Hyundai, making pickup trucks? When Hyundai announced that it was making a pickup entry, we were admittedly skeptical, especially considering that the Korean car giant had never made a conventional pickup offering up to this point. Hyundai thinks it’s on to something with the Santa Cruz, and when we had the chance to briefly sample it in Ann Arbor, it certainly made an excellent first impression. But how would it do with more prolonged exposure? We were keen to find out.
Sport Adventure Vehicle Motif Defines Santa Cruz
We called out Hyundai back then for asserting that the Santa Cruz is not a pickup but rather a “Sport Adventure Vehicle” (SAV), and our core opinion hasn’t changed; this is still a pickup. But look beyond that, and Hyundai designers have done a good job working with the source material. The truck is built on the same platform as the Hyundai Tucson. Still, the Santa Cruz’s styling is a league of its own thanks to the bold front grille, which features lighted elements that integrate it with the aggressive head and foglights. The hood has muscular bulges, while the side profile features plenty of flowing lines and creases.
The rear even features creative use of labeling with the Hyundai name being stamped into the tailgate handle while SANTA CRUZ lettering is stamped onto the tailgate itself. We suppose that makes up for the odd-looking taillights, which serve as the only wrinkle back there though our tester’s sleek black paintwork did a good job of compensating for that.
The bed itself follows the exact blueprint that we have seen in the Honda Ridgeline, with the central part of the bed having a washable and drainable center-mounted trunk. The rest of the space can haul bigger items and even some plywood, but while the Santa Cruz comes equipped with bed-mounted AC outlets, the novelty aspect of the bed comes at the cost of functionality, with the latter being a key selling point for rivals like the Ford Maverick and the Chevrolet Colorado.
Tucson Interior Adds Luxury And Technology
Slip inside the Santa Cruz, and you’ll be forgiven if you thought you ended up in the Tucson by mistake. The Santa Cruz shares some of its fundamentals with that model, and the interior is one of those things. However, in this case, the family connection helps the Santa Cruz out, and the cabin is one of the nicest that we have ever seen in a mid-size pickup, with rich materials and a modern look.
It’s the first truck in its class to offer a fully digital instrument cluster. However, we’re glad that Hyundai designers kept things functional by using a traditional floor-mounted shifter instead of a finicky rotary knob or push button arrangement. The Santa Cruz is a crew cab only affair, but that space allowed us to have room for healthy amounts of luggage, mainly when we tasked the Santa Cruz with hauling duties for the Chicago Auto Show.
Our truck arrived with the optional 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Still, while the screen delivered crisp resolution and had Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability, we think going for a touch heavy setup was a mistake since some of the buttons didn’t work when they were pressed with gloves. The Santa Cruz is also compatible with Hyundai’s Blue Link Services, which offers a variety of features for owners, including Amazon Alexa capability, the ability to start the truck, lock and unlock the doors, and more via the internet.
Road Trip Worthy Performance A Santa Cruz Strength
When the Santa Cruz we tested arrived at the office, it came in time to serve as transportation to the Chicago Auto Show. While Michigan’s notoriously unpredictable weather patterns spared us from some of the wilder winter weather that sometimes define this part of the year, the respite allowed us to get to know our tester alot better.
The truck comes with a base 2.5 liter 181 hp naturally-aspirated four-cylinder,r but buyers looking for more power can opt for the optional turbocharged version of this engine, but only if they either get an SEL Premium or a range-topping Limited model like our tester. This engine allows the Santa Cruz to be fully in its element, and with 281 hp to work with, it helped the Santa Cruz be extremely confident out on the freeway. Especially in passing. An eight-speed automatic comes with both engines, but the turbo swaps out the traditional transmission for a dual-clutch variant.
The Santa Cruz is shorter and lower than some of its rivals which allowed our tester to be a good companion when maneuvering through some of the tight Chicago streets that we encountered on our route to the show. The Santa Cruz can’t tow as much as body-on-frame rivals like the Jeep Gladiator and the Toyota Tacoma, but it can match the 5,000 lb rating of its lone unibody engineered competitor, the Honda Ridgeline. An important disclaimer here is that this is only with the turbo, and naturally aspirated models can only tow 3,500 lbs.
The fuel economy is roughly what we expect from a mid-size pickup with turbo models like our example, getting 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg in freeway driving.
Pricing for the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz also follows the same proven formula that we have seen in some of its other rivals, with a base naturally aspirated model starting at $24,140.
Move into the turbo models, and you are greeted with the SEL Premium’s base $35,830 sticker. Move up to a Limited version like our tester and be prepared to pay a base price of $39,870 with our rig boasting a light sprinkling of optional equipment. These extras and the destination fee helped push the price tag to just over $40,000. That’s a noticeable jump over a comparably equipped Ford Maverick Lariat with the 2.0 liter EcoBoost four-cylinder and also manages to be more than a Chevrolet Colorado LT.
However, it’s very close in price to both the Ridgeline RTLE and the RTL-E variants, with the Santa Cruz coming very close to Honda in terms of delivering the goods on some of the core attributes that Honda first offered on the Ridgeline like the bed-mounted trunk, car-like handling, and an interior that mirrors what’s already seen in some of its popular SUV models.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.