Feels More Like a Low Slung Sports Car Than Any Pickup Truck We’ve Ever Driven
One of the complaints we hear most from viewers is that no one builds small, affordable pickup trucks anymore. Well, that was then and this is now. Ford has stepped up with the fun and frugal maverick, and Hyundai with this snazzier Santa Cruz. Two big brands, two somewhat different approaches. So, let’s see if the Santa Cruz has enough metal to get weekend jobs done.
You can say one thing about the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz; it certainly is unique, looking less like a pickup truck and more like a Tucson crossover with a stylish bed on the back. Which is more or less what it is. Much like Honda did with the Pilot to create the mid-size Ridgeline, the most successful crossover pickup to date, Hyundai has taken their compact Tucson utility and exchanged the cargo hold for a 4-foot open bed.
With that bed, overall length is 13.4-inches greater than Tucson; as the Santa Cruz is available as a Crew Cab only. Also similar to Ridgeline, the Santa Cruz is highly comfortable and easy to drive; along with being very quiet at highway speeds. It also has a few tricks up its sleeve to get the most out of its small bed; like lockable underfloor storage and a lockable integrated Tonneau cover. Plus, corner bumper steps and more storage space under the rear seat.
Plenty of power, too. Standard is a 191-horsepower naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter I4; while our tester featured the optional turbo version of that 2.5-liter, outputting 281-horsepower and 311 lb-ft. of torque. Both engines get an 8-speed transmission, but the base unit is a traditional automatic, while the turbo gets a dual-clutch with paddle shifters. Comprehensive drive modes shape the driving experience, with Smart mode presenting a good compromise by smoothing out the turbo’s abruptness, yet delivering the goods when you call for them.
Most small crossovers are not known for their great visibility, and the thick C-pillars that blend into the bed, means relying on your mirrors for lane changes. Everything inside mostly comes straight from the Tucson. So, there are lots of smart looking flat screens and touch panels, as well as durable, but also upscale-looking materials for a premium environment, especially compared to its Ford Maverick rival. Thankfully, even in top Limited trim, it keeps a traditional shifter, instead of using Hyundai’s latest push-buttons. The 10-inch touchscreen is an upgrade over the standard 8-inch one. It did show signs of the surface being easy to scratch, while Hyundai’s infotainment system still ranks as one of the best.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings for our tester with the turbo and all-wheel-drive are 19-City, 27-Highway, and 22-Combined; we averaged a great 24.2 miles-per-gallon of Regular. That’s an average Energy Impact Score; 15.0-barrels of yearly oil consumption, with 6.7-tons of CO2 emissions.
Now, Ford’s front-wheel drive only Maverick hybrid obviously does much better, and their optional 2.0-liter turbo does, too; but the Santa Cruz will out tow the Maverick; 5,000-lbs. versus the Maverick’s 4,000. Time to haul the testing gear to Mason Dixon Dragway for further impressions.
The Santa Cruz has a relaxed surfer vibe off the line, but catches a big wave of torque at about the 30-foot mark on the track and it’s on from there; hitting 60 in 6.0-seconds flat. Timely DCT shifts provided stable power delivery throughout the ¼ mile, ending in 14.5-seconds at 98 miles-per-hour. Sharp and smooth through the cones, feeling more like a low-slung sports car than any pickup truck we’ve ever driven. We were able to maintain a good amount of speed throughout, with only minor oversteer at the limits. The brake pedal felt stiff sometimes, virtually no resistance at others; but ultimately, with consistent fade-fee stops of just 101-feet from 60, quite effective.
The optional HTRAC all-wheel-drive system is primarily suited for getting you through bad weather. But its ability to widely distribute engine torque side-to-side as well as front-to-back also aids in handling as well as acceleration, and even performed admirably in some light off-roading.
Pricing starts at $25,215 for front-wheel drive, with $1,500 more to add-all-wheel-drive. that’s about five-grand more than the base Ford Maverick. SEL Premium and Limited come with AWD and the turbo engine standard; with top Limited starting at $40,945.
And just like that, we went from having no compact pickup trucks in the market, to having 2 able ones to choose from. The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz and the Ford Maverick clearly have different vibes, but offer much the same thing: a small, easy to drive adventure vehicle equipped to equally get you through your daily grind as well as weekend excursions. The Santa Cruz just happens to look a lot funkier while doing it.
Engine: 2.5L I4 Turbo
Horsepower: 191 | 281
Torque: 311 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 6.0 seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.5 seconds at 98 mph
EPA: 19 City / 27 Highway / 22 Combined