set of Volk Racing TE37s through our friends at Mackin Industries (TE everything!) but unfortunately it would be sometime before their next container arrived from Japan with our wheels. Twiddling my thumbs and itching to do mods, I made a call to Borla...
Borla has been a partner of pbskids before, supplying us with an exhaust and individual throttle bodies for our Scion Tuner Challenge FR-S in '14. They were able to develop a prototype stainless steel, dual-exhaust designed specifically for our C-HR. Power gains were marginal; however, we were stoked to have a one-off exhaust that looked and sounded a million times better than stock.
While waiting for more parts to come in, I used the C-HR to get myself to and from work, but also put it through some heavy abuse as you can see on the Streets of Willow. It's not a beast, but once you get it up to speed, it can corner with the best of them!
With time running out and less than a month until SEMA, the window to bring it to Las Vegas was closing. Then, I got a DM on my Instagram; not from that girl I was hoping for, but good news nonetheless...
How The Pieces Fell Into Place
The DM was from an old friend at Car Mate/RAZO and they were looking for a booth vehicle for SEMA. A Japanese company known for shift knobs, pedals and roof racks, the C-HR sounded like the perfect candidate; however, there was only one problem - ours was still stock minus suspension and an exhaust! Without thinking, I agreed they could use the C-HR, and then hit the panic button. It was now a mad rush to see what I could accomplish by SEMA.
I hit up Evasive Motorsports first, who had already been storing the first Artisan Spirits C-HR body kit for me. We were only waiting on a JDM front bumper to make the whole aero package fit. The bumper would be arriving a week later, giving me just enough time...
Next, I needed to give my friends at Mackin another ring to find out if our 20-inch TE37Ultra wheels were still somewhere on the Pacific. The container would be arriving on nearly the exact same date as the JDM front bumper. Perfect!
From there, it was time to sort out the right tires. It was a no brainer to go with Continental's ExtremeContact Sport, a tire that's performed well at our FF Battle and Show Car Shootout track events, and luckily for me, in stock!
With things starting to fall into place, I had a couple days to see what other performance goodies I could get my hands on. Cusco was kind enough to beef up our suspension with a trio of Power Braces and their front strut tower bar. Also local to us, Stillen was able to put the finishing touches on a 13-inch front big brake kit.
With the clock ticking and less than two weeks left, the parts arrived and I transported everything that needed to get installed to Auto Tuned. Owner Young Tea looked at me as if I were crazy, as he had other SEMA builds on his plate. Installing all the parts wasn't going to be easy to fit in his schedule, not to mention I would also be springing on him a last-minute, full body wrap. Ooops!
The People Have Spoken
When Toyota first dropped off the C-HR at the office, I didn't have a choice on color (Ruby Flare Pearl wouldn't have been my first choice, if you know what I mean). So the end goal was to always change the color, and since it was finally going to SEMA, it had to have some pop, right?
Picking a color was the hardest question to answer for the entire build. We had the JDM body kit we wanted, timeless TE37s, high quality suspension and brakes, but the color would make or break everything. I bounced between blue, green, white, and black. Jon Sibal was kind enough to render different looks to help me visualize the different options. I concluded on two colors - one a subtle and mean satin gray, and the other a flashy and bright yellow, similar to our Scion Tuner Challenge FR-S. Still undecided, I threw a poll on Facebook and Instagram and many people agreed that while the gray was safe and looked good, the yellow would have the biggest pop and make a real statement at SEMA. The people had spoken!
Young and his team at Auto Tuned spent the next few days installing all the bolt-ons, fitting the body kit, wrapping the entire body and even coming up with last-minute solutions like custom fog light brackets for the JDM front bumper. I'll be the first to admit the Toyota C-HR isn't the most exciting project I've ever worked on, especially with all of the other cool cars we're around everyday at pbskids. But with the help of a few amazing partners, we were able to bring something unique to the main stages of SEMA, that stayed true to its JDM roots and is still an awesome handling crossover and daily driver. And that's still a build we're proud to put the pbskids name on.
Who did it better?
The best Toyota C-HRs at SEMA (besides ours, of course)
1. Dan Gardner Spec
Dan Gardner does not disappoint! Of course, when you have Toyota backing you, you have the support to make special shit happen. Dan's C-HR was completely re-engineered from the ground up to tackle circuit racing and time attack. Under the hood is a 2AZ-FE engine (commonly found in the Camry, RAV4 and Scion tC) that's been reinforced with forged internals, a built valvetrain, and given a custom Garrett turbo system equating to 600 horses. Dan also ditched the boring CVT automatic for a legit five-speed manual. Every aspect of the project was upgraded to follow suit such as the custom Moton suspension with remote reservoirs, Brembo brakes, adjustable rear wing and front splitter, 8-point rollcage, and more. Weighing in at 2,960 lbs, Dan took the C-HR to Willow Springs International Raceway where it threw down a 1:25.22 lap time on "Big Willow"-that's a faster time than a Lamborghini Aventador LP750-4 SV, in case you're wondering.
2. AutoFashion USA
Going the complete opposite direction of Dan's build was AutoFashion USA from San Diego. In true AutoFashion - or rather VIP fashion, their C-HR is slammed on air using Air Runner struts and Air Lift management. A Lexon Japan body kit is a nice 'n subtle addition to the exterior while it also sports two different sets of RAYS wheels. We dig the driver-side most with staggered 20x8.5-inch front, 20x9.5-inch rear Variance Versus V.V.5.2S wheels. Props go out to Freddie Fernandez and his team for a clean job.
Last but not least, Devin Hui of SpeedElement Performance in San Jose loaned Cusco his C-HR for SEMA. Nearly everything on the C-HR is from Japan, such as the Modellista Ice Elegance body kit, TRD Technocraft rear spoiler, Fujitsubo exhaust, and Cusco/Bride Touring seats. The only non-JDM addition are the 20x10-inch Vossen VFS-10 wheels.