Hyundai’s first pickup is, in reality, a leisure-time activity vehicle that’s more likely to be spotted at the campsite than at the job site.
In fact, the Korea-based automaker avoids referring to the Santa Cruz as a pickup. Hyundai calls it a Sport Adventure Vehicle, a term that, beyond the realm of promotional press releases and advertising copy, stands little chance of being adopted for common usage.
The four-door Santa Cruz offers a plausible alternative to compact-sized utility vehicles, in which bulky and especially tall cargo can be more easily transported, along with up to five passengers.
Currently, the closest competitor is the Honda Ridgeline. Compared with the Santa Cruz, it’s more than 35 centimetres longer, nine centimetres wider and offers about 17 additional centimetres between the front and rear wheels.
On the horizon is the compact 2022 Ford Maverick pickup that, like Santa Cruz and Ridgeline, has a unitized body, as opposed to the more rugged body-on-frame construction that’s common to larger pickups.
Hyundai’s California-based designers have crafted a stylish little carryall with an aggressively shaped grille. Similar styling can be found on the Sonata and Elantra sedans and the 2022 Tucson. The grille has eight daytime running lights that illuminate when the Santa Cruz is in motion. A rounded rear end has a pair of T-shaped taillights that extend into the tailgate.
The Santa Cruz’s interior is as modern and sophisticated as you’ll find in most sedans, with a standard digital dashboard display and built in touch-screen. Unfortunately there are no separate volume or climate-control knobs, but at least Hyundai positioned a traditional gear shifter on the floor console, as opposed to using buttons or a dial.
The back seat appears to be a bit tight on legroom, compared with the longer Ridgeline, but, like the Honda, the split seat-cushion can be folded up for stowing cargo or for accessing the tire jack.
The bed also has its practical side, even though it’s only 1.2 metres long, which is 38 centimetres shorter than the Ridgeline’s. That could be a hard pass for some buyers, but at least the bed contains an under-floor storage area for smaller items and a small cubby built into each side of the fender walls. Standard is a removable (and lockable) hard tonneau cover that slides out on tracks from the far end of the bed.
In Canada, the sole engine is a turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder that makes 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet. U.S. customers can also select a non-turbo 2.5-litre base powerplant with 190 horses.
Fuel consumption is rated at 12.1 l/100 km in the city, 8.6 on the highway and 10.6 combined.
An eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters is also standard. This transmission is a dual-clutch design, which tends to be more efficient with quicker shifting.
The turbo engine is capable of towing 5,000 pounds (2,270 kilograms).
A multi-mode all-wheel-drive system with Normal, Sport and Smart (eco) settings is standard with all trim levels.
Pricing for the base Preferred trim starts at about $40,300, including destination charges. It comes with an eight-inch touch-screen, 18-inch wheels and short list of active safety technologies such as forward-collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist and driver-attention warning.
The Trend gets heated and power adjustable front seats plus wireless phone charging, power sunroof and an eight-speaker Bose-brand audio system. Selecting the Ultimate gets you the 10.3-inch screen with navigation system, auto-dimming rearview mirror, surround-view monitor and 20-inch wheels.
Beyond the cute looks, the question to ask yourself is will the Santa Cruz be enough truck to suit your present and future needs? An answer in the affirmative should result in a positive experience, whatever you call the vehicle.
What you should know: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Type: All-wheel-drive compact pickup
Engine (h.p.): 2.5-litre I-4, turbocharged (281)
Transmissions: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic
Market position: The Santa Cruz is the smallest model in the compact-pickup class that could eventually expand into a full-blown niche over the next few years as midsize and full-size trucks become increasingly more expensive.
Points: Eye-catching styling, inside and out. • The standard turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant delivers more than adequate power. • The small-size pickup bed could discourage some buyers. • Additional secure storage compartments plus a lockable tonneau cover add practicality. • Attractive pricing could offset the lack of cargo space for some.
Driver assist: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (std.); active cruise control (opt.); front and rear emergency braking (opt.); inattentive-driver alert (std.); lane-keeping assist (std.); pedestrian detection (std.)
L/100 km (city/hwy): 12.1/8.6
Base price (incl. destination): $40,300
- Base price: $47,350
- Pricey, but spacious four-door truck. A 280-h.p.V-6 and AWD are standard.
Ford Maverick Super Crew
- Base price: $28,000
- Smaller and cheaper than the Ford Ranger. Hybrid power is std. AWD is opt.
Chevy Colorado Crew Cab
- Base price: $37,000
- Four-door crew-cab version offers a choice of three engines. AWD is opt.
– written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media