In a performance car, a great driver's seat changes everything. Standouts like Porsche's carbon buckets or the M4's funky blue-and-lime thrones elevate otherwise predictable interiors into nirvana with lumbar support. Simply glimpsing a pair of epic seats snaps you into the mood to drive like hell.
But who would've guessed the next great thrones would bow not in the interior of some steely eyed hypercar, but inside the all-new version of Toyota's midsize pickup stalwart? Toyota calls them IsoDynamic Sport Seats. They'll come standard on the Tacoma's range-topping "TRO Pro" trim, when the trucks hit dealer lots.
The first thing to note: These IsoDynamic Sport Seats seem to do the standard seat business very well. It's an admittedly small sample size, but from a quick stint in the TRD Pro's preproduction interior, these seats feel an immediate upgrade to their outgoing TRD Pro counterparts, and like a plush perfection compared to the flat, hard thrones at the wheel of most current Tacoma trims. (Especially in contrast to the seats in my very own third-gen Tacoma Limited, which are about as comfortable as a stump).
The new seats' papercut-red leather feels soft and just-right pliant, of higher quality than the leather lining the interiors of outgoing Tacomas. There's more detailing to the seats overall, a swath of digi-camo at the front of the seat bottom, more intricacy applied via panels and stitching across the seatback. These details lends a more overtly styled aesthetic to the seats, but a good one. The generous bolstering suggests the sort of performance-oriented buckets you'd find in a German sport sedan.
The seats are a statement piece: Toyota clearly understood the need to step up their seat game across the Tacoma lineup. But in the upcoming TRD Pro, their ambition to coddle our hindquarters is admirable. These thrones may just be the wildest seats ever fitted to a consumer-facing production vehicle, bar none.
But you won't reach that conclusion by looking at the front of the seats. From the back, however, a new perspective emerges.
There they are—two red shock absorbers in the seatback—alongside fiddly little knobs (that actually hide a schrader valve for pressurizing the system) and a pair of analog dials with needle readouts and a couple switches to boot, all framed by a sort of black plastic exoskeleton wrapping its arms around the back of each IsoDynamic Sport Seat. The shocks themselves are mostly covered by a piece of carbon-weave-esque material that looks like it fell off a McLaren monocoque. Before you understand how any of this functions, it just looks very very cool.
(To Bring Balance To The Force: Remember your children will stomp mud and grass all over these nifty little things from their carseat. And that the last Tacoma was panned for its dearth of rear passenger legroom; these shocks cut back against improvements made to that end).
Each of the large red shocks controls the motion of the seat across one axis. The shock on the right tames side-to-side jostle. The shock on the left pares down vertical jounces. But there's a second pair of shocks, slightly hidden from view, that tame the fore and aft rocking motion of the seats you would experience on acceleration and deceleration. These can be adjusted by hand, similar to a mountain bike shock, through a pair of small portals toward the bottom of the seat.
The main oil-air shocks are adjustable via the knobs below each dial. These display each shock's current pressure in psi. Predictably, higher pressure will tighten the response to forces acting on the seat.
If the setup looks incomprehensible, Toyota says a comprehensive video guide will be available in the MyToyota app, to help consumers understand and fine tune each setting, adjusting the system based on their weight and the intended use case.
As a man who loves to fiddle with settings, whether it's getting the snappiest shifting performance from my road bike's rear derailleur, or finding that perfect balance from a set of adjustable suspension dampers, this seems like yet another fiddly dream come true.
It's worth noting these seats were ideated, designed, developed, and built by Toyota, in-house. Rather than outsourcing a bulk of the work to a company like Recaro, Toyota splashed the time, energy, and resources to build these things. According to one Toyota engineer, that's a hugely challenging proposition from the standpoint of internal corporate politics (you can imagine the bean counters' wincing faces).
Toyota engineer Randy Badia explained that the idea had roots in a sedan seat unrelated to off-roading, but that applying the idea to the Tacoma took a glut of resources and a huge amount of time to refine. Anyone who's spent appreciable time wheeling will immediately understand the benefit to a system like this; I drive away from every off-road park with a stab of neck pain.
But does it actually work, I asked Badia, or was this yet another solution in search of a problem? Our necks generally do a great job at keeping our head and eyes level during bumpy low-speed rock crawls, but Badia insists that the dynamic seats improve comfort and driver performance. Toyota's own case studies, including the use of motion tracking software that monitors the movement of a driver's eyes as the truck navigates obstacles, confirms a measured reduction in the amount of eye jostle.
Badia says that it'll be up to drivers to decide if and when to activate the seats' capabilities. Some drivers leave them on for trips to Target. Others prefer to leave the seats static, full time. A binary switch on each main shock can lock the seat into place, quickly and simply.
So here we are, maybe 1000 words into a blog about a seat. But sometimes it's hard to convey excitement for how something as simple as a seat with some shocks can bring real excitement. I think that if the seats work as well as promised, they could produce a real "duh" moment, in which Toyota executed on an obvious idea in an excellent way, moving the needle for enthusiasts.
These seats are important because they're a symptom of a trend in midsize truck development, proof that fierce competition in the pickup market is breeding constant improvement. That gives consumers more options—and more importantly, better options—at every price point.
This new Tacoma drops squarely into the middle of a pickup arms race. Each year and with each successive generation, we ask more from our trucks. That they should ferry us to Costco in sublime comfort with the same grace they'll tackle desert whoops and iron out lo-range rock crawls.
Those demands have pushed the technological development of the pickup, turning this humble instrument for the common worker into something luxurious, robust, and versatile, a leather-lined Leatherman on wheels.
With this new tacoma, Toyota promises improved suspension technology, engine power and efficiency, plus an interior that strives for better material quality and the clever integration must-have tech.
Wasn't it time the humble seat had a breakthrough of its own?
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