Introduced as the manufacturer’s first pickup truck, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz addresses a niche market. It’s a pickup truck for buyers who don’t want a truck—or at least as previously defined.
Available last June as this year’s model, the four-door, front-engine, all-wheel drive is marketed as an Adventure Sport Vehicle.
Like the Honda Ridgeline and Ford Maverick, the Santa Cruz has a unibody chassis design, not the ladder frame featured on most pickup trucks. The back seats are comfortable only for children or petite adults.
The standard Santa Cruz engine is a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder setup with 191 horsepower, 181 lb.-ft. of torque and an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s based on its sibling, the Tucson crossover sport utility vehicle.
As a compact truck, the Santa Cruz packs a lot into its unique dimensions. It has a 118.3-inch wheelbase, it’s slightly longer than 16 feet, it’s 6.2-feet wide and 5 1/2-feet tall. It has a 4.3-foot-long bed.
The Santa Cruz is offered in the front-wheel-drive SE, with a starting price of $23,990. The SEL Activity starts at $30,460, and the turbocharged 2.5-liter engine is available in the SEL Premium and Limited, respectively priced at $35,680 and $39,720. Optional all-wheel-drive adds $1,500, and it’s the only choice on the turbocharged trim.
The turbocharged 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder has 281 horsepower and 311 lb.-ft. of torque and a 5,000-pound towing capacity. It also has a dual-clutch transmission.
With its compressed frame, the Santa Cruz is reminiscent of the Ford Explorer Sport Trac and Subaru Baja. While not as workhorse-versatile as a full-size truck, Hyundai’s offering is cargo-oriented while more flexible for city driving and parking and more fuel-efficient.
Regardless of trim, the Santa Cruz drives more like a sedan than a truck. It’s not luxury-sedan quiet, but considering its class, the new offering is generally smooth and compliant. It has satisfactory acceleration, 8.0 seconds from 0-60 miles per hour in the standard engine, 6.0 seconds in the turbocharged trim.
The base engine has an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 21 mpg in-city driving and 26 mpg on the freeway. The turbocharged choice is rated at 21 and 27 mpg. Its sage gray exterior paint option is an attention-grabber.
Like all of its stablemates, the Hyundai Santa Cruz has an industry-best 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The Santa Cruz comes standard with an eight-inch touchscreen running the Hyundai BlueLink infotainment system; the Limited has a 10.3-inch display. Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard. The navigation system and other touchscreen functions require little learning curves and work well. The eight-inch screen supports wireless smartphone compatibility.
While compact, the Santa Cruz’s bed is versatile. It has a sliding desk-top-style, pull-down and lockable cover with a pull-cord for assistance. There’s a lockable cargo bin under the bed. It’s large enough for narrower carry-on suitcases and it also has a drain plug for washing perhaps after filling it with ice and beverages as a mobile cooler.
The diminutive bed is further versatile. Small latched cubbie holes are located on both sides. The right-side compartment can be equipped with a 115-volt power outlet.
It has a cleat bed rail system and side indentations to hold 2×4 planks. The new Hyundai also has a driver-side corner step and grip-style sections under the license plate and tailgate. The latter is also damped for easy lifting and preventing slamming. A power liftgate is optional on upper-level trims. Three LED lights are standard.
The Santa Cruz maneuvers with ease. It has responsive steering. Its suspension neutralizes most issues with rough pavements, other road imperfections and speed humps.
It further helps the truck’s split-personality. It’s a non-truck truck, a welcome new big thing in a smaller package.
James Raia, a syndicated columnist in Sacramento, California, publishes a free weekly automotive podcast and electronic newsletter. Sign-ups are available on his website, www.theweeklydriver.com. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.