Saturday, 22 June 2024

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz is a versatile and fun truck-SUV combination Featured

Posted On Saturday, 22 July 2023 23:00 Written by
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The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz is essentially a Hyundai SUV with a small truck bed attached, in a unibody design. The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz is essentially a Hyundai SUV with a small truck bed attached, in a unibody design. Photo courtesy of Hyundai

 

Among the best trends of recent years has been the return of some automotive categories that had been long neglected.

One such category is smaller trucks, including the unibody design on vehicles like the Hyundai Santa Cruz, which is reminiscent of vehicles of the past like the Subaru Baja.

Back for its second year in 2023, the Santa Cruz combines the abilities of SUVs and pickups in a way that few other vehicles can.

It has only one true competitor — the Ford Maverick — and a great opportunity to capture some market share in the truck market due to its sharp looks, strong drive quality and quality tech features.

Read on for a full breakdown of what the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz has to offer.

LOOKS

The one-of-a-kind design on the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz is a blend of SUV and truck designs. It combines the two effortlessly, delivering a final product that will get a lot of attention from onlookers and is truly unlike anything else on the road today.

Highlights of the exterior design include: 20-inch alloy wheels, Automatic LED headlights and tail lights, a power sunroof, roof side rails, LED bed lighting, and rear sliding glass.

At four feet long, the bed on the Santa Cruz is on the smaller side, but you can fit a healthy amount of outdoor equipment in it, building/project materials such as lumber, or sporting equipment for your adventures. The storage capacity in the truck bed is 27 cubic feet of cargo space, which is less than the Maverick’s 33 cubic feet.

Moving to the highly functional truck bed in the Santa Cruz, the tonneau cover is easy to open and close, and includes a rope. There is also a storage area under the floor of the bed, plus two small side storage areas. Lighting in the truck bed is offered and you get corner steps on the rear bumper for easy access.

Interior features in the 2023 Santa Cruz I tested included dual-zone automatic temperature control, leather-trimmed seats, heated and ventilated front seats, 60/40 flip-up rear seats, and a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and ambient interior lighting.

While not on the level of a luxury ride, the Santa Cruz still offers a nicer interior than most small to medium sized trucks.

The flip-up seats are a cool feature, allowing for more cargo space in the rear, including a storage bin in the floor, plus a tire change kit. The sliding rear window lets you get some air flowing.

In terms of passenger comfort, the Santa Cruz is tight in the rear for passenger leg room, but offers excellent head room throughout the vehicle. Front seats are especially comfortable.

At the center of the vehicle design is a large, clear touchscreen with modern design that is easy to master. There are a similar amount of small storage spaces for drinks and other belongings as you would find in a typical small to midsize SUV.

HOW’S THE RIDE?

A pair of power plants are offered on the 2023 Santa Cruz.

The more pedestrian option is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that puts out 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque.

But if you’re wise, you’ll opt for a Santa Cruz with the upgraded engine — a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder option claiming a healthy 281 horses and 311 pound-feet. The difference between the two is significant, and the turbo Santa Cruz option is also more powerful than the best engine offered on the Ford Maverick.

All Santa Cruz engines come with an automatic 8-speed automatic transmission, and paddle shifters are offered. Both FWD and AWD versions of the Santa Cruz are available.

Acceleration is impressive in the Santa Cruz, with the turbo engine taking just over 6 seconds to go from 0-to-60.mIt’s a rarity that I would describe a truck as "fun to drive”, as they tend to be on the lumbering side. But the Santa Cruz is an exception, due to its underlying design.

The vehicle is powerful and moves quickly, but also delivers a smooth ride, handles in the corners well, and has responsive brakes. It’s a stout driving package that beats all of its compact and midsize truck rivals, and more often than not you don’t even realize you’re behind the wheel of a mini truck. The smaller size also makes the vehicle more nimble than larger trucks.

Drive Modes include Normal, Sport, Smart and Snow, depending on your driving situation. Sport is the most fun, but lowers fuel economy. 

The Santa Cruz can handle some basic off-roading, but don’t go too crazy. There are 8.6 inches of ground clearance. 

Towing capacity is capped at 5,000 pounds on the 2023 Santa Cruz.


TECHNOLOGY, SAFETY

In recent years, Hyundai has figured out the secret sauce for excellent tech setups, and their lineup is stronger for it. Its systems are easy to master, both by touch and by voice commands.

The infotainment setup on the Santa Cruz is focused around a bright, modern-looking 10.25-inch screen (8 inches on some trims) that hosts the navigation setup and comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Directly in front of the driver is a 10.25 inch digital instrument cluster.

With limited knobs and buttons, some people may question how the controls are set up, and will be wishing for additional tactile and non-touchscreen controls, but the voice commands are so strong that an easy solution is to just speak the changes you want for navigation, audio and phone calls.

In other tech news, multiple USB ports are included on the Santa Cruz, wireless phone charging is a helpful feature, and there’s a Bose premium audio system offered, as well as a 115V AC power converter in the truck bed.

There are also other tech features such as Bluelink connected services, remote start, and rain-sensing wipers.

Moving on to safety, there are a large number of helpful safety features included on the Santa Cruz.

Some highlights include a very helpful Surround View monitor to ease your mind in tight parking situations, Smart Cruise Control, Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist, Rear Cross-traffic Collision Avoidance Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Driver Attention Warning, Safe Exit Warning, and a multitude of airbags in the front and on the sides.

Its limited self-driving system worked very effectively and was trustworthy. On main roads and highways, it kept me in my lane and handled curvy roads easily.


MPG

The official fuel mileage listed on the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz (with AWD and the turbo engine) clocks in at 19 city/27 highway/22 combined.

If you get the base engine, and only FWD, numbers grow to 22 city/26 highway/23 combined.

My real-world testing numbers were a bit behind, landing at closer to 18 mpg, but it’s worth noting that most of my driving was in the city. Longer trips on the freeway will return better numbers. 

These numbers are a bit concerning, considering the closest rival, the Ford Maverick, is a hybrid model and offers significantly higher fuel mileage. If fuel mileage is your focus, the Santa Cruz suffers when battling head-to-head with the Maverick.

The flip side is you’ll get more power and driving enjoyment out of the Santa Cruz’s turbo engine, so the question becomes what is more important to you — power or fuel economy.

PRICE

The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz I tested was the top Limited trim level, and was priced at $41,810; base price starts about $27K, so the Santa Cruz is affordable on the lower end, though you’ll sacrifice some power and features.

Trim levels offered are SE, SEL, Night, SEL Premium and Limited.

The rival Ford Maverick is much more affordable, priced closer to $23K, but is less upscale, not as well equipped with features, and less fun to drive than the Santa Cruz.

Going all the way up to Limited trim on the Santa Cruz can be a costly affair at over $40K, so you may want to consider something more in the mid-range, but make sure you get the turbo engine.

Excellent warranty coverage includes Hyundai's five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty — both excellent numbers that can help justify the price. You also get three years or 36,000 miles of complimentary maintenance.

BOTTOM LINE

The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz is a unique, well-designed vehicle option for those who want a truck-like setup for transporting cargo and equipment for outdoor adventures, but don’t need massive bed space or maximum towing power.

It offers a solid mix of SUV and truck utility, and has few true competitors on the market, giving it a unique position in the auto landscape.

And to top all that off, it's a blast to drive, so it’s definitely worth adding to your test drive list if you're looking for a smaller truck.

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AutoTechReviews.com can be found on Twitter @AutoTechReview, or stay updated at the AutoTechReviews Facebook page. Follow AutoTechReviews on Instagram at @Autotechreviews. Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu



Additional Info

  • Vehicle: 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz
  • Price as tested: $41,810 
  • Best feature: Unique and versatile design, powerful turbo engine, strong tech features
  • Rating: 4 out of five stars   
  • Who will want this vehicle?: Buyers looking for a unique, truck-SUV mix that is capable of transporting them to their next adventure
Matt M. Myftiu

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

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