We were really excited to test the new Hyundai Santa Cruz. While and SUV-type vehicle with a truck bed isn’t a new idea, – the original Subaru Brat, the Subaru Baja and even the Honda Ridgeline – fit the bill, It seems like a great time for this kind of vehicle.
So, let’s take a cruise in the Santa Cruz!
What Today’s Truck is Wearing
Well, let’s start with saying we love the looks. Built off the Tucson SUV platform, there are a lot of similarities – no problem there, that’s borrowing from one of Hyundai’s best designs. Up front is the new face of the brand, with the “parametric grille” with half-mirror daytime running lights that are only visible when illuminated. Very cool, indeed.
The front takes the Tucson and macho’s it up even more with large squared off intake shapes that house the fogs, and a lower fascia that looks ready to tackle the rough stuff.
The profile may be our favorite part – it looks like a Hot Wheels version of a futuristic truck come to life! Large fender flares give a wide shoulder line, while cut-ins to the lower door panels give a tight look. We also loved the armor-like wheel arches with the easter-egg Santa Cruz silhouette stamped in the top. The sharply raked A-pillar, and the kicked-up C-pillar say sport coupe, and then the cutaway for the bed says capability.
And if that’s not enough, meaty 20-inch wheels and tires fill everything out and look extra tough.
At the rear the signature T-shaped LED lights – embossed with “Designed in California”! – sit atop a more traditional rear truck door. We did like the sliding-shade tonneau cover that beautifully integrates with the design. The lower bumper features corner bumper steps which are handy when loading and unloading.
The final touch was the gorgeous Blue Stone exterior paint – we’re starting to see lots of these rich colors in greens and concrete-like grays, and it really makes the Santa Cruz pop. We’d be supremely tempted by the Sage Gray, or the positively evil Phantom Black. Whatever the color, the Santa Cruz is a stunner!
Hyundai Luxe Interior
Inside, the connection to the Tucson is even stronger. Again, no problem as it’s a gorgeous interior.
Step inside, and you find comfortable multi-adjustable buckets. Heated and cooled on our Limited tester. There’s a leather-wrapped open-h design steering wheel with plenty of options to rest your hands.
Like the Tucson, you get a handsome digital gauge display with two round screens for speedo and tach. Another carryover we love – either tach or speedo becomes a camera display for that side of the vehicle when you signal for a turn. Genesis type luxury on your small truck!
Being a top-of-the-line model, we also enjoyed the jumbo-tron 10.25-inch info-tainment display, which sits atop simple digital controls for the climate control system. There are a couple points that bug us, though.
When you opt for the larger screen like our tester, you lose wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – although lower models have it. There is a dedicated cubby with wireless charging, but you’ll have to plug in for CarPlay. Also, on our nitpick list – no volume control knob. Yeah, we’re old school, but we like what we like.
One advantage over the Tucson, the Santa Cruz features a traditional transmission shift lever over the SUV’s pushbutton automatic transmission which we never really liked. Call us old school times 2!
That aside, this is a gorgeous interior with a wide horizontal flow that makes it look spacious and gives excellent outside visibility. Being built on the SUV chassis allows for an extremely roomy rear seat – of course with the bulkhead behind you, there are fixed seatbacks, but there’s plenty of room. You can also flip up the rear seat cushions and use the built-in storage area which is handy – especially for stuff you don’t want to leave in the pickup bed.
Let’s Hop into Bed
The main reason you’d opt for the Santa Cruz over the Tucson would be the truck-like bed, and Hyundai shows some clever thinking here to help you maximize your capability. Protection is key, and to protect that bed, the molded-composite bed resists dents, won’t rust, and is easy to hose out too.
Another cool thing about the bed is a hidden underfloor storage space – like the Honda Ridgeline. It flips up, and gives a good amount of room, and even features drain plugs, so if you want to load it up with ice and drinks, you’ve got a jumbo cooler. Other nice touches – with the storage area closed and the tailgate up, you can’t access the storage area handle, keeping your stash safe.
The bed also has two storage areas behind the wheel wells, with the one on the right also featuring a small AC power outlet. The bed walls also have channels with sliding cleats for easy tie downs of whatever you bring along.
What you bring along is a bit limited, with a bed that’s only 4 feet long. If you need more space, Hyundai makes a cool cargo bed extender that lets you drop down the tailgate and fit longer items like dirt bikes, watercraft, and the like in safety and securely. Speaking of safe and secure, we love the Santa Cruz’s accordion style tonneau cover that folds out of sight cleanly, and is hard, protective plastic when it’s pulled out in place.
Drives like an SUV
For a long time now, truck buyers have been wanting more and more car-like comforts, safety, and performance. From behind the wheel, the Santa Cruz says sports sedan, not pickup truck.
Under the hood of our tester was the powerhouse 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder turbo motor that punches out 281 horsepower and 311 lb. ft. of torque at just 1700 rpm. Combined with Hyundai’s quick shifting 8-speed DCT transmission, the Cruz is very punchy off the line, and easily keeps up with today’s sporty sedans and coupes. Merging is effortless on the freeway and keeping it on the boil for passing is easy.
Doling out all the power is available HTRAC All-Wheel-Drive, and that means the power not only helps in the straights, but also sends more torque to the rear in corners for great handling and steering feel. With a multilink rear suspension, the ride is SUV smooth and quiet, so there’s very little penalty in opting for an open bed instead of a traditional crossover. We liked the physical size of the SC as well, easy for parking lots and crowded malls, and thanks to our testers overhead 360-degree display, it’s easy to nab a great spot. Very un-truck-like.
Combining the Turbo with HTRAC does yield some truck-like goodness, including an impressive 5,000 lb. towing capacity. You also get Hyundai’s SmartSense safety suite, with standard Forward Collision Avoidance with Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, Lane Keep Assist and Driver Attention warning on all models. Our top-of-the-line tester added all the state-of-the-art goodies, including Blind Spot Collision Avoidance, Blind Spot View Monitor, Rear Traffic Collision Avoidance, as well as Safe Exit Assist and Highway Drive Assist.
Can I afford to Live in Santa Cruz?
Yes, but options and engines can make the price run from reasonable to pricey. You can get into a front wheel drive Santa Cruz SE for just $24,140, and we find the idea of an entry-level model especially tempting in a truck. You’ll get a 191 horse, 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, A/C power windows, and all the basic goodies. For banging around and having fun on the weekends, that’s hard to beat.
Our Limited model is at the other end of the spectrum, with standard Turbo motor, HTRAC AWD, 20-inch alloys, 10.25-inch touchscreen and digital display and more, starting at $39,870. That’s pretty much loaded, though, so adding in destination we rang the bell at $41,115.
Competition would include the all-new Ford Maverick, starting at just $21,490. It’s more of a trucky-truck, and more plain in basic form. Ride and handling and performance also skew towards the truck end of the spectrum, so if you want comfort and refinement – and in our eyes, style – we’d pony up for the Santa Cruz. If you are interested in something larger, we’d have to include the Honda Ridgeline, you’ll pay a bit more for one, though at $44,795.
The Santa Cruz really stacks up better against crossovers, offering most of what they have, with the added functionality of that open truck bed. Comparing to its sibling the Tucson, for example comes in at $36,075, but you don’t get that awesome turbo engine at that price. So, apples to apples they are closely priced.
Compared to the Toyota RAV4, which easily eclipses $40k, shows the Santa Cruz is also competitive in pricing. We’d still be tempted by the most basic Santa Cruz if it was us, though….
Great looks, powerful turbo engine, crossover goodness with pickup capability, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is an activity that can do it all!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.