- Fun to drive in turbo form
- Looks great
- Neat tonneau cover
- Can’t speak to the base engine’s performance or refinement.
- Less capable than the Ford Maverick
- More expensive and less efficient than the Maverick
MotorTrend‘s Truck of the Year competition isn’t a comparison test—like all Of The Years, entrants are considered against our criteria—but when it came to the new 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz, judges found it difficult to avoid comparisons with the new 2022 Ford Maverick, the other new compact pickup truck that dropped this year.
“The Santa Cruz drives pretty well, but it doesn’t have the Maverick’s charm,” Mexico editor Miguel Cortina said.
Ignoring the pesky Ford, it’s worth considering what the new Santa Cruz is. Hyundai’s first pickup in this market (the company has sold a light-duty pickup in South Korea, called the Porter, since the late 1970s), the Santa Cruz is a new compact pickup based on the Tucson crossover. The standard—and expected volume—drivetrain is a 191-hp 2.5-liter I-4 paired with an eight-speed automatic and the buyer’s choice of front- or all-wheel drive. A 281-hp turbocharged version of the four-cylinder is available on upper-tier models. It’s paired with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic and all-wheel drive, though front-wheel drive will be available later in 2022.
Base prices start at $25,215, but turbo models begin at $36,905. Our loaded turbocharged Santa Cruz test truck, which included an aftermarket trailer hitch and trailer brake controller because neither is available from the factory on turbocharged models, stickered for about $42,000.
We requested a naturally aspirated Santa Cruz to go along with our turbocharged tester, but Hyundai wouldn’t provide one for our competition. It also confirmed it will not order any such vehicle for its press or marketing fleets. “That’s not a vote of confidence,” features editor Scott Evans said.
Like the Maverick, the Santa Cruz is designed for those who want a pickup’s utility but maybe don’t need all the capability. That’s just as well, because as a pickup the Santa Cruz is fairly middling. Turbocharged all-wheel-drive models are capable of towing up to 5,000 pounds and hauling up to 1,600 pounds, though a Hyundai spokesperson told us the truck can only carry 600 pounds in its 4-foot composite bed. The bed features a nifty roll-up tonneau cover and an underfloor trunk, but judges found the latter too small to handle anything larger than jumper cables, and the tonneau cover impeded access to a cargo area that already has high bedrails.
We didn’t have any major issues towing a 3,500-pound trailer with our Santa Cruz other than some minor trailer sway, but its off-road performance gave us pause. On the semi-steep, sandy hill climb on the off-road test course, we experienced the Santa Cruz’s dual-clutch stalling more than once as it slipped its clutches and attempted to put its power down.
However, when not working hard, the Santa Cruz was pretty fun to drive. “Carlike” is a descriptor written often in judges’ notes. The Hyundai is refined, comfortable, and torquey, and it rides well on all but high-frequency impacts. Judges appreciated its exterior styling, but most were annoyed by the capacitive controls in the interior, which might work well on a crossover but less so on a “lifestyle” vehicle that might get a bit dirty. The stylish cabin is cramped and without much storage, and the back seat is tight, too.
Ultimately, the Santa Cruz is a premium lifestyle vehicle for those who haul little more than bikes or potted plants in the bed. But is there is a better option on the market for doing real truck stuff?
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