What Is It?
Of the six most popular vehicles in America, the top three are pickup trucks, followed by three crossover SUVs. Armed with this knowledge, Hyundai has shrewdly created a vehicle that possesses the attributes of both vehicle types in the all-new Santa Cruz. With the comfort and features of a crossover and the utility of a small pickup truck, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz offers a fresh choice in the crowded SUV segment in what the Korea-based automaker refers to as a Sport Adventure Vehicle. The Santa Cruz is Hyundai’s first vehicle designed specifically for the American consumer — although not specifically for the typical truck buyer.
Hyundai provided us with a 2022 Santa Cruz Limited AWD painted in Ice White. As the top trim level of the Santa Cruz lineup, the Limited arrived fully loaded with premium amenities such as leather trim, heated and cooled front seats, a Bose audio system and 20-inch alloy wheels. Floor mats were the only option on the test vehicle we drove, which stickered at a total MSRP of $41,100. As a new member of a somewhat exclusive club, the Santa Cruz’s competitors include the new Ford Maverick, stalwart Honda Ridgeline and the relatively new Jeep Gladiator.
The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz gets built on an upgraded version of the new Tucson platform, so the vehicles naturally share some character traits. The stylish front end features signature lighting hidden in the grille, with these running lights becoming visible only when the vehicle is on. Large headlights integrated into the front bumper flank the bold grille, and the look gets underscored by a skidplate anchoring the lower fascia. With its integrated lights, the Santa Cruz has a unique appearance as it moves down the road.
At the rear of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz, horizontal T-shaped taillights extend into the tailgate to give this new activity vehicle a wide stance. Steps integrated with the rear bumper add utility and also contribute to 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.
The truck bed of the Santa Cruz is not long — about four feet — although for many consumers the bed will have more than enough length and 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. The Santa Cruz Limited can handle around 1,700 pounds of payload; a self-leveling suspension keeps this crossover pickup on an even keel no matter what the rear weight might be.
Adding to the small truck’s versatility, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz has lockable in-bed storage that functions like a trunk — hidden, watertight and secure. The storage space has drains at 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.
The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz also has an integrated tonneau cover, which quickly became one of our favorite features of the new vehicle. The cover opens easily and when unlatched it fully retracts; it also has a strap so the tonneau can be pulled closed without climbing into the bed. When closed, the cover and tailgate can be locked to create a secure cargo space — a great standard feature.
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. Ambient lighting adds a pleasant glow, while the integrated driver display screen and large center display provide a distinctive high-tech vibe.
The 10.25-inch center display of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz integrates well with the dashboard and has clear, easy-to-use navigation. The vehicle has no tuning or volume knobs for audio, which seems like an oversight, although the soft-touch controls for volume and tuning work reasonably well. Android Auto connects quickly and functions seamlessly using two-thirds of the display while allowing other OEM features to appear in the remaining space.
After several days of driving the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz, we grew to appreciate the vehicle’s surprisingly comfortable seats that offer robust support. The stylish seats also have decent bolsters on both the backs and seat bottoms. Controls for seat heating and cooling are conveniently located in the center console between the two seats.
With plenty of headroom and a surprising amount of legroom, the rear seat of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz possesses a lot of usable space. The middle seat is a bit stiff, although this small pickup fits three passengers in back with relative comfort. Two USB ports are available for rear-seat passengers, and a sliding rear window offers adequate ventilation. Additional storage can be accessed by raising the rear seat bottom.
Under the Hood
The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited features a powerful 2.5-liter turbocharged powerplant that generates 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque. The turbo engine gets paired with a quick-shifting 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox. With that much power on tap, the Santa Cruz Limited has a tow rating of up to 5,000 pounds — impressive for a vehicle this size.
According to the U.S. EPA, the Santa Cruz Limited has fuel-economy ratings of 19 mpg city / 27 mpg hwy / 22 mpg combined. During our drives in the Limited with the turbocharged powertrain the trip meter displayed around 23 mpg, so the figures seem spot-on.
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.
On the Road
From behind the wheel, the Santa Cruz is more crossover than pickup truck thanks to a smooth, comfortable ride. Road noise is minimal even when cruising at high freeway speeds; with its aforementioned amenable seats and quality audio system, the Santa Cruz would be an excellent conveyance for long road trips.
The turbocharged engine of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz offers plenty of power and provides strong acceleration from a standstill. With so many crossovers equipped with continuously variable transmissions, we appreciate that this Hyundai is equipped with a quick-shifting dual-clutch gearbox. Paddle shifters add a level of engagement and have fine reaction time, although we soon realized that leaving the gearbox to its own devices works the best. The all-wheel-drive system of the Santa Cruz provides excellent traction on wet pavement or dirt roads.
Heading into the Cascade foothills east of Seattle, we quickly discovered how well the Santa Cruz performs on winding roads. Steering is precise with fine feedback, and the small pickup presents little body roll when navigating roads with sharp curves. Santa Cruz is no sports car — nor was it designed to be — yet it handles surprisingly well for a small crossover / pickup.
With so many crossovers on the market, it’s refreshing to experience one that has something new to offer. With the benefits and drivability of a small crossover combined with the utility of a small pickup truck, the 2022 Hyundai 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, becoming a worthy consideration for crossover shoppers seeking a bit more utility.