Science

The new Tacoma’s shock-absorbing seats help you keep your eyes on the prize

Rejoice, Tacoma fans: The fourth generation of the beloved pickup is finally here, and there’s a lot to like. The midsize truck was redesigned from the ground up, retaining its off-road-capable bones and getting new skin, more power, and more options that should please truck buyers of all types. The last time the Taco, as it’s affectionately known, had a full workup was for model year 2016, so this has been a long-awaited update. 

In its popular TRD Pro trim, the new Tacoma includes brand-new seats for the driver and front passenger that ride on a shock absorber system. The purpose of these so-called IsoDynamic Performance Seats is to keep your head—and in turn, your eyes—steady and focused while driving (or riding in the right seat) on rugged terrain. If you’ve ever ridden a horse or performed in a marching band, you understand how important it is to keep your vision intact while moving. 

Let’s take a closer look at this and some of the Tacoma’s other new features. 

Shock-absorbing seats

When driving off-road, your entire body gets bounced around. Depending on the quality of your suspension system, you could be shaken like a James Bond martini. But wouldn’t it be better to float as though you’re moving in tune with the vehicle? Sheldon Brown, the chief engineer for the Tacoma, says the team started by plumping up the bolsters (the narrow pillows that surround your seat) in the seat and seat back, which snugs the occupant into the vehicle securely and comfortably. 

“We were looking to do something and provide better stabilization of the driver and the occupant in those high-speed or even some of the tactical off-road driving scenarios,” Brown told The Drive, which is owned by Recurrent Ventures, PopSci’s parent company. “If you think about, for example, a downhill skier or even if you look to the wild you see a cheetah chasing its prey. The eyes are focused and fixed, the body is moving but the head and the eyes are staying stable, so the goal here is to stabilize the upper torso, particularly the head.”

The Toyota engineering team started with a hot-formed steel tube to create the superstructure of the seats, and surrounded it with a lightweight reinforced resin for the seat pan and back frame. A swivel joint, spring-loaded ball joint, and articulation structure provides the flexibility and movement. The human body’s bone structure works closely with tendons and muscles for full range of motion; the new IsoDynamic Performance Seat is designed to move with those elements for a much less bone-jarring ride. 

Most notably, the seat can be customized to your liking. Airing it up is as simple as using a bicycle tire pump to achieve the level of pressure you like, and Toyota provides a set of recommended pressures based on your unique body mass. From there, you can tweak the comfort as desired. And, of course, you can turn off the adjustments entirely and it becomes a plain old truck seat. 

More power, more torque—and the manual remains

Available in a whopping eight variants—SR, SR5, TRD PreRunner, TRD Sport, TRD Off Road, Limited, TRD Pro, and Trailhunter—the 2024 Tacoma is offered with two different powertrains and myriad shiny new accessories straight from the factory. 

Starting with the base SR, the Tacoma gets a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 228 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque. Moving up to the SR5 and above, the same engine is tuned for 278 hp and 317 pound-feet of torque. Automatic and manual transmissions are available, and the manual option is largely attributed to Brown’s influence, as he is not just the engineer but a major Tacoma enthusiast. 

The star of the lineup is the i-Force Max hybrid powertrain. Engineers paired the turbo 2.4-liter engine with an electric motor and 1.87-kilowatt-hour battery for 326 horsepower and an impressive 465 pound-feet of torque. Standard on the TRD Pro and Trailhunter models and available on TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, Limited variants, the i-Force Max is the most potent power combination ever offered on the Tacoma. 

“The great part about the hybrid system, which is what we just launched in the Tundra (and the motor and battery are identical, by the way) is instantaneous torque,” Brown told PopSci. “While we’re waiting for those turbos to spin up, which isn’t too long, it can really supplement the overall drive experience with an instant burst of power, especially when you’re towing or heavily laden.” 

With the i-Force Max, the truck has nearly double the torque numbers of the previous generation’s V6 capabilities. Gas mileage ranges from 19 miles per gallon to 21 miles per gallon for that model year. While we don’t know the EPA mileage ratings for the new Tacoma, Toyota has definitely made efforts to improve those numbers with a massive air dam in front that creates better aerodynamics. Don’t fret, though, off-roaders: it can be removed to increase ground clearance as necessary. 

The new Trailhunter trim.
The new Trailhunter trim. Kristin Shaw

Trailhunter vs TRD Pro

New for 2024 is the Trailhunter trim, designed for the ever-increasing overlanding population. Since 2020, the popularity of overlanding (in basic terms, camping in or near your car over long distances) has exploded, and Toyota is making the most of that trend with the Trailhunter. 

Before this trim debuted this year, the TRD Pro was the top of the line for ruggedness, but it’s built more for driving fast in the desert. The Trailhunter fills a need for go-everywhere adventurers with a whole catalog of accessories available straight from the factory, all of which can be rolled into a monthly payment versus purchasing piece by piece. Two years ago, the Trailhunter was teased at the Specialty Equipment Market Association annual trade show as a concept, and enthusiasts will be excited to see it in production. 

Toyota chose custom shocks from an Australian company called Old Man Emu to cushion the ride for both on- and off-road comfort. It’s also key for carrying a heavy load with lots of gear, which is what overlanders tend to do with on-board refrigerators from Dometic, rooftop tents, hydraulic lifts, and spare tires. For the uninitiated, Old Man Emu shocks were created Down Under, and are a popular choice to replace factored suspension components for other outdoors-focused brands like Land Rover

“In the Australian outback, Old Man Emu is the OG of overlanding,” Brown says. “They have a reputation for building good, reliable solutions for the aftermarket and we wanted to partner with them to work on the development together. This is a custom-tuned set that you can’t buy off the shelf.” 

The Trailhunter also boasts an onboard air compressor for airing up tires after an off-roading session, plus a fuel tank protector, mid-body skid plate, front bash plate, and rock sliders all designed to safeguard the truck from damage. 

Stay tuned, because the 2024 Toyota Tacoma is scheduled for dealerships later this year. As soon as we can get behind the wheel, we’ll tell you more about how it performs. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may also like