By on August 10, 2021

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Let the minitruck wars begin.

While the Ford Maverick has gotten most of the spotlight, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz became available for the media horde – or at least those in the horde than Hyundai deemed worthy of an invitation – to drive before the Ford.

The comparisons are inevitable, and we’ll mention some of the spec similarities/differences as we go through this. But perhaps the most striking difference, the one visible to the naked eye, is the styling.

While the Maverick looks like a typical boxy pickup truck, just smaller, the Santa Cruz has sweeping, angular lines that make it look like a modern version of classic minitrucks like the El Camino or the Subaru Baja. Whether you like its looks or not, you can’t deny that it’s striking, and it sticks out in the crowd.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Hyundai says the Santa Cruz isn’t meant for traditional truck buyers because it won’t offer the bed sizes, towing capability, or off-road ability that traditional trucks do. Instead, it’s meant to be thought of as a small crossover SUV with a bed – with the bed allowing for certain cargo-hauling needs that most crossovers, especially smaller ones, can’t handle.

(Full disclosure: Hyundai flew me to Palo Alto, California, to drive the Santa Cruz and the Kona N. They fed me nice meals and left snacks in the room along with a t-shirt, coffee mug, and small backpack. I ate the snacks. I left the shirt, backpack, and mug behind.)

Two engines are on offer – a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque and pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque and pairs with an eight-speed wet dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters. All-wheel drive that distributes torque between the axles depending on road conditions is optional, otherwise, the truck is front-drive. There is some confusion on whether the turbo is available with front-drive – some of the press materials indicate that one can get the turbo with front-drive, but the pricing press release suggests that turbos are AWD only. We’ve reached out to Hyundai for clarification and have not heard back. We will update if and when we do.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Fuel economy numbers are listed at 21/26/23 for the base engine with FWD, 21/27/23 for the base with AWD, and 19/27/22 for the 2.5T with AWD. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, with 20s optional.

Because I’d been given the keys to a Kona N, not a Santa Cruz, for my morning drive around the Bay Area, my experience with the truck – a fully-loaded Limited 2.5T, like all the others on hand – was short. And I didn’t drive the same roads as I did with the Kona, instead running the northern end of NorCal’s famed Skyline Boulevard before making my way to the 101 and back to the hotel.

Immediately I found myself pleasantly surprised by the turbo’s pull – it packs more of a punch than I’d have guessed. It’s the Santa Cruz’s best dynamic feature.

The minitruck did struggle a bit when I attacked the twisties, serving up some understeer and body roll. Steering feel was mostly acceptable, at least. All this was in Sport mode.

I don’t think the bed or the truck’s relative length was the culprit, and to be clear, the Santa Cruz was no worse than any small crossover would be. In fact, that’s what the experience was like – it was akin to pushing a small crossover hard.

In other words, the Santa Cruz isn’t terrible when it comes to back-road blasting, but it’s not a joy, either. It’s not the dance partner you’d choose for a run up Skyline. Which, obviously, is not its mission.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Indeed, the Santa Cruz felt much more comfortable around town and on the freeway. Yes, California roads are generally smooth, but the ride felt comfortable without being soft. It also avoided feeling compromised by having a truck bed behind the rear seat. I actually kept forgetting the bed was back there – again, it felt like I was piloting a compact crossover SUV, not a trucklet.

Float and wallow seemed non-existent. Santa Cruz is underpinned by a MacPherson strut setup with coil springs at the front and a multilink system at the rear. The rear suspension is auto-leveling.

The biggest letdown was a tad too much wind and road noise, especially at freeway speeds. Turning the radio up countered some of this, but not as well as I’d like.

I’d also like to ding Hyundai for forgoing radio volume and tuner knobs in favor of capacitive-touch controls. Yes, the look of the infotainment system is cleaner, but as Honda learned, the simplicity of knobs is generally preferable.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Available bed features include a locking tonneau cover, underfloor storage with a drain plug, side cubby holes for more storage, and a 115-volt power outlet. It’s measured at just over 48 inches with the tailgate up. The tailgate can be opened with the key fob and is height-adjustable. There’s also LED bed lighting.

Other bed features include pockets to accommodate shelving, tie-downs, and bumper steps.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Most models are rated to tow 3,500 pounds, though the 2.5T with AWD can handle up to 5,000.

Rear-seat entry and exit were fine, and I initially felt it to be quite roomy, but then I slid the passenger seat all the way back and found that I couldn’t get back there. If you plan on hauling rear-seat passengers who’ve aged past the Sesame Street phase on a regular basis, you may need to bear in mind the favored seating positions of the driver and any regular front-seat rider.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

There are four trim levels to choose from: SE, SEL, SEL Premium, and Limited, plus an SEL Activity Package. Available features include LED lighting, high-beam assist, sunroof, leather seats, heated front seats, cooled front seats, split tip-up rear seats, 10.2-inch infotainment screen, navigation, satellite radio, Bose audio, Apple Carplay and Android Auto (wireless in some configurations), front dual USB ports, rear dual USB ports, rear-view camera, dual-zone climate control, heated steering wheel, keyless entry and starting, remote start, smart cruise control, and BlueLink telematics.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Available active safety/driver-assist tech includes forward collision-assist with pedestrian detection, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, 360-degree monitor, blind-spot monitor, leading vehicle departure alert, speed-limit assist, driver-attention warning, lane-keeping assist, lane-following assist, highway-driving assist, navigation-based smart cruise control with curve control, safe-exit warning, and rear-seat occupant alert.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Pricing starts at $23,990 for a base FWD SE, with the cheapest AWD model coming in at $25,490. The cheapest turbo model is $35,680, and a Limited like the one I drove will start at $39,720. Destination is $1,185.

I promised some size comparisons to Maverick, and the Santa Cruz is 2 inches shorter and 2 inches lower while being a bit more than 3 inches wider. The wheelbase is about 3 inches shorter, with ground clearance for both trucks at 8.6 inches with AWD and 8.3 for the Maverick with FWD.

Hyundai claims more headroom and rear-seat legroom than the Ford, and slightly more passenger volume, along with a bed that’s just a skoosh wider.

I can’t yet say which truck is a better urban/suburban runabout, though I do note the Maverick is available with a hybrid powertrain, should that matter to you. What I can say is that the Santa Cruz is, Maverick comps aside, well suited to the urban jungle.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

The styling will polarize – I think it’s better looking in person than in photos – and buyers will have to understand that the Santa Cruz won’t do the things an F-150 will. It won’t bash boulders or tow huge Airstreams or handle huge payloads. What it will do is get your surfboard to the beach or the mulch to your garden while allowing you to forget you’re driving a truck.

The use case here is a bit weird – many buyers are just fine with the utility offered by most crossovers/SUVs. But if you need a small truck bed just often enough that you find yourself constantly at a rental counter, the Santa Cruz will fit your needs well enough.

Tailgaters, surfers, gardeners, take heed. The first of many minitrucks is here, and it’s an all-around performer.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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52 Comments on “2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz First Drive – Style Meets Substance...”


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Here is the Canadian pricing according to another source “Hyundai has announced pricing for its all-new 2022 Santa Cruz compact pickup, which will start at $38,499 when it goes on sale in Canada in September 2021”.

    That puts it about $10k higher than Maverick’s starting price. If you can get a Maverick for MSRP.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I love these. I hope it is very successful in the marketplace. Same with Ford Maverick. Hopefully other manufacturers will follow suit and we can get the ridiculous amount of ridiculously massive pickups on the road pared down to reasonable levels. I can dream.

    • 0 avatar
      Avid Fan

      I’m holding out for the F900 Quintuple Ranch King Platinum edition with Movie Theater Seating for the kiddies. Because everyone needs 17 rows of sumptuous walrus hide seats for friends, neighbors and SEAL assault teams. It promises to tow a small country and turn around inside a single zip code. Coming soon to a Fard dealer near you.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Broken hearted there’s no regular cab. Some of just don’t want to be forced onto the collective. ✊

  • avatar
    ajla

    “though the 2.5T with AWD can handle up to 5,000.”

    So a few disappointments here:

    a. They apparently didn’t bring any trailer to this first drive event, even as a static display to show what it looks like hitched up.

    b. There is no 7-pin connection from the factory, you have to deal with a pigtail adapter.

    c. No factory brake controller option, although that’s not super common on things with under 7000lbs towing capacity.

    d. Is there a frontal area restriction on that 5000lbs.

    Overall Hyundai seems to be downplaying the tow rating a lot. Which might mean nothing but if I was planning to do 3500+lbs with the turbo SC I’d wait for some towing test impressions.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree seems like a missed opportunity, decent tow rating is a big reason I would look at one.
      Also disappointing the Turbo is only on such high trims. That’s one of those truck things that Hyundai may not have anticipated, even on lower trims people like power and heavy duty options. I can understand no turbo on the base but offering a SEL with a turbo for around 30K would seem a better idea.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      The 7 pin harness is part number K5F61AU400, its one of many accessories, like fender flares that just aren’t available yet at this early stage. These just started rolling off the assembly line last month and reached dealerships last weekend.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    While I admit being partial to the Hyundai for its badge and its looks (rather than the Ford), I’m shocked that the turbo has such a price premium. And, Hyundai missed an opportunity to not offer a hybrid.

    Also, my 19 Hyundai has 11 knobs, I think, and I use roughly half of them. Volume controls should always be knobs, but so should HVAC.

    I heard somewhere that the Santa Cruz gives up 4″ of rear legroom vs the newly redesigned 22 Tucson that it’s based on. That’s a shame, but that’s the compromise of having a 4-seater with a bed that also fits in a garage.

    These new small trucks are going to be hugely popular thanks to garage parking, modest seat height, decent towing, and cheaper pricing.

    • 0 avatar
      smapdi

      Something they fail to show anyone up to now (because all they ever gave journalists was the top trim) is that there ARE physical volume and tune nobs when you don’t get the 10″ infotainment and stick with the 8″. The climate also has traditional nobs when you forego the auto climate control (which may be paired with the infotainment choice).

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Not interested. It won’t tow a 5,000 lb. boat 500 miles with 5 adults in the cab and 5,000 lbs in the box and climb mountains or wallow through swamps just like every owner of every full sized pickup…/sarc.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Was it a typo that the AWD model does slightly better on the highway, or is there enough play that you lose marginal efficiency with the FWD model?

    I’d have to see it in person to know if I’d continue to find the styling nauseating. I don’t like that front end on the Sante Fe, and I don’t like it here.

    I’m wondering when Kia and Hyundai will switch again as far as who makes more attractive cars. Right now, Kia wins…slightly…at least to my eyes.

  • avatar
    JMII

    This will be my next vehicle.

    It checks all MY boxes – smaller then the oversized Ranger, sort of sporty, plenty of turbo power to drag my 2,500lb rig with lots of tech to make those long drives at 4AM to the boat ramp bearable. I’ve driven a V8 Dakota Quad Cab for the past 20 years and do not want another BOF truck, they have terrible driving dynamics, get crappy mileage and take up too much space. I’m fine with a small bed vs the limited hatch space of SUVs (I owned a Rodeo previously). I love the sleek style. My wife thinks the minimalist, no button, interior came straight from Ikea, Apple or Telsa’s design center and is a work of futuristic art.

    Sadly sales wise I understand my view represents a minority. I bet the SC will flop because people just don’t get it, the same fate that fell the Baja. They say its too funky of a shape, the bed is worthless, its too expensive, it doesn’t have a volume knob and it doesn’t get 40 MPG like the (hybrid, CVT, FWD only) Maverick. Oh well at least Hyundai did something bold and fresh here.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I predict great success for the Santa Cruz. These little trucks will pick up (pickup?) where the CUV craze left off.

      Hyundai doesn’t even call it a truck; it’s a “Sport Adventure Vehicle”.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        In theory your correct, its a pickup and CUV – a combo of the two hottest selling vehicles. However since the April reveal all the internet buzz is a collective “no thanks”. Maybe its due Ford’s much better handling of Maverick launch. Almost everyone who wanted a truck-let like this seems to be giddy over Ford’s look, and (hybrid) MPG.

        Of course right now Hyundai dealers are getting so few in stock they are asking for $2, 5, and even 10k over MSRP which has resulted in people (like me) not even bothering to walk onto a dealership lot.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      I am afraid you are right, people won’t “get it.” Everyone will get the Maverick. Ford designed it to be a pickup truck and function as such, and developed features for people who actually use trucks. Seems to me that buyers for the Santa Cruz really are crossover intenders who buy the Santa Cruz in a weak moment of optimism, then regret it soon after.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      @JMII Sir, will it fit in your garage?

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    What’s the deal with the keystone thing on the top of the plastic cladding over the wheel arches. I have seen this in some other vehicles – notably the Buick TourX – and I am wondering where it stems from. Do some vehicles have actual features that require this to be cut out?
    In short, I hate it. But then I hate gray plastic cladding period, so I guess that doesn’t say much.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      No clue as to why the Buick has it, but on the SC it’s where a GoPro camera mount goes.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      I don’t love the black/gray trim most manufacturers put on these vehicles but I don’t hate it either. But I do HATE that, I call it a tab, that this and the Buick have. I think I saw it somewhere else too, maybe a Nissan. I also hate the RAV4 and some Subarus where the trim tapers in toward the wheel before it gets to it’s lower ends.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Gladiator looks more attractive to me with every new introduction

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Why you’re in luck!! Two Jeep dealers in St. Petersburg and seven in Moscow! There’s a Hyundai dealer in Moscow too. The Hyundai will be much cheaper. Oh how to spend your rubles.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        wow! too far. I have one right around corner, next to Wegmans and Home Depot. But there is no doubt that Russians will drive these, years after Americans will not be able to own such a car.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Seems like a sedan with a removable trunk lid. They’ll sell like hotcakes.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    What’s this itty-bitty little truck, here, boy? Cain’t run the Rubicon, won’t out-tow a big rig. Just what in hell use is it? Must be for commie left-wing pinkos on the Costco toilet paper run. Haw, haw.

  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    My wife loved the look of the Maverick, and while she wants to get an EV for her next purchase, has been seriously thinking of the Maverick hybrid instead, for commuting and for surfing. The Hyundai leaves her cold based on styling alone.

    I think it looks like a low-top hiking boot. Oh well. Horses/courses.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Totally opposite here with Mrs JMII, she flat out rejected the Maverick based on styling alone. The look is the most polarizing thing about the SC, once you get past the “its not a truck” marketing message. There is a serious love/hate deal based on looks alone.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The Maverick hardens to those nasty/cheap small pickups from the 1980s, except the front (in particular, the headlights) are even dorkier.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Under floor storage with drain plugs? College football starts soon; need I say more? Seriously, 25k for one that’s nicely equipped? Unless you need a truck to do truck things, a tip of the hat to those who haul heavy things, Trucky McTruck might be better off with this or a Maverick.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Trucky McTruck better get a Ranger or F150, the Maverick is a Ford Escape with bed. At its core the SC and Mav are the same, the differences are Ford looks like a truck but your still getting a CUV with a bed.

  • avatar
    Mustangfast

    I think the exterior looks bold, and thought it was a contender til I saw that hideous collection of weird angles, textures, surfaces, knobless buttonless screens and piano black plastic that is the interior. What were they thinking?! And that wheel, highlight the ugly part? I think the “no knobs” and “capacitive buttons” has been tried unsuccessfully enough in mainstream vehicles that this should turn off any buyers who were willing to overlook fuel economy and softer styling. I think it will be hobbled sales wise by the interior choices, powertrain choices, and lack of buzz at launch.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Seems they didn’t learn from Honda’s mistake… people like volume knobs!

      The lower trims of the SC has dials, the upper trim has these little rollers, its the top of the line model that is completely button-less. Hyundai sells trims, not options so you can’t mix and match.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I don’t mind the looks of the SC and was interested in it but the hybrid drive and the price of the Maverick got me interested enough to order the XLT with the hybrid drive. For the money the Maverick offers more and the hybrid drive at estimated 40 mpgs will get a lot of buyers interested especially if they don’t need AWD. I was just going to drive my Ranger for several more years but decided to preorder the Maverick XLT in Area 51 with the spray in bedliner and spare tire.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    I’m all about this, but it looks like its going to come too late for me. Once dealers get enough inventory, the used car value of my car will fall to the point I’ll need to wait another year or two. If a top trim was on the lot today I’d be down there now to test drive.

    The interior of the Maverick is just plain jane. I mean, only a 6.5 inch screen?

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    I actually find the exterior somewhat attractive but I do not like the interior at all. And the cheapest turbo model starts at $35,680?! WTF Hell no

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I ordered the XLT Maverick with the gray and navy cloth interior and the Area 51 (grayish blue) which I thought was the best of the interiors. Plain black cloth in the XL and the Lariat has what they call a vegan leather in brown and black which is a fancy word for vinyl. Since I have a Buick Lacrosse with the Premium leather package and a CRV with leather both have heated seats I was less interested in a fancy interior and more interested in comfort and utility especially since I am going to use the Maverick as a truck. With the type of driving I do mostly suburban the hybrid will be perfect especially if gas prices rise. The hybrid was the deciding factor along with a competitive price.

  • avatar
    JMII

    One thing to mull over: Ford’s marketing is the complete opposite of Hyundai. Ford has focused on the cheap base version of the Maverick with the hybrid power train (40 MPG!!!), while Hyundai has been showing the top-of-the-line Limited (turbo + AWD) since the get go. Thus the sticker shock of a $25k vs $40k vehicle. However if you option a Maverick up to match the SC your looking at $36k, still cheaper but not a massive gap. Even then your the SC has several features and capabilities the Mav lacks. So in the end these two vehicles are more similar then the messaging might indicate.

    I see the Mav being the more popular by appealing to the basic and budget focused crowd. While the SC has been positioned as more upscale and sporty but requires you pay for the next level. Not sure that aligns with people’s expectations as we’ve seen American’s tend to purchase “by the pound”, the minute something is smaller they immediately think cheaper. Thus a $40k compact truck is hard to sell.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree Ford is pushing more the idea of a replacement for cheaper cars with added utility, Hyundai is going after active lifestyle outback buyers.
      That said I still think Hyundai could adjust their trim packages to meet some more buyers. My guess is the average Maverick will go out the door around 28-30k, the SC more like 35k. If Hyundai offered a lower trim SC with AWD and turbo for 30-32k, I think they would pull some more buyers from Ford.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Agree and few Mavericks will be optioned at the base model which is slightly above 20k when transportation cost is included but the Maverick is still less expensive and offers a hybrid drivetrain as standard. Nothing against the Santa Cruz and I am glad that it is offered but the Maverick checked more boxes of what I wanted. I hope the Santa Cruz sells well and encourages other manufacturers to get into the compact truck market. Would like to see lots of competition and more is better for the consumer.

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    Includes “rear-seat occupant alert”

    OK, you young whippersnappers, clue me in. Is there a plague of strangers sneaking into the rear seats of trucks….whoops, I meant “trucks”….unbeknownst to the driver?

    Also, my Outback with the 3.6 mill gets better mileage than all these fours, has more rear seat room and probably better off road too. Don’t let me ever hear y’all b1tching about Subie gas hogs again.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The rear seat alert is to reminder parents that they have kids in the back seat and soon there will be a Government mandated breathalyzer for all drivers to make sure they don’t drink and drive.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Hyundai seems to be having a hard time getting good fuel economy numbers from it’s base 2.5 I-4 and 8 speed automatic in this and the Sante Fe. Even the much more powerful 2.5T is rated higher on the highway in most configurations of these two vehicles. This is puzzling considering this same drivetrain in the K5 (Optima) and Sonata went up in all mileage figures compared to the older 2.4 and 6 speed. Thaty or the EPA is way off what these really can achieve.

  • avatar

    I… I don’t know how I feel about this, Hyundai… A mini-truck Santa Cruz!? Why not come out with a new model just for a truck line..?

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