2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz — Blending a crossover with the bed of a pickup

By Jim Prueter

(January 26, 2022) Nissan, Toyota, Chevrolet, GMC, Honda all have one. Ford has two and Dodge had one and got rid of it and now wishes it had it back. I’m talking about a small pickup truck. Hyundai, the Korean automaker that just keeps the hits coming has teased about the possibility of a small pickup truck for years, all the way back to the Chicago Auto Show what seems like a decade ago, showing a concept pickup called the Santa Cruz.

Finally, for 2022, Hyundai pulled the wraps off its very first pickup keeping the name Santa Cruz. However, Hyundai is loath to call it a pickup and would rather you refer to it as a “sport adventure vehicle.” Its exterior is half pickup and half crossover utility vehicle. It’s shorter and narrower than competitors like Honda Ridgeline, Ford Ranger or Chevrolet Colorado, and harkens back to the long-retired Subaru Baja, a small all-wheel drive four-passenger utility pickup marketed for model years 2003 to 2006.

Santa Cruz is based on the compact Hyundai Tucson crossover and isn’t actually a traditional truck; it’s more like a truck for car people. For starters it’s built on unibody underpinnings, not body-on-frame like most trucks. It’s also standard with front-wheel drive, something you won’t find on traditional pickup trucks other than the all-new Ford Maverick. Think of it as a SUV with open storage in the back rather than a work truck.

Two engines are offered: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 191 horsepower and 181 lb.-ft of torque, or upgrade to a turbocharged version of that engine with 281 horsepower and 311 lb.-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard with the non-turbo model, while the turbo gets an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Regardless of engine selection, Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel drive is available, with an electronic, variable-torque-split clutch with active torque control between the front and rear axle. The non-turbo engine is rated for up to 3,500 pounds of towing capacity, while the turbo AWD model bumps that up to 5,000 pounds.

Santa Cruz is available in five trim levels starting with the base SE at $23,995 with front-wheel drive, all the way up to the Limited, our tested vehicle, starting at $39,720 with all-wheel-drive only and loaded with equipment like a power sunroof, power everything, surround view camera, heated and cooled front seats, and more.

The interior is roomy up front, cramped in the rear with a stylish and thoughtful design and attention to details like a 10-inch touchscreen and 10-inch digital cluster, Bose audio system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a thorough package of safety features with Hyundai’s SmartSense package.

Overall, it’s a bit weird to look at, but unique, comfortable and a surprisingly fun vehicle to drive.

Then there’s the truck bed. Sure, it's small, but Hyundai built in a lot of flexibility with adjustable rails, latches, and molded bed inserts. Plus, you can turn it into a two-tiered bed with a sheet of plywood. Our Limited came standard with a hard, water-resistant tonneau cover that rolls open and closed and is lockable.

Overall, the new Santa Cruz isn’t competing for the truck market, or the SUV market, rather for those who want a foot in both worlds without sacrificing their comfort, and occasionally want to transport a bike, kayak, some furniture or gear.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $39,720
Price as Tested: $41,140
Engine/Transmission: 2.5-Liter 281-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine paired with an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
Fuel Economy: 19/27/22 – MPG, City/Highway/Combined
Where Built: Montgomery, Alabama
Seating: 5

Crash Test Safety Ratings: 2022 Top Safety Pick – Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Competes With:
Ford Maverick, Honda Ridgeline

Fab Features:
A compact SUV with a small pickup truck cargo bed
Composed ride and handling
Upgraded interior loaded with standard features