Looking a lot like a compact pickup, Hyundai calls the new Santa Cruz a Sport Adventure Vehicle. Based on its compact crossover the Tucson, Santa Cruz seats 5 and comes with front- or all-wheel drive. Size wise, Santa Cruz is about 10 to 15 inches shorter than midsize pickups like the Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger, GMC Canyon, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. Its closest competitor is the new Ford Maverick compact pickup.
Unlike most pickup trucks which have body-on-frame construction. Santa Cruz has unibody construction. This allows it to share chassis, engines and production facilities with the compact Hyundai Tucson. Trim levels include SE, SEL, SEL Premium and Limited. The SE and SEL get a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. SEL Premium and Limited a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque. Both engines mate to an 8-speed automatic transmission. The SE and SEL come standard with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional on the SE and SEL and standard on all other models. Towing capacity ranges between 3,500 and 5,000 pounds depending on model.
Prices range from $23,990 to $40,945. All models come standard with a composite cargo bed, wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play support, forward-collision warning with brake intervention and lane-keeping assist. Other notable features include a lockable underfloor storage bin in the pickup bed, cargo bed tonneau cover, digital instrument cluster, wireless smartphone charger and adaptive cruise control.
Similar to the Tucson, the base engine isn't much of a performer. It's an economy and efficiency champ and allows Hyundai to offer Santa Cruz with an attractive starting price under $24K. When pressed, the engine provides a 0 to 60 MPH time of about 9 seconds. In addition, passing punch is mild and the engine doesn't mate seamlessly to the 8-speed automatic, providing jolting downshifts when traversing even mild grades.
Thankfully, Hyundai offers the surprisingly powerful turbocharged 2.5 as an option. It provides plenty of pep and is better suited to pickup, er Adventure Vehicle, duty. It will propel the Santa Cruz from 0 to 60 MPH in about 6.5 seconds, quicker than any midsize truck and comparable to Ford's new small truck, the Maverick. It also comes standard with all-wheel drive and utilizes a slick-shifting dual-clutch 8-speed automatic, which further increases the Santa Cruz's fun factor.
With 8.6 inches of ground clearance and available all-wheel drive, the Santa Cruz can handle most graded dirt trails and slippery roads. Just don't expect it to be a dedicated off-roader. Unlike other pickups that have a rear-wheel-drive standard, the Santa Cruz's standard front-wheel drive is likely not well suited for towing or hauling heavy loads.
Fuel economy is a plus. The base engine is EPA rated at 21 MPG city and 26 MPG highway. Optional engine nets ratings of 19 MPG city and 27 MPG highway. While it might not seem like there is much of an efficiency penalty with the more powerful engine, it really comes down to how you drive and use your Santa Cruz. In light duty, around town cruising expect to average close to 28 MPG overall, perhaps 30 MPG if you throw in a bit of highway driving. Both engines run fine on regular-grade gasoline. Santa Cruz has a largish 17.7 fuel tank.
Dynamically Santa Cruz drives much more like a crossover than a pickup. The steering, suspension and brakes are all nicely dialed in, providing a secure and comfortable ride -- even a sporty feel in uplevel trims. Still, there's an odd feeling when you add a load to the rear. Where traditional pickups seem to ride better as load increases, the Santa Cruz gets a bit tail heavy and steering becomes a bit more ponderous.
Most shoppers will find the ride comfortable and pleasant. There's a bit of harshness when traversing expansion joints, but overall, the suspension does an excellent job of filtering out the big stuff and maintaining a controlled ride. Brakes provide good stopping power and there is minimal body lean in quick transitions, provided that the bed is somewhat empty.
Interior noise levels are reasonably low, extremely low by pickup standards. Though the coarse base engine intrudes under hard acceleration in passing situations, it quiets nicely when cruising. The turbo engine gets boomy at higher RPM as well, but it's sound is a bit more refined.
If you are acquainted with the inside of the new Tucson, you'll find the Santa Cruz to be near identical save the traditional gear shift level in the Santa Cruz. Materials might be a cut above the pickup class norm and the design is certainly more modern and tech orientated than others in the class.
Offering adequate leg room and exceptional head room, the front seats are comfortable and supportive. The seats are also heated and ventilated on upper trims. On the downside, rear seats are set upright and aren't nearly as comfortable. Thankfully, there's decent head and knee space, allowing adults to be moderately comfortable. Certainly, a reclining backrest would be nice, but that's just not an option in the back seat of a pickup.
There's a futuristic design to the cabin thanks to the optional 10.25-inch center touchscreen and full digital instrument panel ahead of the driver. Oddly, Android Auto and Apple Car Play are wireless in the lesser trims and require a USB cable in uplevel trim. The capacitive buttons below the touchscreen are hard to operate and distracting to locate and use while driving. Otherwise, controls are well labeled and logical. Visibility out the smallish rear window is limited, but the optional 360-degree parking camera and high-resolution screen are excellent accommodations.
With a length of 48 inches and width between the wheel wells of 42 inches, the Santa Cruz's bed is relatively small -- though its dimensions are almost identical in to the Maverick. Conveniently, the tailgate can be adjusted to match the height of the wheel wells so that 4-by-8 sheets of plywood can be carried in the bed. There's also the available lockable hard tonneau cover that adds to utility, but somewhat eats into cargo space. The available in-bed trunk has a drain and seals water tight. The cupholders and center console storage are similar to something you'd find in a compact SUV. There are largish bins under the rear seats for additional in-cab storage.
Santa Cruz has an impressive maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds when equipped with the optional turbocharged engine, but that requires an aftermarket trailer brake controller. Payload is impressive at up to 1,700 pounds.
Bottom Line: Hyundai claims Santa Cruz is not a pickup, but it sure looks like one. Still, after some time behind the wheel, it's clear to see that Santa Cruz is more than a Tucson with a bed in the back. It's a complete package that delivers on the promise of adding more utility while still retaining a car-like demeanor. Though not as capable as a midsize truck, the Santa Cruz is more than competition for Ford's new compact Maverick. The only shortcomings are a milquetoast base engine and a fairly narrow bed that limits its overall usefulness. If you don't need the capability and expense of a midsize truck, the new Santa Cruz is worth checking out.