Like Nothing Else

By Derek Price

Take a quick look at the Hyundai Santa Cruz, and one thing is clear: this isn’t an ordinary truck.
Designed to fill the gaping chasm between pickups and family cars, the Santa Cruz is one of the most unique vehicles to hit the market in years. Its front end looks like a sleek, modern, car-like crossover vehicle, but the back end has been chopped off and replaced with a pickup bed.
It’s also priced more like a car than a truck, starting under $24,000.
The Santa Cruz is designed for people who live active lives but think midsize trucks are overkill. Its small bed is surprisingly useful for hauling toys for outdoor adventures, yet it doesn’t come with the drawbacks of a traditional pickup truck: a rough ride, high price and thirsty gas consumption.
It also doesn’t have any direct competitors. The new Ford Maverick is a similar size and price point, but it looks more like a scaled-down version of a traditional F-150. The Honda Ridgeline is a unibody truck with a similar mission, but it’s also far bigger and more expensive than the Santa Cruz, starting around $37,000.
That leaves this new Hyundai all alone to conquer whatever size market there is for a half-SUV, half-truck, something-or-another vehicle.

Hyundai is launching the Santa Cruz as a 2022 model to fill the void between cars and trucks. The price starts under $24,000.

Personally, I loved the Santa Cruz after driving it for a week.
The bed is incredibly versatile. You can keep it covered with a waterproof tonneau to use it just like the trunk of a sedan, albeit much bigger. It keeps luggage dry and tools or cargo safely out of sight.
A big cargo hold under the floor of the bed adds more versatility. And, of course, you can lower the tailgate to haul building materials or furniture just like any pickup.
It is rated to haul up to 1,753 pounds of payload in the bed or tow up to 5,000 pounds with the proper equipment.
Two different four-cylinder engines are available. The base engine, a 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated version, makes 191 horsepower — a number I suspect would feel underpowered for the Santa Cruz’s pickup-truck pretensions. My tester came with the upgraded 2.5T turbocharged engine, though, which makes 281 horsepower and feels highly capable.
The Santa Cruz’s greatest selling point, though, may not be its capability but its modernity.
Aside from its overall look, which seems like it could have been pulled from the set of a science-fiction movie, it drives with all the sophistication and feature-packed comfort one can expect in 2022.
Its basic platform is shared with the smooth, quiet Tucson, something that makes it exceptionally nimble and silent over the road. The Santa Cruz is more comfortable and composed than any small pickup I’ve driven, including the unibody Ridgeline.

The Santa Cruz’s cabin is laid out like a modern, small SUV.

It’s also got a very contemporary cabin, both in appearance and features.
The dash is designed with integrated technology in mind. A large, wide touchscreen is seamlessly inserted at the top of the center stack, and customizable digital gauges behind the steering wheel let you access all the infotainment and driving assistance features on higher-end models.
My Limited-grade tester came with Highway Drive Assist, which reads the road markings and feels almost as if the Santa Cruz is driving itself, albeit for short periods of time.
Unfortunately, it also comes at a price. One of the Santa Cruz’s few downsides is how expensive the high-end trims can be. My tester rang up over $40,000, or enough to buy a much more capable, full-size pickup.
Considering fully loaded, full-size trucks are selling for around $100,000 these days, though, the luxury Santa Cruz looks like a deal once again. And realistically, no one will be cross shopping between the two.
For buyers who want a small pickup without any of the drawbacks — plus a big dose of unique design — this new Hyundai is creating an entirely new category that hasn’t been available since the Subaru Baja disappeared years ago.
And it feels great to have one of these hard-to-define, car-truck-SUV things available for a new generation.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD ($39,720). Options: Carpeted floor mats ($195).  Price as tested (including $1,185 destination charge): $41,100
Wheelbase: 118.3 in.
Length: 195.7 in.
Width: 75 in.
Height: 66.7 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder (281 hp, 311 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed wet dual-clutch
Fuel economy: 19 city, 27 highway

Style: 7
Performance: 6
Price: 9
Handling: 9
Ride: 10
Comfort: 8
Quality: 8
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
It’s unique in the marketplace, looks like nothing else for sale today and fills a useful void between cars and trucks.

Posted in Hyundai