Call it funky, call it dual purpose; just don’t call it a pickup truck.
That, according to the folks at Hyundai Motors America, the company debuting an all-new for ‘22 cargo-friendly Santa Cruz. The Korean automaker’s been teasing the general public for half a decade with this brainstorm first as a concept vehicle gracing auto shows starting in the 2015 season.
“This is not a pickup. Think of it differently. Think of it as an SUV (sport utility vehicle) or CUV (cute utility vehicle) Plus, “ according to Jeff Mazoway, Senior Manager of Product Planning at Hyundai. “It’s adding CUV sensibility to an open bed vehicle.” Better yet, Hyundai’s own press materials frame this newbie as a ‘Sport Adventure Vehicle.”
“It’s an all-new segment defining, provocative and unique vehicle for a unique customer at a unique time that we’re all living through,” he added. If nothing else, Santa Cruz rates as one of the more talked about all-new offerings in the 2022 model year.
Mazoway spoke during a Hyundai sponsored breakfast gathering of the Midwest Automotive Media Association in early August of ‘21 kicking off a daylong Summer drive celebration in Hoffman Estates with fellow manufacturers and area automotive writers.
Santa Cruz is an arranged marriage of a unibody, (car-based) four-door crossover with a pickup bed in back, rather than a body-on-frame structure utilized in conventional pickups for more than a century. It’s at home in urban/suburban jungles and on the open range. Underpinnings share commonality with Hyundai’s own compact Tucson five-door unibody crossover, itself redesigned for the 2022 model year. Santa Cruz, however, adds a whopping 13.4 inches of length, but remains more garage-able than most existing flatbeds. It’s also friendlier in crowded parking lots with a comparably small turning radius.
During its inaugural production startup in Alabama, this vehicle remains North American bound, available solely in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Consumer sales began in July of 2021.
Two well-tested powertrain choices (each in their own third-generation of development) include a 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated four cylinder delivering 190 horsepower. It is also found in the Tucson. For greater strength, opt for the 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder upping horsepower to 275 (and powering the sporty Elantra N sedan). Both offer front-wheel drive or Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel drive while each depends upon slightly different eight-speed automatic transmission delivery with the turbo opting for a more advanced, quick-shifting dual-clutch version.
Four-cylinder size translates to optimal fuel economy while utilizing 87-octane petro. The base, front-drive, four cylinder checks in at 21 miles per gallon city and 26 highway.
Consider Santa Cruz a work horse, too. The open bed accommodates a 4-foot x 8-foot sheet of plywood during weekend trips to Home Depot. A lockable, shallow, oval-shaped storage unit is built into the bed floor for additional flexibility. The tailgate can rest at a 45-degree angle if transporting long 2 x 4s. It’s also dampened utilizing struts, helping minimize the quick-falling “thud” when lowering. When seeking to keep items dry or out of sight, an integrated, factory-built manually sliding lockable cover (standard in Limited and SEL Plus) slides from north to south with the help of a pull strap. The cover retracts into a cartridge mounted into the bed front when desired.
Insert LED bed lighting illuminates the way when the sun sets. The bed gets protected by a durable, rust-resistant sheet molding compound minimizing dents and dings. Towing capacity lists at 5,000 pounds for all-wheel drive turbo editions, almost unheard of in a compact-sized vehicle; enough to cart a light-weight mid-size travel trailer.
Eliminating the bouncy rear end sensation found with traditional pickups Santa Cruz boasts a self-leveling rear suspension teamed with a multilink set up. The 8.6 inches of ground clearance measures closer to a conventional crossover, not that of a mid-size pickup; allowing for comfortable entry and exit.
Santa Cruz checks in with a very approachable $23,990 starting point for the front-drive SE trim and six exterior colors are available. Our ice white Limited tester, filled-to-the-gills with available equipment and all-wheel drive turbo engine, started at $39,720. With $195 for inside car mats and a $1,185 destination charge, the bottom line ended at $41,000, representing the most opulent version currently offered.
The Limited trim includes such up-market goodies as rain-sensing wipers, radar cruise control that automatically monitors speed based on the vehicle in front, a super-sized 10.25-inch multi-function touch screen (up from 8 inches) with navigation functions, leather-trimmed seating surfaces, premium daytime running lights, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, premium Bose stereo and a wonderful side-view monitor providing live video feeds of side blind spots within the Instrument Panel when utilizing the turn signal.
Three other trim level fill the gap between SE and Limited: SEL, SEL with Activity Package and SEL with Premium Package. Each comes nicely furnished with few a-la-carte factory extras available. However, several after-market accessories await most notably designed for the bed (cargo net, sliding bed divider, tow hitch, etc).
Parametrically jeweled daytime running lights integrate into the front face along with a large cascading front grill creating a unique front end. Robust bumpers and arching wheel wells add to the multi-dimensional look. The rearward “C” pillar contributes to a fastback profile. Various stepping surfaces exist along the lower sides aiding entry into the outside bed. Rear taillights also use LED lighting, forming a red, long handled hammer shape at night.
The interior resembles that of the redesigned 2022 Hyundai Tucson of which Santa Cruz is based upon with four-door crossover room. Handy (and removable) storage bins are found below flexible second-row seat cushions able to flip up in a 60/40 fashion.
Android Auto and Apple Car Play Smartphone wired compatibility comes standard with wireless pairing optional and a host of available USB ports.
The pressure-sensitive touch screen monitors volume and station presets in Limited trim’s significantly-sized screen. The same style touch system activates the HVAC flat screen below and mesh together as one smooth surface, an artful visual at the expense of convenient conventional knobs.
Since it’s all-new for ’22, expect the latest versions of radar-centric safety systems. All trims include forward collision avoidance, lane vehicle departure alert, and lane keep assist. Blind-spot collision and rear cross traffic avoidance assists come standard in all but base trims.
Automakers toyed with adding cargo beds to differing body styles in the past with various degrees of successes. General Motors rolled out the Chevrolet Avalanche (2002-2012) constructed from a body-on-frame, truck-like SUV underpinnings with a full-sized footprint. Its GM twin turned up as the upscale Cadillac Escalade EXT. Those of a certain generation will remember the Chevy El Camino, joining together a bed-like back and car-ish front.
As with all Hyundai products sold in America, expect a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, one of the longest available. Also relatively new to the marketing mix, a complimentary maintenance program covering oil changes and tire rotation for three years or 36,000 miles.
2022 Santa Cruz
Price as tested: $41,000
Engine: 2.5 liter four-cylinder turbo
Wheelbase: 118.3 inches
Length: 195.7 inches
Width: 75 inches
Height: 66.7 inches
Curb weight: 4,031 pounds
City/Highway economy: 19 mpg city/ 27 mpg highway
Powertrain warranty: 10 years/100,000 miles
Assembly: Montgomery, Alabama