2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience First Hyundai Pickup
The only vehicle type in America more popular than the crossover is the country’s top seller: the pickup truck. So simple reasoning might conclude that the ultimate vehicle in America could be a crossover with a pickup truck bed — likely the thinking behind Hyundai’s brand-new vehicle, the Santa Cruz. With the comfort and features of a crossover and the utility of a small pickup truck, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz brings a fresh choice to the crowded SUV segment in what Hyundai refers to as a Sport Adventure Vehicle.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience New Segment
“Santa Cruz, with its bold styling, breaks open all new segment territory both for Hyundai and the industry as a whole. Open bed flexibility coupled with closed cabin security meets the changing everyday needs of its adventure-oriented buyers, while powerful and efficient engines and superb maneuverability ensure it is a pleasure to drive in urban or off road environments . Our customers will wonder just how they managed before owning one ,” said Jose Munoz, president and CEO, Hyundai Motor North America.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Close to Original Concept
At the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, Korean automaker Hyundai provided what turned out to be a sneak peek at this small truck via the Santa Cruz Concept. Back then Hyundai PR pitched the Santa Cruz to attending auto media as being the ultimate vehicle for an “Urban Adventurer.” Featuring hidden rear doors and a retractable tonneau cover, the Santa Cruz Concept received such enthusiastic response that not long after the concept debut Hyundai announced plans to put the vehicle into production.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Built for Americans
The Santa Cruz is Hyundai’s first vehicle designed specifically for the American consumer — although not specifically for the typical truck buyer. Built in the U.S. at Hyundai’s assembly plant in Montgomery, Alabama, Santa Cruz production adds an estimated 1,200 jobs to the local economy. Workers at the huge facility also build the Sonata and Elantra sedans as well as the Santa Fe and Tucson SUVs.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Design
The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz gets built on an upgraded version of the new Tucson platform. The two vehicles share some character traits, although when viewed side by side the Santa Cruz has its own distinctive look. The stylish front end features signature lighting hidden in the grille that only becomes visible when the vehicle is turned on. Large headlights integrated into the front bumper flank a bold grille, and the look is underscored by a skidplate anchoring the lower fascia. With its integrated lights, the Santa Cruz is easy to identify as it moves down the road.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Sporty Silhouette
In silhouette, the lines of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz reveal the zippy nature of this little sport truck. Forward-leaning C-pillars give Santa Cruz the appearance of forward motion. Large fenders surround available 20-inch alloy wheels that add much to the vehicle’s bold styling.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Distinctive Look
At the rear of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz, horizontal T-shaped taillights extend into the tailgate giving this new activity vehicle a wide stance. Steps integrated into the rear bumper add utility while also contributing the Santa Cruz’s rugged looks. And since this new vehicle doesn’t look like anything else on the road, Hyundai makes sure other drivers know what they are seeing thanks to large SANTA CRUZ lettering emblazoned on the tailgate.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Pickup Bed
The Santa Cruz’s truck bed is not long — about four feet — although for many consumers that is more than enough length / space for trips to the nursery or for hauling muddy cargo that might otherwise mar the interior. The “sprung” tailgate of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz offers easy operation up or down — it can even be released via the remote. The bed sides contain adjustable anchor points, with each anchor rated at 440 pounds. Depending on the trim level, the Santa Cruz can handle around 1,700 pounds of payload; a self-leveling suspension keeps the truck on an even keel no matter what the rear weight might be. Corner bumper steps make bed access easy as well.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Larger Cargo
Hyundai engineers also configured the tailgate to lock in place at the same level as the wheelwells, thus creating a level surface that can handle a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood. The Santa Cruz can also be fitted with a bed extender or bed cover for hauling bikes or surfboards.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Extra Storage
In addition to its trucklike bed, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz has additional lockable in-bed storage that functions like a trunk — hidden, water tight and secure. The storage space has drains in the bottom so it can be easily filled with ice and transformed into a cooler, or hosed out after hauling muddy boots and clothes back from the trailhead.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Tonneau Cover
An available integrated tonneau cover adds even more versatility to the Santa Cruz. The lockable cover opens easily — when unlatched it fully retracts and features an attached strap so it can be pulled closed without any need to climb into the bed. That said, the cover takes up a bit of bed space so it may not be the best fit, depending on planned use.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Model Lineup
The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is available in five trim levels: SE, SEL, SEL Activity Package, SEL Premium and Limited. Front-wheel drive is the standard setup on non-turbocharged models, with all-wheel drive available for an additional $1,500.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Safety
All Santa Cruz trim levels come with the Hyundai SmartSense suite of advanced driver-assist features. The system includes forward collision avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, driver attention warning, lane-keeping assist and a rear-seat occupancy alert. Also included is a clever bit of kit: Leading Vehicle Departure Alert, which lets a Santa Cruz driver know when the car in front has begun moving — a great feature to avoid the embarrassment of sitting at a green light or being honked at by impatient drivers.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Santa Cruz SE
At a base price of $23,990, the entry-level Santa Cruz SE comes with cloth seats, an 8-inch color touchscreen display, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, dual front USB outlets, a rearview camera, split-folding rear seats, remote keyless entry, remote tailgate release, LED cargo lighting, a molded composite bed, lockable underbed storage and 18-inch alloy wheels.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Santa Cruz SEL
The SEL starts at $27,190, adding to the SE with an 8-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, Sirius XM radio, a pushbutton start, remote engine start and safe exit warning. Also standard is blind-spot collision alert and rear cross-traffic avoidance. The SEL also has an available Activity Package that adds the integrated tonneau cover, utility in-bed rail system, LED bed lighting, rear sliding window, power sunroof, roof side rails, an in-bed 115-volt power outlet and the 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster. The Activity Package is priced at $3,270.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Santa Cruz SEL Premium
With pricing that starts at $35,860, the SEL Premium comes with the more powerful turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. In addition to all the features found on the SEL with the Activity Package, the SEL Premium gets LED headlights, body-color door handles, dual-zone automatic climate control, a multi-air mode that better diffuses in-vehicle airflow, rear A/C vents, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, wireless device charging and the Hyundai Digital Key, which allows a smartphone to act as the key for unlocking and starting the vehicle.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Santa Cruz Limited
The top-level trim of the Santa Cruz, the Limited starts at $39,720. Additions above the SEL Premium include premium front and rear fascias, a dark-chrome accent grille, leather-trimmed seats, ventilated front seats, a 10.25 color touchscreen display with navigation, a Bose premium audio system, rear-seat USB ports, a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and 20-inch alloy wheels.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Under the Hood
The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz has a 2.5-liter direct-injection 4-cylinder engine as standard equipment, producing 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque, teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Buyers also have the option of selecting a more powerful 2.5-liter turbocharged powerplant that bumps up to 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque (the standard engine on SEL Premium and Limited). The turbo engine gets paired with a quick-shifting 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The normally aspirated engine is rated at a 3,500-pound towing capacity, while the turbo AWD variant can tow up to 5,000 pounds — impressive for a vehicle of this size.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Fuel Economy
According to the U.S. EPA, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz has fuel-economy ratings of 21 mpg city / 27 mpg hwy / 23 mpg combined — with the non-turbo engine and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive drops to 26 mpg on the highway. The turbocharged engine only comes with all-wheel drive and is rated at 19 mpg city / 27 mpg hwy / 22 mpg combined. During our drive in the Limited with the turbocharged powertrain we saw around 23 mpg on the trip meter, so the figures seem spot on.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience No Hybrid — Yet
Although Hyundai has not announced any plans to offer a hybrid version of the Santa Cruz, the small truck shares a platform with the new Tucson which is available with a hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrain. Hyundai reps say it’s possible for the Santa Cruz to be equipped with a gas-electric hybrid system — which would happen based on consumer demand.

© Hyundai Motor America HTRAC AWD
Hyundai offers HTRAC all-wheel drive with either engine option of the 2022 Santa Cruz, adding to the small truck’s capabilities. HTRAC AWD features an electronic variable-torque-split clutch with active torque control between front and rear axles. Torque distribution varies depending on the conditions and selected mode; Sport mode sends more torque to the rear wheels for a more exciting driving dynamic, while slick conditions cause the system to distribute power evenly. The Santa Cruz also has 8.6-inches of ground clearance.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Inner Space
The interior of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz has a premium feeling thanks to lines that flow from the center of the dash and wrap around the cabin. Available ambient lighting adds a pleasant glow. On higher-level trims the integrated driver display screen and large center display give a distinctively high-tech vibe.

nbspMulti-Air Mode
During our drive through northern California we spent most of our time in the top-level Limited which features a multi-air mode that diffuses the air from the HVAC system from vents that span the dashboard for much more pleasing airflow — a feature we didn’t realize we needed that we now wish existed on every car.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Front Seats
Recently we spent the majority of a test day behind the wheel of a 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz and soon discovered that the seats are surprisingly comfortable with robust support. The stylish seats also have decent bolsters both on the back and seat bottom. Controls for seat heating and cooling are conveniently located in the center console between the two seats.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Rear Seats
With plenty of headroom and a surprising amount of legroom, the rear seat of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is quite usable. The middle seat is a bit stiffer, although it means the small pickup fits three passengers in back with relative comfort. Two USB ports are available for rear-seat passengers, and the sliding rear window adds additional ventilation.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Additional Storage
Even though the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz has plenty of storage options in the truck bed, some items are best kept in the cabin for safekeeping. Raising the rear seat bottom reveals a handy storage bin that’s easily accessible but remains hidden when seats are in place.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience On the Road
Recently Hyundai hosted a small group of auto media in Northern California, where we drove the Santa Cruz Limited to . . . where else but Santa Cruz. As mentioned previously, we spent most of our time in the top-level Limited trim equipped with the powerful 2.5-liter turbocharged engine, and that powertrain does not disappoint. Acceleration from a standstill is strong, and the all-wheel drive system provides excellent traction even when merging into traffic from loose dirt roads. The dual-clutch gearbox shifts quickly and smoothly, and the automatic shifting works so well we simply left the paddle shifters alone.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Quiet Ride
We came away impressed by how quietly the Santa Cruz cruises (pardon the pun) on highways and smaller secondary coast roads. The ride feels solid and comfortable — a long trip in this small pickup would not be a problem. Once while sitting and simply idling in the Santa Cruz we actually thought the engine had shut off — it is that balanced and quiet.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Mountain Roads
While heading back toward San Francisco on some incredibly winding roads, we quickly discovered how well the Santa Cruz performs in the twisties. Steering is precise with decent feedback, and the small pickup presents little body roll when navigating roads with quick, sharp curves. Santa Cruz is no sports car — nor was it designed to be — although it handles well for a small crossover / pickup.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Right for You?
With so many crossovers on the market, it’s refreshing to experience one that has something new to offer. Some will argue that Santa Cruz is not a true pickup truck, but that’s okay — it’s not intended to be. With the benefits and drivability of a small crossover combined with the utility of an open pickup truck bed, the Santa Cruz offers a level of versatility difficult to match. Add to that the standard safety features, stylish cabin and range of storage options and the Santa Cruz may quickly go from niche vehicle to mainstream — and most certainly a worthy consideration for crossover shoppers with DIY aspirations.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Rating: 9.0
Pros: Great versatility; powerful turbo engine; high-tech Interior.
Cons: Small truck bed; turbo engine only on higher trim levels.
Bottom Line: The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz represents a new take on the crossover with both attractive styling and impressive versatility.

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