2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz packs style and utility in a compact package

The year is 2022 and Hyundai makes a kind of pickup truck. Watch out world, it’s a whole new era.

Hyundai’s not looking to take on the Ford F-150 or Chevrolet Silverado. It’s not even aiming for the Ford Ranger or Honda Ridgeline. With the 2022 Santa Cruz, Hyundai’s circled a bullseye around a lifestyle crowd that wants the functionality of a small pickup with the ride quality of a crossover.

With a TCC Rating of 6.7 out of 10, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz appeals with clever packaging and lots of storage, eye-catching design, and strong turbo-4 power. But its interior is a mixed bag with the Tucson’s dashboard and technology foibles, it gets middling fuel economy, and it can get expensive.

After spending a week carting the kids around town in the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD, here’s what I learned.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Hit: Clever packaging

Hyundai made the most of the Santa Cruz’s small footprint. The bed is shorter than the Ford Maverick’s, but in a weird packaging twist the lower part is about four inches longer then the 48.4-inch top part. It’s wide enough for 4×8 sheets of plywood for weekend Home Depot runs. But the bed’s killer app is straight from the Honda Ridgeline’s playbook: part of the bed floor pops up to reveal a large water-tight cargo hold. There’s also covered storage cubbies on either side of the bed wall just aft of the wheel wells. The built-in roll-top cargo cover standard on upper trim models protects the contents of the bed from weather and prying eyes, and steps built into the corners of the rear bumper like on a Chevrolet Silverado provide easy access into the bed. Inside, the rear seat bottom flips up to reveal more hidden storage, just like most pickups. What you can’t see is the self-leveling rear suspension Hyundai cribbed from the Palisade’s parts bin. It’ll detect vehicle load and ratchet up the stiffness when the bed’s loaded (payload is rated for up to 660 lb) or when towing.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Miss: Glitzy Tucson interior

For better and worse, the interior of the Santa Cruze is basically that of the Tucson crossover SUV without the cargo area and push button gear selector (the Santa Cruz has a T-shaped gear selector because this is a pickup truck). On first impression, my loaded $41,500 Santa Cruz Limited’s interior seemed slick and glitzy with a 10.3-inch touchscreen and 10.3-inch digital gauge cluster. But like the Tucson, the glamour wore off quickly. The controls for the infotainment and climate are touch sensitive, as Hyundai clearly learned nothing from Ford’s past sins with MyFord Touch. The entire center stack is slathered in shiny piano black plastic that attracts dust like a magnet. It looks disgustingly dirty when the sun hits it, which is to say nothing of fingerprints. And like the Tucson, the larger 10.3-inch touchscreen doesn’t have wireless Apple CarPlay while the base model’s 8.0-inch touchscreen features this wireless magic. Pay more, get less (wireless).

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Hit: Potent turbo-4

Base Santa Cruzes have front-wheel drive and a 191-hp 2.5-liter inline-4, but Hyundai hasn’t let us test that powertrain yet. The Limited’s 2.5-liter turbo-4 pushes 281 hp to all four wheels via an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. No one will confuse the Santa Cruz for a sports car, but the turbo-4 packs more than enough motivation for highway passing or to even surprise and delight off the line from a stoplight with a 0-60 mph sprint in the mid six-second range, according to Hyundai. It’s the right-sized powertrain in the Santa Cruz, at least until or if a hybrid comes along.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Miss: Lackluster fuel economy

A hybrid needs to come along. The turbo-4 carries EPA fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city, 27 highway, and 22 combined. Over the course of 252 miles of mixed suburban driving, it averaged 22.2 mpg according to the onboard trip computer. Putting aside the fact that a 37-mpg Ford Maverick hybrid embarasses the Santa Cruz, I’ve experienced just under 19 mpg in mixed driving in a full-size Ford F-150 with a twin-turbo V-6 and far more capability. Even the base front-wheel-drive powertrain without the turbo is rated at a mere 21 mpg city, 27 highway, and 23 combined. The Santa Cruz needs the hybrid powertrain available in the Tucson, which, even in that application, it fails to match the efficiency of the thrifty Maverick.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Hit: Eye-catching design

The Santa Cruz stands out in an era where every pickup seemingly has to have a macho 5-foot-tall hoodline. The side profile’s buttresses throws first-generation Honda Ridgeline vibes with some Subaru Baja, Chevrolet Avalanche, and even some El Camino thrown into the pot for good measure. The front end is a bolder, slightly more punched-out version of the Tucson with lighting integrated into its gaping grille. The rear features chunky horizontal lighting that attempts to accentuate its width, despite not being that wide. Thankfully the door panels feature less hard lines than the Tucson. The design will grab attention. While I appreciated its different look, my neighbors and my wife weren’t as impressed. Your mileage may vary.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Miss: Gets expensive

At $41,500 my Limited tester with AWD had most of the aforementioned technology one would desire today aside from wireless Apple CarPlay, but the Santa Cruz has a Maverick problem. A loaded Maverick costs $35,175 and it has the creative packaging and similar functionality as the Santa Cruz with better fuel economy regardless of powertrain option; similar (though slightly less) power output; and a more traditional truck outline. The base Santa Cruz costs $25,175, which feels like a better value than the loaded Limited model. The $36,865 SEL Premium with a turbo-4, heated front seats, integrated tonneau cover, and blind-spot monitors seems like the sweet spot in the lineup. But it still costs more than a loaded Maverick.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Bonus: Great livability

In an era of massive pickups, the Santa Cruz should get bonus points for its size. At 195.7 inches long it’s more than a foot longer than the Tucson, but it’s 4.0 inches shorter than a Maverick. It’s the shortest pickup truck on sale in the U.S., which makes it extremely easy to park whether at Costco or in my garage. Three-point turns aren’t an issue, and it never feels cumbersome to live with. Forward visibility is excellent and nearly identical to that of the Tucson crossover SUV.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Bonus, round two: Can lock it up

Bonus points to Hyundai for including a locking center differential in the Santa Cruz. At the push of a button the all-wheel-drive system is forced to split the torque evenly between the front and rear axles to help put the power down on slippery or uphill terrain.

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz delivers with creative packaging and standout design, but the top-spec Limited model feels short on value compared to the SEL Premium trim.

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2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Base price: $25,175, including destination
Price as tested: $41,500
Powertrain: 281-hp 2.5-liter turbo-4, 8-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 19/27/22 mpg
The hits: Eye-catching design, creative packaging, livable dimensions, great forward visibility, strong turbo-4
The misses: Lackluster fuel economy, no hybrid, Tucson interior foibles, value equation shifts in Limited spec

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