Softening the Tacoma TRD Sport Ride

Introduction

The TRD Sport is known to have the hardest ride of any of the Tacoma trims. You’d except this from the Sport model with a sport tuned suspension. Out of all the trims the Sport has the least body roll and is the best handling Tacoma. As with all sport suspensions, this comes at the expensive of ride comfort.

Overall I like the way the TRD Sport rides and in the city with maintained roads it rides very well. This suspension is the main reason I like the Sport so much. I do 99% city driving in a city with above average roads so the Sport suits my needs. That said, there are a few occasions I need to drive on not so maintained roads and the ride in the Sport can become unconformable but by no means unbearable after prolonged periods of time.

I highly value handling over ride quality for the most part and I don’t have any issues with the Sport’s suspension. As is, I’m perfectly happy with how it performs. That said, I do like to tinker and I think I can get it riding slightly better on bumpy roads but still maintain the handling.

It’s the Rear

The three things that make up the suspension are structs, shocks, and springs. I really like the way the front feels and that will have the biggest impact on handing so I don’t want to touch it. Driving the truck I’ve been closely feeling where the most jarring  parts of the ride are coming from and the majority is from the rear.

Going over a bump, the truck jumps over it. It’s not smooth and you get a bounce where you can, almost, feel the wheels leave the road. The Tacoma suffers from the same issue of a light backend that all trucks suffer from. With the stiff ride the truck isn’t smooth over bumps.

New Shocks

Knowing that the rear is where the majority of ride discomfort is coming from there is only one thing I can do. Replace the shocks. The leaf springs are the same across all trims so they are constant and the shocks are what differ between each trim.

The Tacoma Off Road trim has an off road suspension which does very well over rough terrain. Many people who buy the Off Road don’t keep the stock suspension because it’s not off road enough or them. I was able to get a cheap set, less than $100, of Off Road shocks from another Tacoma owner. These ones have about 2k miles on them and when I got them were in good condition.

I didn’t want to get an after market set of shocks because they’re typically more off road focused than I want. Plus they cost more than $100 and going into this I didn’t know how this would all work out. I didn’t know if I’d like the ride and how much it would impact the handling because this isn’t a common change. The Off Road rear shocks are the least aggressive off road shocks for the Tacoma and I know the Off Road has a more comfortable ride. So this should be a good starting point. Plus I like using OEM parts.

Replacing the Shocks

Changing the rear shocks is simple but a bit difficult to do. I had a friend of mine help me and we didn’t jack up the truck. Taking off the rear shocks involves loosening the top nut, taking out the bottom bolt, and pulling the shock out of the bracket. The shock is compressed and will slowly extend. It’s not like taking springs off, it’s not violent and this safe. Finish it off by taking off the top bolt and you have them out.

Putting the replacement shocks on is the opposite process. Except, instead of letting the shock decompress itself, you have to compress the shock. This proved to be a lot harder than we anticipated. Compressing them while standing wasn’t too hard but when you’re under the truck trying to push up at a not so good angle it proved difficult. We got them in without much problem just more force and time than we anticipated.

It’s a 14mm nut on the top and a 17mm nut and bolt on the bottom. We also needed a set of vice grips. The threaded stud on the top has a flat spot you need to hold when loosening and tightening. If you don’t hold it the stud will spin because it’s part of the piston.

Ride and Handling

I’m surprised to say the ride actually changed. I was expecting the rear to have very little impact but it actually makes a big difference in some circumstances. On smooth street roads there is very little difference in the ride. My friend said he couldn’t tell a difference at all and I couldn’t either. We drove down a dirt road and the ride was much smoother than with the Sport rear shocks. The truck kept itself settled and didn’t bounce around nearly as much.

Even on not so smooth roads the Off Road shocks hug the road when going over bumps. You feel the bump but you feel like your flowing over it. The Sport shocks you feel like your skipping over the bumps. Basically a smooth bounce you feel from the suspension vs a hard bounce where you feel the truck lose grip. The ride is noticeably smoother and less stress on your body from the smooth motion.

I would say that if you’re prone to motion sickness these shocks on the back could make it worse than with the Sport shocks. I’ve found that a more wave like motion is worse than a big harsh bounce.

On the highway I drove over some areas where there is a transition for an overpass. Typically these are hard bumps but not anymore. You still felt it but it was smoother.

There is little more body roll and overall less stable to drive. On the highway wind and faster moving traffic move the vehicle more. These are more than the Sport shocks in the rear. However, this is still less than what you’d feel with the Off Road suspension front and rear.

The best way I can describe the ride is if you had the Sport shocks and put a few hundred pounds in the bed.

Conclusion

This setup of Sport front and Off Road rear shocks is a pleasant compromise of the handling of the Sport and the smoother ride of the Off Road. Any one who finds the Sport just too hard should consider switching the rear shocks. It’s cheap, easy, quick and if it’s still not soft enough you can move to the front.

That said, I’m not sure if I actually like it better. Like I said, it’s a compromise and makes the ride a little better and the handling a little worse. Handling is a big thing for me and I’m not sure yet if the softer ride in some areas is worth it.

I drive 99% of the time on well maintained city roads and, like I said earlier, my friend and I couldn’t tell a difference in the ride. I could tell a difference in the handling though. So I’m not sure if I’m going to benefit enough from this setup to keep it.

If I had to drive in the areas I was test driving regularly, I would keep the Off Road shocks on the rear. I’m going to give it a week or two and think about it. I might try and get a set of rear shocks from the SR/SR5/Limited trim (they all use the same shock) which should be between the Sport and Off Road in feel. I think that might make the ride more what I’m looking for.