2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Review: To truck or not to truck
Brilliant? Or lame a pretender? The Road Beat tests the new Santa Cruz to find out where it fits in.
What is it?
Hyundai's Santa Cruz, an 'almost-truck' aimed to capture buyers who don't need a full-sized, traditional truck. Based on a Hyundai Tucson crossover underneath, this unibody creation brings truck practicality and usefulness, but aims to drive just like a normal car. It's supposed to be a truck for people that don't necessarily need nor want a truck. But, is it any decent and does it have a place in the world?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I do think looks are extremely important in swaying the purchase of vehicles. With that said, some might hate the way the Santa Cruz. However, I myself completely dig the lunar rover aesthetic of it all, with sharp, upswept angular creases, and a large, smiling mouth decorated with sweet LED lighting. Yeah, it's cool. But, that's just my opinion.
Unlike a full-size, light duty truck, the Santa Cruz drives like, well, a car. Being based on a unibody crossover platform, this comes as no surprise whatsoever. But, the question I had was how much like a car it would drive. The answer to that is yes, very. Behind the wheel, doesn't matter what type of road you're on, the Santa Cruz behaves and feels like a normal everyday vehicle. The only way you're reminded of the truck bed out back is when looking out behind you.
On the road, the Santa Cruz feels remarkably small and easy to place anywhere. Heck, if you really wanted to, you can up the pace to relatively silly speeds on your favorite twisty bits if you so desire. This model featured Hyundai's all-wheel drive system, and it will understeer if you're being aggressive and just throwing it in to make that left turn arrow that's just turned yellow, but it handles well for a truck. And because it's not built to hold and tow as much as an F-150 and therefore doesn't need to be as stiff, the ride quality is controlled and comfortable, just like a crossover SUV. Despite the well-behaved road manners, Honda's Ridgeline does drive slightly better with improved steering from past experience.
The interior on this Limited trim is nicely appointed, with all the modern features you could want, but I do think it could be nicer still for the asking price compared to crossover rivals. It is comfortable anywhere you sit, with enough room in the second row for adults, too. The bed is only 4.5 feet long, and this does make the Santa Cruz easy to park anywhere given its smallish (for a 'truck') dimensions (195" long by 75" wide). Worth mentioning, too, is the handy bed cover that retracts easily.
Performance is noteworthy, courtesy of the turbocharged 2.5L inline-four that develops 281 horsepower and 311 pounds-feet of torque. Interestingly, the transmission is not a conventional automatic, but an eight-speed dual-clutch unit. In practice, it's very hard to tell it's a fancy, race-bred dual-clutch, but it does operate smoothly in this unique application. 0-60 MPH takes only six seconds flat, which makes merging rather easy, especially with the abundance of midrange pop. Base models get a normal automatic, front-wheel drive, and a non-turbocharged engine with 100 horsepower less.
Fuel mileage is not game-changing, unfortunately. I would have hoped for better numbers considering the small size of this truck, but an average of only 21 MPG left me wanting for more. Shoot, a GMC Sierra with a big V8 doesn't get much less even. Freeway cruising yielded better results at least, netting 29 MPG on a two-way run at 71 MPH. Just, with how the Santa Cruz is pitched, I would have expected to average closer to crossovers, more at the 25 MPG overall range. The base engine with FWD ought to hit that number. Would this work better as a hybrid perhaps and be an even more unique proposition? Ford thinks so, with the upcoming Maverick having hybrid choices.
And because this is a truck, we have to talk about payload and towing, neither of which are exactly outstanding at the surface. This example is rated to tow 5,000 pounds. Not so good, right? Well, it isn't, but also, how many people need to tow over 5,000 pounds? You can still tow jet skis, or a small boat (check your specs). Other 'half-trucks,' like the Honda Ridgeline, can't tow any extra pounds, and the Ford Maverick can only muster 4,000 in its best form. So, the rating might not be good on paper, but it is competitive. What it won't do is replace the capability of a Silverado, Ram, or F-150, all of which can tow literally double the weight. Payload on the Santa Cruz is around 1,500 pounds, which will be plenty for most people.
Look, if you go into this expecting a full, capable truck experience, you're in the wrong place. Research what you need and go from there.
Also, this specific example is far from affordable. Sure, it's a top-shelf Limited model with every available option, but over forty grand for a novelty niche is a far stretch. You can actually buy a light-duty truck for that, it won't be nearly as nice inside, but it will have loads and loads more usability and capability, too. To make a 'half-truck' work and make sense, it needs to be appealing price-wise, and I can't help but feel that, taking all the compromises into consideration, the Santa Cruz is about $5,000 too expensive. Why would you pay an extra five grand for this instead of the excellent Tucson crossover on which it's based? They should cost closer to each other, though it must be noted that the Tucson is not offered with this spunky turbo engine. Luckily, you can get a far cheaper version of a Santa Cruz, too, starting at $25,000, but this is the one anyone will desire, with all the candy. It is comparable on price with the Honda Ridgeline, but that is also too expensive for what it is.
Should you get one?
It depends on what you need. This is a niche vehicle, being a truck for people who don't necessarily need a truck. Maybe people will want one just to have something different. You could get a Hyundai crossover like the Tucson, or you can have a version with a short truck bed attached in the shape of the Santa Cruz. It's your choice.
What it won't do is completely replace a real pickup truck from the American Big 3. I like how the Santa Cruz drives and looks, and the bed does add some unique possibilities. So, you just need to decide for yourself what you want from a vehicle. Is it worth having that little pickup bed? Or are you better off in a typical crossover SUV? The choice is yours. I'm glad, however, that we even get to have that choice.
2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz 2.5t Limited AWD
Price as-tested: $41,500
Pros: Cool lunar buggy looks, truck practicality, drives like a car
Cons: Divisive looks, 'truck people' might hate you, will you ever use or need the truck bed?
Verdict: An interesting niche entry to give greater choice to the consumer