- The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is unlike anything else on the market, it’s a small car and a small part.
- Starting at $24,000, it has a small but surprisingly versatile truck bed.
- Combining the proportions of a pickup truck and an SUV, it’s the perfect tool for weekend adventures.
Just one afternoon with Hyundai’s new pickup truck, the 2022 Santa Cruz, three separate people came up to me and asked the same question: “What the hell is this? he is this thing?
I suspect that number would have been higher if we weren’t living in a time when many people’s social skills are dwindling to nothing, just like early sourdough starters or their will to dress less than
Sure, Santa Cruz only came out on the scene this summer, so most people haven’t seen one up close before. But there’s another reason Hyundai’s mini pickup attracts questions and puzzled looks wherever it goes: It’s weird as hell.
Occupying an exotic territory between pickup and SUV, Santa Cruz is unlike anything else you can buy today. Hyundai basically took over an SUV, got a good chunk of the roof, and hung on a modest truck bed where the trunk should be.
It sounds odd, but the result is a car that perfectly combines the utility of a pickup with the familiar look and feel of an SUV. In one league, Santa Cruz is a great funky answer to the huge trucks and nameless crossovers that dominate US roads.
weird isn’t always bad
The Santa Cruz is Hyundai’s first pickup for the US market, all-new to the Korean automakers’ lineup this year. Much like the Ford Maverick which is practically its only direct competitor, Santa Cruz has a very low starting price: $23,990 before fees.
That’s for the base SE trim, which comes with front-wheel drive and a four-cylinder engine that produces 191 horsepower. There are four models in all, with the top two – the SEL Premium and Limited – offering both all-wheel drive and a more powerful turbocharged engine as standard equipment. A Hyundai who loaned me for a few days last month just over $41,000, including the destination fee, lent me a full limited model Hyundai.
There are other SUV-based pickups out there, but none quite like Santa Cruz. Sporty proportions, a longer bed, and more room overall, the Honda Ridgeline aims to be a more traditional midsize truck than Hyundai’s newcomer. Likewise, the Ford Maverick, which went on sale recently, is roughly the same size as a Santa Cruz, but looks more like a shrunken F-150 than its own model.
A surprisingly useful bed in a city friendly package
I came in with serious doubts about how much stuff a little Santa Cruz bed could handle. After all, at four feet long, it’s 12 inches shorter than the cargo hold you find on popular midsize trucks like the Toyota Tacoma. But Santa Cruz amazed me with its diversity.
When I set out for a day mountain biking, I was able to ride my huge bike in the back of Santa Cruz without much of a fuss. When placed on a diagonal with the front wheel removed, it fits in a glove.
And the bed provides much more utility than just an outside box for throwing things. Small storage compartments on either side of the bed were great for the extra straps and straps I brought with me, and a spacious underground cargo area that gutted my shoes, backpack, and helmet. A lockable lid means you can use the bed like a regular luggage compartment if you want to.
It should come as no surprise that Santa Cruz can comfortably take me with my bike and all my gear to the trails; This is exactly the kind of thing that was put on earth to do. The pickup truck isn’t meant for people who need to haul sheets of plywood or lumber of everyday proportions—these folks buy Ford F-150s and Chevy Silverados. It’s intended to be used casually: for sandy beach chairs, cumbersome camping gear, and maybe the occasional DIY project around the house.
In fact, one of Santa Cruz’s biggest selling points is how unlike a truck it is. Since it’s basically an SUV, slipping through city traffic and sliding into parking spaces isn’t a problem. Santa Cruz doesn’t feel as bulky or unwieldy as traditional pickup trucks, and it would be easier to own dense city worlds than larger competitors.
Without a ride height, a tall hood, or a tall bed, you can actually see things quite well. And when vision’s missing, Santa Cruz can step in with nifty blind-cams and a 360-degree overhead view, both included on the Limited model.
Inside, Santa Cruz feels comfortable and high-quality. The top model I tested had upgrades like leather-trimmed seats, a screen instead of the standard gauges, a larger touchscreen, a heated steering wheel, and ventilated seats. But even the Santa Cruz base comes with conveniences like Apple CarPlay and advanced security technologies.
Santa Cruz has a lot to do, but as the 2004 movie “Ocean’s Twelve” showed us, even the best things can’t be great all the time. While the critically criticized second installment of the “Ocean’s” franchise lacks a cohesive and logical plot, the Santa Cruz lacks legroom—especially in the back seat. While it is roomy enough for small children and adults, it appears to be too cramped to transport large humans any great distance.
Our impressions: Brings a little bit of weirdness to the gentle roads of the United States
Santa Cruz is a strange game – you can’t get around it. But I’m totally fascinated by all her quirkiness and everything she’s trying to achieve. I think others will be too.
This thing – the car – the truck won’t steal buyers away from F-150s and Tundras, obviously. But it might win the hearts of, say, sporty Subaru owners, who want a little more utility out of their cars. Santa Cruz’s relatively small size makes it a great choice for people who live outdoors in cities where parking is challenging.
And in an increasingly homogeneous car market—most buyers choose from a sea of similar SUVs and pickups—the Santa Cruz is a refreshing break from the norm.