Hyundai’s 2022 Santa Cruz, a hybrid of several classes, is the duck-billed platypus in the automotive world. It combines the best bits of multiple courses, including pickups, crossovers, compact cars, and some ute styling. The result is a unique yet undoubtedly fantastic vehicle.
Hyundai’s Ridgeline is a more compact option to Honda’s Ridgeline than a small F-150. Hyundai points out that Santa Cruz’s target market isn’t traditional pickup truck owners but SUV buyers looking for something different and more rugged. The aesthetic is reminiscent of a high-tech Subaru Baja revival which I love.
Crossover is more common than a truck
The Santa Cruz rides on the same platform as the Hyundai Tucson. The front has the same triangular, jewel-like light signature and grille. Crossover underpinnings provide a car-like construction and roadgoing characteristics. This should make it more accessible for those not familiar with the peculiarities of body-on-frame trucks.
More compact than any other pickup on the market — yes, even the upcoming Ford Maverick. The Santa Cruz is well-suited for urban parking and narrow lane maneuverability. It is not a micro truck. The Santa Cruz is 195.7 inches from bumper to bumper and 118.3 inches long, which makes up its wheelbase. That means this compact pickup is only about an inch shorter than Hyundai’s three-row Palisade SUV with a wheelbase that’s 4 inches longer. It’s difficult to compare the numbers to the small ‘ute when it’s actually in real life. The Santa Cruz is a compact car, at 66.7 inches in height.
Santa Cruz’s 8.6-inch ground clearance is the best of all current Hyundai crossovers. It is not an impressive lift, but it matches the ground clearance of utility vehicles such as the Crosstrek or Subaru Outback.
Santa Cruz’s 4-foot truck bed is the most crucial feature of its design. It features a durable composite liner, multiple tie-down points, sliding rail anchors, and a gas-damped rear gate that can be open with either a pull of its handle or remotely using the key fob. In addition, a pair of small, covered storage bins are hidden in the back corners. One of them houses a 115-volt outlet.
The Santa Cruz’s bed measures 52.1 inches in length by 53.9 inches in width. It is large enough for most hobbyist hauling and gardening supplies run at Home Depot. In addition, with the front wheels hanging above the tailgate, you can fit two or three bicycles back there. There is also infinite vertical space, a significant advantage over an SUV for tall saplings and bulky boxes. The wheel wells, however, can be seen in the bed space between 42.7 inches. So no, you can’t fit flat sheet drywall back there.
Underfloor storage is also available on the bed. The Santa Cruz’s compartment, like the Honda Ridgeline, is waterproof, drainable, and lockable. The Hyundai’s truck trunk, however, is not as deep as my large 7-inch camera bag. Although this limits the amount of gear you can carry, there should still be plenty of room for a waterproof suit, muddy boots, hiking gear, or flat toolbox.
Because of the small underfloor area, the factory-installed tonneau cover is a compelling upgrade. It’s standard on the SEL Premium trim or higher. This covers the entire bed and is very important, as daily Santa Cruz driving means that you don’t have a trunk or hatchback for your sedan.
The payload that you can tow varies depending on the trim level. For example, the Santa Cruz Limited can tow 1,568 pounds, and the SE can tow 1,906 pounds. While the Santa Cruz Limited’s front-wheel-drive Santa Cruz can tow up 3,500 pounds, turbocharged all-wheel-drive models can tow up to 5,000. Hyundai recommends that trailers with no brakes have trailer sway control. However, this is standard.
You can carry the Santa Cruz in its cabin, where you will find tip-up rear seat cushions that open to reveal a storage bin. However, I wish that the tray could be folded like the Ford F-150’s under-the-rear bench. This would maximize second-row space and reduce snags for bulky items. Nevertheless, the extra storage space is still handy.
Two engine options
The base Santa Cruz has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 191 horsepower and 181 pounds-feet torque. The eight-speed automatic transmission transmits power to the front wheels, or optionally to Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel-drive system.
SEL Premium and Limited models include a turbocharger, which increases output to 281 hp (and 311 lb-ft). This more powerful unit adds an eight-speed, wet dual-clutch transmission to standardize all-wheel drive. Front-drive turbo configurations will eventually be added to the lineup, but they are currently listed as “coming soon.”
The Santa Cruz is almost indistinguishable on the road from any comparable-sized crossover. You could forget this is a pickup truck and not a tiny sedan if you didn’t glance at the rear-view mirror. The Santa Cruz has a little more wind noise than the Tucson crossover of similar size, but it is not distracting.
The turbocharged Santa Cruz is even fun to drive unladen. The dual-clutch auto makes transparent and predictable gear selections in both standard and sport modes. There’s also plenty of power to pass. Although it remains to be determined if the Santa Cruz will feel the same when approaching its payload limits as the Santa Cruz, I think the pickup will satisfy the needs of drivers looking for an easygoing, functional vehicle.
The best part is that the turbo engine has meager fuel consumption. The most powerful Santa Cruz can achieve 19 mpg in the city, 27 highway mpg, and 22 combined mpg. This puts it just two mpg behind the non-turbo front-drive model. In addition, it gets one mpg more on the highway.
Familiar Hyundai technology
The same excellent cabin and safety technology you’ll find inside Hyundai’s sedans or SUVs hides all the truck-like capability and flexibility. An 8-inch touchscreen infotainment screen is located on the dashboard. It also includes standard wireless Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and standard wireless Android Auto. The SEL Premium model adds a 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster, while the Limited swaps the 8.3-inch screen for a 10.3″ central screen. Strangely, the Limited’s large screen requires a downgrade from wired-only Android Auto or CarPlay. This is a problem that can be annoying for other Hyundai models.
Bluelink, Hyundai’s telematics suite, allows remote monitoring of Santa Cruz using a smartphone app. Also available is Hyundai’s Android-only digital Key feature, allowing owners to tap their phones to access and start the truck if they don’t want to carry a fob. In addition, Digital Key will enable you to share the vehicle with other people, such as a family member who needs it for an emergency. You can also monitor and revoke access through the app.
Santa Cruz’s driver assistance tech roster includes standard lane keeping and lane following assist, driver alertness monitoring, rear occupant alert, and driver alertness monitoring. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high beams are added to the SEL spec. In addition, the Limited model comes with Highway Driving Assist Adaptive Cruise Control, a surround camera system, and Hyundai’s Blind-spot Monitor, which displays a video of the next lane in the instrument cluster whenever you activate the turn signal.
This could easily have been a disaster. While blending vehicle classes can be risky, building a pickup specifically for truckers sounds terrible on paper. Instead, Santa Cruz is a unique Hyundai creation. Although it’s not perfect and not for everyone, I love this strange platypus and think many others will too.