2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Review - Style Over Utility

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
2022 hyundai santa cruz review style over utility

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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3 of 57 comments
  • JD-Shifty JD-Shifty on May 27, 2022

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

    • RHD RHD on Jul 30, 2022

      What I would like to know is why, on July 30, this article from May is back near the top of the articles on the first page. Sigh... the more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • Christo1 Christo1 on May 31, 2022

    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!

  • Crtfour I live in East Tennessee where most of the time driving is pretty low stress. But for work I have the misfortune of passing through Atlanta every 3-4 months. And passing through downtown you have to change lanes and merge so many times I still can't seem to keep it straight. On my last trip I ended up in an exit only lane ; the lane next to me where I had to get into was stopped so I was blocking the exit lane with this guy behind me blowing his horn and flashing his lights. I finally managed to get over finally allowing this guy to floor it and be on it's way. I consider myself a good driver with the exception of passing through there.
  • Pishta Those 80 B2000's were very Ford Courier like but the 81's had a completely new for Mazda dash. Less pods, more integration in one window. These didn't get the F motor until 84(?) only with the B2200 option. Single wall beds had lost of rust through issues. The 80 Quad headlamp grill was very rare, I dont rememeer seeing but one growing up.
  • FreedMike So it has transited out of existence here...
  • TheEndlessEnigma Self fulfilling prophesy. Ford spends virtually nothing on sales and marketing for the Transit....then scratches their collective heads not understand why it doesn't sell to their assumed objectives. If you do not market the vehicle, it will not sell. Pretty simple to understand really. Ford sure is working hard to make itself a niche automobile company, trucks and SUV's only. But that's OK, Kia/Hyundai/Toyota/Honda and yes even Volkswagen & Nissan are more than happy to sell to those customers Ford is apparently happy to walk away from.
  • NJRide I would think this segment would have a following but I guess not enough of a price difference with larger vans and probably too unrefined to be a sort of minivan alternative