2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz carves its own niche with unique design, powerful drive Featured

Posted On Thursday, 31 March 2022 04:34 Written by
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The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz companies the drivability of an SUV with the capabilities of a truck, and has a truly unique design. The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz companies the drivability of an SUV with the capabilities of a truck, and has a truly unique design. Photo courtesy of Hyundai

Big pickups have long dominated U.S. auto sales — from the Ford F-150 to the Ram 1500 and Chevy Silverado.

And while those types of vehicles will likely never stop being dominant, in recent years trucks have been trending smaller. First we got a large contingent of midsize trucks introduced over the past decade by multiple automakers, and now we’re getting something unimaginable a decade ago: The introduction of compact trucks that are quite popular.

Now, to be clear, Hyundai doesn’t call the Santa Cruz a compact truck. They call it a “Sport Adventure Vehicle” — painting it as a mix between an SUV and a pickup.

But let’s be honest, it fits most people’s definition of a truck simply by having an open bed in the back, so that’s how most of us will refer to it.

This smaller size is popular for many reasons. For one thing, it’s more maneuverable and easier to park than a larger truck. And it’s still useful despite the smaller size — I had people tell me they would have plenty of room to throw their bikes in the back of the truck and drive their family out to where they want to ride. (Trucks don’t only need to be about hauling rocks, dirt and gravel)

This vehicle recalls past attempts at this style of vehicle — such as the Subaru Baja and the Ford Explorer Sport Trac — but improves on those vehicles quite a bit.

I recently spent some time driving a 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz and I’m back with a full report.

LOOKS

WIth a unibody design based on Hyundai’s SUVs, and not the usual body-on-frame setup of most trucks, the Santa Cruz immediately carves out a niche inhabited by few others. This vehicle drew more eyeballs than most I test, with some people saying it looked weird and others proclaiming it was more on the awesome side. Either way, it got noticed.

It’s sort of a best-of-both-worlds scenario, combining this car-like build with some basic truck cargo capability. The cargo bed is shorter than a midsize truck by at least 10 inches — and roughly on par sizewise with its only true rival, the Ford Maverick.

Exterior features included: 20-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, dark chrome grille and tailgate handle, a power sunroof, roof side rails, LED bed lighting, rear sliding glass with defroster, and an optional cover for the bed. There are also rear bumper corner steps to ease access to the bed, as well as heated side mirrors with turn signals.

Moving inside the Santa Cruz, drivers and front seat passengers will be happy with the large amount of headroom and legroom they find, but the back seat will be a bit cramped for adults.

The large center touchscreen immediately grabs your attention and is quite modern. And materials used throughout the vehicle are of excellent quality. My test vehicle featured leather-trimmed seats, heated & ventilated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and a heated steering wheel.

HOW’S THE RIDE? 

Two power plants are available on the 2022 Santa Cruz. Both are 2.5-liter, four cylinder engines, but the more premium version is turbocharged while the base version is not. Both versions are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The turbo version offers 281 horses and 311 pound-feet of torque. While the base version offers 191 hp and 181 pound-feet. These numbers are strong in comparison to the rival Maverick.

Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is an option on the Santa Cruz. You also get downhill brake control and hill start assist control features.

Several drive modes are offered including Sport, Smart, Snow and Normal — depending on your driving conditions. And the Santa Cruz features paddle shifters and a self-leveling rear suspension.

Towing numbers are decent, with a maximum of 5,000 pounds when properly equipped. This will handle small or midsize jobs but not everything a full-size truck could pull, so keep that in mind when deciding what size truck you’ll need. The payload tops out at just under 2,000 pounds.

I found driving the 2022 Santa Cruz to be a truly enjoyable experience. It was zippy and responsive, with a 0-to-60 time of just over 6 seconds. And all the while, it remains quiet inside the cabin. Braking, handling and responsiveness to driver input are all stellar, too.

Anyone who drives the Santa Cruz will soon recognize it drives better than any larger truck they’ve ever driven due to its car-based design. While the smaller size limits function in some ways (less off-road capability, less towing, etc.), it enhances comfort and the overall driving experience.


TECHNOLOGY, SAFETY

The infotainment system in the Santa Cruz is centered around a sharp-looking touchscreen that comes in either 8-inch or 10.25-inch sizes, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard with all trim levels.

In my experience driving the Santa Cruz, its voice commands worked very well and I was always understood. However, the vehicle’s touch commands will be a divisive topic, as the center screen is fully touch screen with no dials. I got used to it quite quickly, but a lot of folks may be looking for some dials, even if only for volume and radio station controls, and remain unimpressed with the all-touch model.

Multiple USB outlets are offered, plus satellite radio, wireless charging, and a Bose premium audio system.

In terms of safety features, the Santa Cruz is well-equipped. There is a helpful rearview monitor that features parking guidance and a Surround View Monitor. You also get Hyundai’s Blind View Monitor, which showcases what’s in your blind spots in a little circle on the screen directly in front of you. Other standard driving aids include forward collision warning, lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, which all worked very effectively in my experience behind the wheel.

Additional features on the safety side include a driver attention warning, rear occupant alert, safe exit warning, anti-lock brakes, and a tire pressure monitoring system.


MPG

Official fuel mileage on the Santa Cruz I tested were 19 city/27 highway/22 combined. It came up a bit short of those numbers in real-world testing, as I averaged 18 mpg. Even if I had nursed it a bit more to boost the numbers, these numbers are a few shy of what the Maverick will offer for fuel economy. But that’s understandable considering that you get a horsepower advantage with the Santa Cruz.


PRICE

The 2022 Santa Cruz I tested was at the high end of the pricing range, and was priced at $41,500. The Santa Cruz base price starts about $25K including destination charge, which is quite affordable, but above the roughly $21K starting price on the Maverick — which aims more for budget-focused buyers and is less upscale. 

The Santa Cruz’s four trim levels are: SE, SEL, SEL Premium and Limited.

You’ll also get industry-best warranties if you opt for the Santa Cruz over the Maverick, which helps its value proposition. Those warranties include a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, plus free maintenance for three years/36,000 miles.


BOTTOM LINE

With its unique look and sharp driving characteristics, the brand new 2022 Santa Cruz could tempt buyers who were considering midsize or full-size trucks but getting sticker shock in today's pricey market.

One thing is clear … compact trucks, or trucklike car-based vehicles, will stick around for a while if we get quality options like the Santa Cruz.

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AutoTechReviews.com can be found on Twitter @AutoTechReview, or stay updated at the AutoTechReviews Facebook page.

Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.



Additional Info

  • Vehicle: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz 
  • Price as tested: $41,500 (starts around $25K) 
  • Best feature: Unique compact truck design, powerful and smooth ride    
  • Rating: 4.5 out of five stars   
  • Who will want this vehicle?: Buyers looking for a unique truck alternative that is versatile and fun to drive
Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

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