Not all pickups are work trucks—Toyota aims the 2024 Tacoma off-road

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Written By Sedoso Feb

Enlarge / Yes, pickup trucks are used in work situations, but they’re also bought by people who want to drive them off-road.
Kristin Shaw

Between a new platform and the model’s first hybrid powertrain, the redesigned 2024 Toyota Tacoma is full of interesting tidbits and both off- and on-road enhancements. The refresh has been a long time coming, as the last time Toyota updated the Tacoma was for model-year 2015.

The Tacoma line began in 1995 as a US-specific version of the global HiLux. Even Back to the Future‘s Marty McFly coveted a black 1985 Toyota HiLux SR5 Xtra Cab, and it appeared in his garage, complete with a kangaroo bar, off-roading lights, and more.

By design, the new Tacoma is larger than the last generation, sharing a platform with the full-size Tundra. Today, the 2024 Tacoma is more fuel-efficient than its smaller predecessor, notching between 20 and 26 mpg (9–11.8 L/100 km) in the gas-powered versions—a 1995 HiLux ranged from 14–22 mpg (10.7–16.8 L/100 km). We’re waiting to see what the hybrid powertrain earns from the EPA; the difference in mpg may be modest, but the horsepower quotient is impressive.

Toyota will sell you a range of different Tacoma trims, many of which can handle some rough stuff. The TRD Off-Road grade is the most specialized.
Enlarge / Toyota will sell you a range of different Tacoma trims, many of which can handle some rough stuff. The TRD Off-Road grade is the most specialized.
Kristin Shaw

In the last few years, the popularity of off-roading has soared, and the segment has exploded, with accessories becoming a cost center for manufacturers, too. The 2024 Tacoma is available with over 100 off-roading accessories, all covered by the same warranty as the truck. At the truck’s launch, we had an opportunity to test it off the tarmac.

More options, more off-road upgrades

Toyota didn’t spare any bells and whistles for the new Tacoma, basing the infotainment system on the new Tundra’s much-improved setup and adding a coilover rear suspension option over leaf springs. Each trim level has a suspension tuned specifically to its grade, including high-end Bilstein shocks for the TRD Off-Road grade.

The differences are evident after driving several trims on a test run in California. Limited trim buyers can choose an available adaptive variable suspension that adjusts to road conditions on the fly; the ride is noticeably smoother than its model siblings. On the other end of the spectrum, the TRD line carries progressively tougher shocks to save your back and neck muscles when powering over dirt and rock obstacles.

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Toyota

At the top of the line is the Trailhunter grade, which is equipped with an Old Man Emu suspension by ARB. The Australian suspension setup is designed to increase the range of motion to make off-roading more comfortable—and, as a result, more fun. Its suspension is custom-tuned for the Tacoma and isn’t available as an off-the-shelf product.

Progressively tougher

Two years ago, Toyota showcased the Trailhunter concept on display at the Specialty Equipment Market Association annual megaevent, and the buzz was palpable. More drivers are interested in off-roading, and this one is built to withstand heavy loads (think camping gear like tents, 10-gallon water containers, and portable refrigerators). It also carries an onboard air compressor and is covered in skid-plate armor to protect the fuel tank, mid-body, and front from damage.

In the TRD Off-Road grade, one of the standard technologies is a new 2-inch Bilstein monotube shock with piggyback reservoirs. Tacoma Chief Engineer Sheldon Brown says it’s pretty unusual to see those types of shocks in a core grade of vehicles, but he felt it was important to provide an “incredible” off-road performance.

The piggyback part is key, providing a reservoir of heat management to keep the shocks moving.

The Tacoma TRD Pro's interior.
Enlarge / The Tacoma TRD Pro’s interior.
Toyota

“As we’re moving, we have these long stroke shocks and it’s working this fluid,” Brown says. “The fluid gets warm, the viscosity gets lower, and we get shock fade.” Shock fade is what happens when the damper loses control and the ride loses some of its comfort factor.

Seats that protect your neck and back

The ultimate comfort feature is an option in Toyota’s popular TRD Pro trim. The engineers and designers worked together to give the new Tacoma 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,” Brown says. “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.”

Sounds great, right? The best part is that the new seats, called IsoDynamic Performance Seats, can be tuned and adjusted by body mass, or they can be bypassed via levers on the seatbacks.

This truck was made for getting dirty. But Toyota gave the new Tacoma a wide range of options that will satisfy the person least likely to even touch dirt with one today all the way to the seasoned off-roader.

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