Review: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz successfully carries the ute torch
Hyundai teased the Santa Cruz a few years ago as a fast-paced, good-times-ready tiny truck. While the concept was edgy and clearly unrealistic for the real world, it set the tone for the production Santa Cruz that would follow. This production version delivers on the promise of fun, good design, and style.
Compact trucks are making a comeback. Many Americans will fondly remember the Subaru Baja with its bed-mounted rear seats and the fun beach-going times associated with that little rig. Safety rules meant that little truck was doomed, however, but we may be set for a resurgence of car-based compact pickups. Although Ford is the only traditional truck maker to have entered the car-based truck (aka “ute”) arena, we expect other makes to get involved as the segment grows. So far, the Santa Cruz is the most fun of the options available.
At a Glance
- Big differences between standard and turbocharged models
- Extremely capable for a compact pickup truck
- Good interior, but back seating is cramped
The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz relies heavily on the Santa Fe crossover model for parts and inspiration, but diverges from it in several key ways. Thus the little pickup can’t be accurately described as a “chopped off Santa Fe.” The greatest and most obvious difference is in bodywork design. Where the Santa Fe has an arrow-point motif in its side panels, the Santa Cruz has straighter lines with a more forward pace to its appearance. Other changes to accommodate the truck bed and capabilities of the Santa Cruz are also present, but are more under the skin.
There are two engines available, depending on the packaging chosen for the truck. These engines are key to the rest of the Hyundai’s capabilities, so let's start there. The base engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 191 horsepower (142.5 kW) and 181 lb-ft (245.4 Nm) of torque. It runs to an eight-speed automatic transmission in front-wheel drive (FWD), with an all-wheel drive (AWD) option. This engine is found in the first two of the four trim packages available for the Santa Cruz.
The upper two trim levels have a turbocharged version of the 2.5L that outputs 281 hp (209.5 kW) and 311 lb-ft (421.7 Nm). In this package, AWD is standard, while the transmission stays the same but with retuning for the upgraded power output.
Engine choice directly affects towing capability, drive quality, and package inclusions. The standard engine gives the truck a tow rating of up to 3,000 lb (1,360.7 kg) and the turbocharged engine has a tow rating of up to 5,000 lb (2,268 kg). It’s notable, however, that the tow packages for the Santa Cruz do not include a trailer brake controller, but do add transmission cooling and other upgrades to handle the added strain on the drivetrain. We note that this towing capacity is better than the Ford Maverick and equivalent to the larger Honda Ridgeline.
To go with towing, of course, is hauling capability. The amount of cargo the Santa Cruz can carry also takes into account the maximum tongue weight it can take from an attached trailer. The Santa Cruz has a surprisingly good hauling capability, rated at up to 1,906 lb (864.5 kg). That is better than the larger Honda Ridgeline, which can handle 1,530 lb (694 kg). Those numbers are important to know as a 5,000-lb trailer could potentially be putting 1,700 lb of weight onto the back of the truck. Not to mention nearly anyone pulling a trailer of stuff is probably also filling the truck bed with more stuff.
The other advantage of the turbocharged engine option for the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is the way it drives. It feels almost punchy, but not overpowered or too much on the sporty side. It’s confident and quick. It also adds a level of stability thanks to the AWD system that it comes with. Fuel economy is good as well, with the rated 22 mpg (10.7 l/100km) combined being an interesting lowball for the truck. We achieved 29 mpg (8.1 l/100km) on the highway quite easily and had an overall mpg average of 24 mpg (9.8 l/100km) in all.
Inside, there's a comfortable front seating area with plenty of headroom, shoulder room, and legroom. Controls are easily identified and the infotainment system is well done. Most of the technologies present in other Hyundai vehicles are either standard or available in the Santa Cruz – including the useful blind spot camera in the dashboard when the turn signal is activated, and most collision mitigation systems.
The rear seats are, however, where the compact in the compact truck’s moniker becomes noticeable. They are flat, a bit cramped, and not terribly comfortable. For small people on short stints, they are fine, but they shouldn’t be considered a regular use item. That said, there are some handy storage options included, such as lifting rear seats, added seat pockets, and in the upper trims, more USB plugs. Under the cargo bed is a small, lockable storage bin for extra items and an integrated tonneau cover is also available.
The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz has a starting price of about US$24,400, which is higher than the base model Ford Maverick. But our test model, which was towards the top end of the Santa Cruz line, was priced near $40,000 and was cost-equivalent to a similarly-outfitted Maverick.
All in all, the Santa Cruz offers style, capability, and fun not found in any of its rivals thus far.
Product Page: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz