2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz – Don’t Call It a Truck

Front 7/8 view of 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Image courtesy of Hyundai

What is this thing?

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz was just unveiled, and Hyundai wants you to consider it part of a brand new automotive segment. Even if it has an open cargo bed, don’t call it a pickup truck. This is a Sport Adventure Vehicle, thank you very much. Whatever that may mean, the Santa Cruz is based on the new Tucson compact crossover, but with the addition of a small cargo bed at the rear.

Rear 7/8 view of 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Image courtesy of Hyundai

Production of the Santa Cruz starts in June, and it should be hitting dealerships by the end of this summer. Hyundai says the Santa Cruz will add an extra 1,200 jobs at their Montgomery, Alabama plant.

Hyundai is marketing the Santa Cruz toward young, active, urban customers. Those who may live and work in the city, but like to spend their free time outdoors, with all their gear and equipment. But to facilitate easy urban commuting, Hyundai touts the Santa Cruz’s smaller size and better maneuverability relative to other midsize trucks.

Cargo area of 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Image courtesy of Hyundai

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz: Styling

I love it. I think it looks so cool! At the front end, there’s an immediate resemblance to the new Tucson including the neat lighting elements built into the grille. Although, it doesn’t appear that the Santa Cruz and Tucson share any body panels in spite of the clear similarity.

Front view of 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Image courtesy of Hyundai

The Subaru Baja was the last car/SUV/truck amalgamation that we’ve seen in this market, sold from 2003-2006. It was a cool vehicle, but awkward-looking. By stretching the Tucson’s wheelbase, Hyundai avoided a similar fate here, and the Santa Cruz has a handsome and well-proportioned profile. The side body panels are nicely sculpted. Hyundai added some creases in the bodywork, like those seen in recent redesigns of the Tucson and Elantra sedan, though they aren’t as severe here. There are subtle fender flares, and enough plastic body cladding to give a rugged appearance.

Profile view of 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Image courtesy of Hyundai

“Santa Cruz” lettering stamped into the tailgate lends a styling element often used in pickup trucks. However, unlike most trucks, the taillights are horizontally oriented, and spread onto the tailgate.

Rear view of 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Image courtesy of Hyundai

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz: Interior

In the front row of the Santa Cruz’s interior, it appears virtually identical to that of the Tucson. And I think that’s a good thing. The clean, symmetrical design of the dashboard, hoodless digital gauge cluster, and well-placed, sleek infotainment and climate controls give the Santa Cruz the most stylish interior of any compact or midsize pickup truck, hands down. The only difference that I noticed between the Santa Cruz and Tucson is the gearshift. Hyundai replaced the Tucson’s pushbutton gear selector with a more conventional, truck-y “PRND” gear lever.

For the back seat, space appears good, if not as roomy as the Tucson (although Hyundai has yet to release detailed specs on the Santa Cruz). Another typical truck touch is the storage available under the rear seat’s bottom cushions.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz: Powertrain

The Santa Cruz will be available with two powertrains. The standard option is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder making around 190 horsepower, paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. This engine and transmission combination appears to be borrowed more or less unchanged from the Tucson. The Santa Cruz can tow up to 3,500 pounds with this standard engine.

The Santa Cruz’s optional powertrain surprised me. A version of the 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder used in the sporty Sonata N Line will be optional on the Santa Cruz. In this application, Hyundai promises at least 275 horsepower. Also similar to the Sonata N Line, this engine will be paired with an 8-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. Towing capacity with this powertrain is a pretty impressive 5,000 pounds for a vehicle of this size.

Image courtesy of Hyundai

All-wheel drive will be available with either powertrain.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz: Cool Features & Innovations

The interior of the Santa Cruz shares many of the cool touches from the Tucson. An 8″ touchscreen is standard, and includes wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A larger 10.25″ touchscreen is available on higher trims, and if it’s like the Tucson, I expect this version to require a wired connection for phone integration. Hyundai’s digital key feature will be available, which allows you to use an Android smartphone as the Santa Cruz’s key.

Image courtesy of Hyundai

Safety technology also appears very similar to that in the Tucson. Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian and cyclist detection will be standard. Also standard will be lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and driver attention warning. Available safety systems include blind spot warning with collision-avoidance assist, blind spot cameras displayed in the instrument cluster, Hyundai’s Highway Drive Assist system with adaptive cruise control, and a 360-degree bird’s-eye-view camera.

The Coolest Feature: The Cargo Bed

Most of the Santa Cruz’s coolest features involve the cargo bed. It’s just under 4 1/2 feet long from front to back, making it the smallest cargo area of all compact and midsize trucks. Hyundai added a lockable trunk under the bed’s floor. There’s also a tonneau cover which retracts like a roll-top desk. Closing the tonneau creates a lockable and water-resistant (though possibly not waterproof) cargo area. Steps built into the bumper facilitate easier access to whatever you’re hauling around in the back.

The Santa Cruz uses a traditional drop-down tailgate. I wish Hyundai implemented a two-way tailgate, like the Honda Ridgeline does. The ability to access your cargo by either dropping the tailgate or swinging it out like a conventional door could be useful. And while the retractable tonneau cover is a great touch, the strap used to pull it closed feels like an inelegant solution. A powered closing feature for the tonneau would be nicer. However, depending on the Santa Cruz’s pricing, I’ll consider this a reasonable concession to make.

Tom’s Take

Speaking of pricing, Hyundai has yet to announce how much the Santa Cruz will cost. Base versions of mid-size trucks from Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota and Nissan start around $25,000-27,000. I’m hopeful that the Santa Cruz will start around the lower end of that range as well.

Hyundai was quick to correct me and point out that I do, in all actuality, need a Santa Cruz.

I love the Santa Cruz. Although I have no real need for a vehicle with an open cargo bed, I’d like to be the kind of person who does. As a friend on Twitter pointed out, the Santa Cruz will be successful from a marketing perspective if Hyundai can create that desire even if there is no rational need. But I am cautiously optimistic. I mentioned the Subaru Baja earlier – a vehicle built with a similar purpose. And it wasn’t a sales success.

Front action shot of 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Image courtesy of Hyundai

Hyundai is smart to market the Santa Cruz to urban, active customers – those who might otherwise purchase a two-row SUV – rather than try to compete directly with other pickups. Most American truck buyers are likely to look at the Santa Cruz and think “What does Hyundai know about pickups?” and write it off. Honda’s larger car-based Ridgeline pickup has struggled to take hold in the marketplace, and I think that’s largely due to typical pickup shoppers not viewing the Ridgeline as a legitimate truck.

But it’s expected that Ford will soon introduce the Maverick, a unibody (i.e., car-based) truck of their own. Ford is arguably the most legitimate truck manufacturer of them all, as Ford’s F-Series trucks have remained the best-selling vehicle in America since 1981. In joining the fray, Ford may bring legitimacy to the small unibody truck marketplace as a whole. But Hyundai was here first!


Thank you very much for reading. If you know someone who might be interested in learning more about the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz, please share this post!

And as always, if you’re thinking about a new car and are feeling overwhelmed by the whole process, get in touch. I’d love to help you out!

Rear driving shot of 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Image courtesy of Hyundai

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