Those of you who’ve been following the progress on the JATAC know that we found the Toyota Tacoma’s factory suspension less than ideal. Spring rates front and rear were too high, resulting in a punishing ride over what I consider an acid test for a suspension: our driveway, comprising seven miles of dirt washboard and the nasty protruding rocks we call baby heads, bisected occasionally with diagonal rain-cut ditches. It brings out the worst in every vehicle that traverses it.
Yet the rear springs were not adequate to securely support the added weight of our Four Wheel Camper, which, when it was slid in at the FWC factory in California, dropped the tops of the rear fender cutouts (a standard spot to measure differences in ride height) a good four inches and left the truck nose-high. Since I’d been virtually certain this would be the case, I brought along a set of Australian-made Boss air bags and installed them at the FWC factory. That levelled the truck nicely, but the trip home made it clear the factory shocks were now sorely overmatched.
My first attempt at optimizing the Tacoma’s suspension to ensure safe handling, predictable off-pavement capability, and a reasonably compliant ride, involved the installation of an Icon Vehicle Dynamics suspension kit, comprising pre-assembled front cartridges with adjustable ride height (left stock), Icon springs, and Icon adjustable remote-reservoir shocks, plus a pair of Icon adjustable remote-reservoir rear shocks.
The Icon shocks are superbly constructed and fully rebuildable. The valving can be custom-calibrated for specific applications, and I requested heavier valving for the rear. However, I believe the request was lost as the shocks failed to control rear-axle bounce even at their top setting. Shipped back to Icon, they were returned in short order and felt infinitely better, displaying excellent sway, roll, and bounce control at half setting.
Unfortunately the front cartridges proved to be less than ideal for our situation. The Icon springs are 20 percent stiffer than stock (which you’ll recall I already thought too stiff). Although we planned to install an after market bumper and winch, the bumper was to be a very lightweight prototype aluminum unit, and the Warn 9.5 XP winch, with Viking synthetic line, would weigh less than 70 pounds. I was convinced this wouldn’t be enough to attenuate the harshness of the Icons. (If we’d planned to install a steel bumper such as an ARB the situation might have been diferent.) I checked with Icon but was told that the stock Toyota springs would not fit their struts.
An additional factor in my decision-making process was the fact that the Icon shocks employ heim-joint connections at the bottom of the shafts. Heim joints dispense with rubber or polyurethane bushings in favor of an all-metal spherical joint. The result is very precise control and noticeably quicker handling, but a slight increase in harshness—and we were already dealing with too much of that. Lastly, the unprotected—albeit heavily chrome-plated—shafts of the shocks had me concerned from the start that they would eventually be subject to micro-pitting from road debris, especially in the rear.
My conclusion regarding the Icon suspension was that it was a very high-quality system oriented more toward high-performance use than slogging along at overlanding speeds with a camper attached. Fortunately I located a fellow overlander who owns a late-model 4Runner, who was interested in upgrading his OME suspension. He reported favorably on his initial drive with the Icons in place, and has promised to send me a followup after putting a few thousand miles on the truck.