By on May 24, 2022

Those of us with memories longer than a goldfish can think back all the way back to last year and remember the hype surrounding the Hyundai Santa Cruz. A hype train that quickly derailed when Ford’s Maverick launched just a few months later and proved itself better at doing “truck things” than the Santa Cruz.

Thing is, as great as the Maverick is, the Santa Cruz is still a pretty cool little trucklet – if you understand its limits.

Think of the Santa Cruz less as a cheap way to get into trucking and more as a small SUV with a truck bed instead of a cargo area, and you’ll better understand its mission. Sure, Hyundai would be happy to have you buy a Santa Cruz because you want to take your surfboard to the beach or your mountain bike to the trail, but really, you’re probably going to be just fine driving around with an empty bed, getting comments on how cool your Santa Cruz looks. Maybe you’ll dump some cases of Miller Lite and other cheap brews into the back when Kenny Chesney comes to town and it’s time to tailgate before the show. Maybe.

So the bed’s utility is somewhat limited. So what? The Santa Cruz is, for the most part, a pleasure to drive, even unladen. A bit more spirited than the Maverick, at least in terms of handling, with a slightly more car-like ride. A self-leveling rear suspension probably helps in that regard.

The 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in my test truck – a naturally-aspirated 2.5 is the base engine – provides a healthy 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque, and it’s well-suited to the cut and thrust of urban driving.

Inside, the cabin is well-appointed with clean lines and a heavy dose of digital. The gauges are digital and the infotainment screen prioritizes touch-screen action over old-fashioned switchgear, and Hyundai made the poor decision to go knobless. Your author isn’t totally against haptic-touch controls, but I believe knobs are necessary for radio tuning and audio volume, and usually work best for HVAC adjustments such as temperature and fan speed.

My Limited tester, with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission, didn’t come cheap. That’s because the Limited trim is the top one. It’s loaded from jump, with the only option on my test unit being carpeted floor mats.

Standard features include 20-inch wheels, LED lighting, leather-trimmed seats, smart cruise control, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and starting, remote start, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, 10.25-inch infotainment screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, rear-view monitor, blind-spot monitor, dual USB ports, wireless cell-phone charging, Bose audio, satellite radio, and Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car services.

Advanced-driving aids include forward collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, driver-attention warning, rear-occupant alert, blind-spot collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, and downhill brake control.

Total price? $41,100, including the $1,185 destination fee. Fuel economy is listed at 19/27/22.

In a vacuum, the Santa Cruz is a likable vehicle, though the $40K price tag for a fully-loaded model seems steep. But it doesn’t offer up true truck utility. Its primary strengths are looking cool and being relatively fun to drive.

Style is worth the price to some. But the small-truck buyer with plans to use their truck like, well, a truck, will probably look toward Ford.

What’s New for 2022

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is all new.

Who Should Buy It

Those who like to be quirky and cool, surf bros and bro-ettes, anyone who needs to haul light loads but doesn’t need the full truck experience.

[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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56 Comments on “2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Review – Style over Utility...”


  • avatar
    wjtinfwb

    A base Santa Cruz at 25k is a pretty cool little runabout with the ability to bring a load of mulch or your fishing gear home without messing up the interior. But at 41k there are lots of other options that provide more utility and/or sport, a Ranger Tremor or Colorado ZR2 come to mind.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Pros:
    -Offers a 5000lbs towing capacity
    -Is quicker than the Maverick 2.0T (Motor Trend tested them together)
    -Seems to have at least sport-trim CUV handling.

    Cons:
    -The base engine
    -Price on the turbo trims
    -No hybrid
    -Tonneau cover takes up too much bed space and isn’t easy enough to remove.
    -No bright exterior colors offered

    Overall unless you really need to tow or you’ll die without AWD the Maverick hybrid is hard to beat.

    • 0 avatar

      Pretty much agree on all your points. The big one for me is the Turbo entry price point. I think it would make a lot more sense to offer it starting on the SEL. Hyundai and Kia have done this in the past with special lower trim models getting bigger engines seems thats what this needs.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      @ajla–Good summary of the pros and cons and those are the things that tipped the scale for me toward the Maverick. I still like the Santa Cruz and hope it succeeds. I want to thank Tim for finally taking one of my suggestions (maybe he was going to do it anyway) to review the Santa Cruz. He summed up the pros and cons of the Santa Cruz nicely. I would like to see Hyundai offer a hybrid of the Santa Cruz and I would like to see both Hyundai and Ford offer plug in hybrids on the Santa Cruz and Maverick. I still like the Santa Cruz whether you call it a compact truck or an suv and there is definitely a market for it with the younger generation and those suburbanites that want a smaller truck like vehicle for the Home Depot runs.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The styling doesn’t work for me, and neither does this price. I’d choose a Maverick if I were in the market for a small pickup.

    Off topic…I Sunday-shopped the redesigned Nissan Frontier this weekend, and found myself liking it quite a bit. The one I saw was quite well equipped, and stickered at $37,000. I’d probably take that over this Hyundai as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      @FreedMike–I have seen several new Frontiers and I have to say Nissan got it right. I would have liked to see a more base Frontier with a I4 but the truck itself is a winner and is very competitive in the midsize truck market.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        It looks “trucky” without being a rolling expression of how p*ssed off you are at the world. Refreshing in this day and age.

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          The Frontier would be an excellent choice for a midsize truck. Most of my prior trucks ( 3 out of 5 the other 1 compact and 1 full size) were midsize and if I were choosing a midsize Frontier would be at the top of my list especially for what you get for the money. Nissan makes good trucks and at least they don’t have the Jatco CVTs.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree

            I also agree that the Frontier would be my pick for midsize truck currently. It’s handsome and capable.

            As far as CVTs, Nissan even seems to be phasing those out of its cars; the new Pathfinder and very new QX60 employ a 9AT instead of a CVT.

          • 0 avatar
            Jeff S

            @Kyree–That is good news the Jatco CVT was the Achilles heel of Nissan cars and crossovers.

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    Stop being so soft on them for making the dashboard a touch activated nightmare.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      That and the nearly useless “truck bed” make this a non-starter. I saw one on the road a week ago, and was not impressed.
      On the other hand, since most trucks are used as single-occupant commuter vehicles, hauling less air as cargo is appropriate to its likely use.
      It’s useful for trips to Costco if the weather is good and you’re not going to buy too much stuff. For that reason, it’s not likely to sell very well in the greater Salt Lake City area.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Now that I’ve seen both this and the Maverick “in the flesh”, I’m better equipped to say more about this duo. I can’t think of a pair of vehicles that appear so similar “on paper” yet so different in reality.

    The Ford, as you say, looks like a TRUCK, a mini F-150 or Ranger, while the Santa Cruz just looks like Hyundai took a Sawzall™ to a Santa Fe. If new vehicle pricing ever settles down, I would be sorely tempted by a Maverick but wouldn’t give a second thought to a Santa Cruz.

    • 0 avatar
      swissAventador

      The fact that the Santa Cruz is a truckified Santa Fe is EXACTLY why I would buy the Santa Cruz over a Maverick. The Santa Cruz drives and handles like a car, making daily living more convenient, but gives you the extra bit of benefit of a truck when you need it. I like the F-150 or Ranger, but the Maverick just looks and feels like a cheap UHaul truck.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The Maverick looks like a goofy caricature of a pick-up with its ridiculously oversized headlights.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        I semi-agree. They are a bit much, no doubt. But the layout (signal top, headlight bottom) remind me of my favorite Ford F-series, 1975-76.

        The Maverick is a grand slam for Ford on numerous levels – hybrid, reasonable size, reasonable price. Yeah, the interior is low-cost but so is the relative price. Unless some quality Achilles Heel shows up, I expect they’ll have a good run for several years of strong sales. I also expect the competition to jump into the fray as well.

  • avatar
    midnite_clyde

    They take away all knobs and leave the big bulky shifter? No thanks.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    “But really, you’re probably going to be just fine driving around with an empty bed, getting comments on how cool your Santa Cruz looks.”

    If narrow-minded internet “enthusiasts” are any indication, the only comments drivers of trucks with empty beds will be receiving are angry ones.

  • avatar
    JMII

    “Maverick launched just a few months later and proved itself better at doing “truck things” than the Santa Cruz.”

    How so? The bed is all of 2″ bigger but lacks the side compartments and waterproof brunk. The only thing that hurts the SC is the space you lose due to the roll up bed cover. Of course the flip side is you can secure your cargo. To me its a wash the Mav is not superior here, its just slightly different in distribution of space.

    For me the Maverick is boring looking and the interior is cheap. I wouldn’t take one if you gave it to me. I’ll be buying a SC to replace my ancient V8 Dakota Quad Cab as a tow vehicle.

    As for the button-less interior: sadly this trend is taking over vehicle design. Nobody really likes it but the Mav’s interior is already outdated and will seem laughable in a few years when all vehicles use nothing but screens for UI. The SC digital dash has those blind spot cameras which are a downright brilliant invention.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      To me, the interior is really the only nasty spot in this Hyundai. Eye-repellent and doesn’t look user-friendly. I might accept a crappy user interface in a $15k budget-mobile, but not in a $41k truck. Volume knobs are like doorknobs or faucet knobs – the form factor hasn’t changed in decades because it’s optimized.

      • 0 avatar
        swissAventador

        Yeah, the touch control is the only sore spot for me too. Looks nice, but I hate that with a passion in terms of practicality. Everything else about the Santa Cruz though is awesome for its purpose.

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      “brunk”? Really? Please tell me that was a typo. PLEASE! Regardless of where the compartment is located on the vehicle, front, rear, underneath it’s still a trunk. Hyundai fanboys crack me up on how the jump to defend Hyundai and Kia products from an amount of criticism.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        No fan boy here… I current drive a Dodge and once owned a Ranger. I was all set to buy a new one but found it oversized. The Mav is cheap for a reason, I don’t see it being superior to the SC expect in hybrid form. If you want to maximized MPG then get a Mav. If you hate the styling (interior or exterior) of the SC then its off your radar immediately.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      On the low end trims the interior didn’t seem that much worse in the Ford. Certainly not enough IMO to make up for what the Ford’s hybrid drivetrain brings to the table versus the base SC engine. The interior comparison might be a more noticeable thing on higher trims.

      The turbo SC makes a better case for itself but it’s priced well into BOF truck territory. So it’s almost solely a construction preference at that point.
      It would be great if Hyundai offered the 2.5T across all trims (Ford offers both engines on all trims) or could do a 1.6H version without jacking up the price over $35k.

      I think that tonneau cover really should be re-engineered as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      @JMII–The Maverick XLT and Lariat are much better trims. The XL trim with the black cloth seats is not as nice and there is no option on the XL for cruise control and power mirrors. I picked the XLT for that reason since I will likely keep it for at least 10 years.

  • avatar
    Dan

    This white supremacist conspiracy, then transitory, then permanent but actually a good thing, and now bad but Putin’s fault hyperinflation really opened up market space for the lesser trucks.

    Could anyone have imagined $40,000 for this just two years ago when a decent F-150 was also $40,000?

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    “…getting comments on how cool your Santa Cruz looks” I seriously doubt that. Unless by “cool” you mean “odd”.

    • 0 avatar
      swissAventador

      Definitely cool. Just this past weekend, got a mini tour with a Santa Cruz owner and a couple other guys at a Target parking lot (we don’t know each other, just a random gathering of people who happened to spot the trucklet), and they all couldn’t stop telling the owner how awesome it looks.

  • avatar
    probert

    The “thrust of urban driving”? Reaching 15mph with tepid alacrity, while dodging 3 pedestrians and a pothole? 280 hp oughtta cover it. LOL

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Ok Subaru, now is the time for a new Baja.
    I saw a new Maverick the other day in full FX4 trim parked and it looked swell with a just enough of a lift with a easy to access entry point.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    The Santa Cruz is more attractive than the Maverick. All of the one’s I’ve looked at were also much more expensive. Would I buy one? Nope. Would I buy a Maverick? Another no. These trucklets are good for urban dwellers. I doubt they’d hold up to the typical use that my 12 year old F150 has seen.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      @Lou_BC–I am one of the urban dwellers who moved from the big city to the farm then to suburbia and in the near future to a high desert retirement community. At one time when I was living in the country I needed a full size truck but never got one. Now I need even less than a midsize. A compact truck doesn’t work for everyone but for some of us it is a perfect fit and It doubt I will ever put it to hard use. I did put my 85 Mighty Max with the 7 foot bed to tasks that were testing its limits to the extent I broke the rear leaf springs and had it built up with additional leaf springs to raise its capacity to a ton. With the additional leaf springs it road very stiff when not loaded but it would handle a ton with no problem. Was glad it had a manual because I would have destroyed an automatic finally gave it to my mechanic with 200k miles. Also gave that 99 S-10 some hard use but not nearly as severe as that Mitsubishi.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @Jeff S – I’ve moved between truck classes based on my needs. My 1st truck was a regular cab Ranger. 2nd was a regular cab 3/4 ton. I then went to a extended cab Ranger. It was outgrown by my family and I got the F150 Supercrew. That’s way too big for me now so I going back to a smaller truck. A smaller BOF truck with an offroad bias is what I need based on my hobbies. I’d consider a Maverick if I felt it was suitable.
        I don’t have rigid biases against any brand or class of pickup. I do have my preferences.

        • 0 avatar
          Funky D

          Sounds like the Ranger may fit your bill.

          I would have bought one myself earlier this year had a V6 engine option been available.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @Funky D – The Ranger has the Tremor package which doesn’t provide much extra in the way of off-road prowess. The ZR2 is much superior and has a diesel option. If Ford had the Ranger Raptor then I would have considered it.

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          @Lou__BC–Me too. I don’t have any real brand biased but I got a Maverick because it best met my needs. When I lived on the farm I had a chance to get a nice low mileage two tone blue and silver low mileage 4×4 1989 Chevy half ton from my lawnmower mechanic a retired GM worker in perfect shape for a reasonable price. At that time it only had 24k miles and was 7 years old for about 12k. I should have bought that truck because at the time I could have used it. I think you will like your new diesel Colorado it sounds like a perfect fit for you and I am glad you were able to get a new one before they stop making them.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    I’m really interested in one of these but dealerships can’t keep one on the lot long enough to test drive.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Very true. It gets even worse when you actually try to buy one. I’ve spoken with 4 dealers, they all want over MSRP and will not come down a penny because they have a line of buyers more then happy to pay up. Since Ford stopped taking Mav orders and is backlogged in production a group of former buyers are getting SCs because at least Hyundai is shipping a few units to each dealer.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Review of Santa Cruz should include pics of its cargo area, maybe with some standard bulky items in it for demonstration. This review is mostly a description the car’s specs. What about visibility, seat comfort, maneuverability, rear seat utility, and so forth?

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      Edit: I see that Healey wrote an in-depth review of the Santa Cruz last year, so now I’m not sure of the purpose of this second “review.” Healey should, in this piece, mention and link to his first review . . . for the goldfish. :)

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    This model is devoid of any “style” whatsoever so I’m not sure what you’re on about.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Having seen them both ‘in the flesh’ I prefer the exterior styling of the Maverick. It is more conservative and therefore will probably ‘age better’. I also much prefer the interior of the Maverick for the simple reason that I detest touch screens in vehicles. They are unsafe and dysfunctional. As for ‘stepping up’ to a midsize truck. No. Why? Because RWD. I would use AWD/4wd possibly once or twice per calendar year. And therefore would prefer a FWD vehicle over a RWD one, particularly when ‘hauling air’.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      @Arthur–My experience with a 4 x 4 Isuzu I-370 was in the 12 years I owned it I maybe used the 4 wheel drive 6 times. Most of the time the little bit of snow on the roads was easily handled without engaging 4 wheel drive. The front wheel drive in either the Maverick or Santa Cruz will more than meet most Winter driving even in Canada. If you were doing off road then you might want AWD or 4 wheel drive. Save your money and get the hybrid Maverick you will love the way it drives and the great mpgs. Unless you need to go the cheapest which is the XL the XLT is worth the difference with the alloy wheels, cruise control, power mirrors, nicer interior, and a few other niceties that make the Maverick more enjoyable. The Lariat is also very nice but I really liked the interior of the XLT the best.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        I find that mounting good tires, proper weight distribution, and intelligent driving will suffice most of the time. Truth be told, if the roads are so bad that you need 4×4, you shouldn’t be out there.
        Since I’ve spent my life in emergency services and Healthcare, I’ve typically needed to get to work. In my personal time, the need for 4×4 is not a need but a hobby or the way to enjoy a hobby.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Both appeal to different types of buyers.

    Despite its higher pricing, Hyundai sells every Santa Cruz they make and would sell more if they had the production capacity.

    While it would be nice, limited production capacity would be the reason why we won’t see a hybrid SC, esp. with an all-electric pick-up in the works.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      If the Santa Cruz would have been available sooner I might have bought one instead of waiting 8 1/2 for my Maverick but now that I have a Maverick I really like it. On Hyundai’s website I could not build my own Santa Cruz all the website did was refer me to nearby dealers. On the Ford website you can build your own Maverick and get a price. I could order a Maverick but I could not find anywhere you could order a Hyundai. Seems if Hyundai could crank up their production and offer a build your own Santa Cruz on their website that they would gain more sales.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Here’s the build and price:

        https://www.hyundaiusa.com/us/en/build/trims/#/4530

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          @Dave M. –Hyundai has that now but earlier the site would just refer you to a dealer. Ford did get the build your own Maverick up last year before production began. Hyundai has some catching up to do with the Santa Cruz but less chip shortages and other shortages should get sales going but that might not be until 2024. I would like to see this segment of the market grow. Not everyone who wants the utility of a pickup needs or wants a larger truck.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    This is probably a better truck than the Maverick on substance, especially if you’re willing to pay a bit more. But I just can’t make peace with the styling. It’s the worst elements of the Tucson and the Baja rolled together, and I couldn’t bear to look at it every day.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I finally got to drive an SC a couple of days ago. A friend showed up to pick me up for lunch in one in that (IMHO) awful blue grey color. It was a loaner from the dealer while his wife’s Santa Fe was being fixed (He’s a friend of the dealer’s family) Other than the color, it appeared to be identical to the one pictured above. Same awful wheels. It drove fine, no real complaints about anything. But the lack of knobs is a huge negative. The lack of any decent color is too. I don’t understand the lack of colors on so many vehicles now. The stereo was OK, the seats were too. The real deal killer for me is the price, $41,000? I don’t see it. At that price range, I would pick so many other vehicles first. I feel the same way about quite a few cars and trucks, the value is just not there. Of all the newer vehicles I’ve driven over the last couple of years, the SC isn’t the worst value, that goes to the Jeep Gladiator, which I just don’t get the pricing on at all.

  • avatar
    RHD

    Agreed about the lack of colors. A lot of new vehicles look like they just clearcoated the primer.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    I don’t see any reason to buy this over a Ridgeline

  • avatar
    christo1

    I have the limited model, replaced my 2108 Tacoma. I absolutely love the Santa Cruz. I totally disagree about style over utility. I recently went camping, had a 1/4 cord of wood in the bed, tonneau cover closed, two bikes on a hitch rack, and two kayaks on the roof. All luggage in the back seat and drove in absolute comfort. Tons of power and tech and a decent sound system. This truck is tough, you can feel the beefed up suspension in action when pushed. It’s way more capable as a truck than most reviewers point out.

    My analogy: A Lumber jack in a sharp looking suit!

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