Santa Cruz is Hyundai’s Baby Pickup – or is It?

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CHATHAM, Mass. – The new 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD is the latest in the line of ever-improving, top-flight sport utility vehicles (SUV) from the Korean auto maker, except it’s not.

At least, according to Hyundai, it is not a SUV per se, nor, despite its open bed, a pickup truck. The Santa Cruz, according to the company, is a Sport Adventure Vehicle (SAV), a new segment within the crossover/SUV/truck world.

Semantics aside, the Santa Cruz is a small unibody pickup truck, one based upon the new, terrific Tucson compact SUV/crossover, aimed at folks who buy their vehicles not necessarily as a work truck, but as daily rides which double as platforms for the fun part of their lives.

Related post:
Tucson Brings Hyundai Advances to Compact SUV

Designed in California and produced in Birmingham, Ala., the company’s research indicated consumers, often living in suburban/urban areas, wanted a vehicle which can take care of their daily mobility needs, yet provide the ability to handle their off-hours activities. One which could accommodate their needs and gear better than the traditional SUV body style.

The open bed, with its lockable under-bed storage compartment (which is water tight, with drain holes, so it can double as a cooler) and lockable, integrated tonneau cover, provides this flexibility.

Regardless of the semantics surrounding the Santa Cruz marketing segment, the eye test says this is a small pickup truck and after a week driving it, including maneuvering through the first snow storm in the region in almost a year, it is quite capable and fun.

Underpinnings a solid performer

Hyundai offers two 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engines in the Santa Cruz starting with a base 191-horsepower, 181-pounds-feet of torque version. The Limited AWD trim model we sampled included the turbocharged version of the engine with significantly more horsepower (281) and torque (311 lbs.-ft.) and a lot of on-road performance.

Pressing the accelerator returned immediate response from the boosted motor, with the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission helping to maximize the power and Hyundai’s multi-driving mode HTRAC® all-wheel-drive (AWD) system ensuring traction is maintained. The driver can select NORMAL, SPORT, SMART and SNOW to allow the vehicle’s computes to optimize operation within these parameters.

The ready power of the turbocharged engine led to aggressive driving, something not as comfortable in most other pickups, especially with an empty bed over the rear wheels. This truck with its AWD provided confident, comfortable motoring at all speeds.

The boosted motor also helps those who take their recreational activities seriously, enabling the Santa Cruz to pull trailers of up to 5,000 pounds and in-bed loads of up to 1,600 pounds.

The ride provided by the (front MacPherson-type strut/rear auto-leveling multi-link) suspension is comfortable and controlled, providing the reassurance mentioned above.

Bringing the Santa Cruz to a halt is a power-boosted braking system with 12.8-inch rotors at all four wheels (ventilated in the front; solid in the rear) aided by brake assist and four-channel, four-sensor anti-lock (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD).

SmartSense provides a suite of driver-assist features

The Limited AWD variant we drove includes the complete Hyundai SmartSense suite of advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS), much of it based on automatic-emergency braking (AEB) capability. Every Santa Cruz comes with forward collision-avoidance assist (FCA) with pedestrian and cyclist detection; lane-keeping assist (LKA) and driver-attention warning (DAW).

The Limited AWD adds blind-spot collision avoidance (BCA); safe-exit assist (SEA); blind-spot view monitor (BVM, which adds a camera view of the blind spot area when a turn signal is activated); highway drive assist (HDA); surround-view monitor (SVM); rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist (RCCA); smart cruise control, and automatic windshield wipers.

Modern tech and amenities fill the cabin

The four-door, five-person passenger compartment of the Santa Cruz is more SUV-like than truck like, which is a great thing for its occupants.

A pair of 10.25-inch color screens dominate the interior. One provides a customizable information/instrument cluster for the driver behind the tilting/telescoping heated steering wheel.

The second is the heart of the infotainment system which provides AM/FM/SiriusXM satellite radio/streaming audio/Apple CarPlay/Android Auto as sources for the BOSE® Premium Audio system to amplify. This system includes navigation with traffic and speed-limit information.

The leather-trimmed seats are heated and ventilated in the front (the driver’s with eight-way power adjustment) and split 60/40 in the rear to increase storage (the seat cushion flips up).

The automatic dual-zone climate control system will switch on automatically to warm up or cool down the Santa Cruz if the remote start is activated (with a single push of a button on the keyfob or via Hyundai’s digital key app on a smartphone).

A standard moonroof tops off the comprehensive list of features and amenities, making this a very easy vehicle to live with, whether on around-town errands or a long road trip.

The bottom line(s)

The smooth revving engine which begs to be pushed turned in very respectable fuel-economy numbers for a pickup of any size. The federal Environmental Protection Agency rates the Santa Cruz Limited AWD at 22 miles per gallon in all-around driving (19 in the city, 27 on the highway), but I had better performance. With limited highway driving, I saw 23.5 mpg during my week in the pint-sized truck, an excellent number!

Speaking of numbers, the Santa Cruz range begins with the front-wheel-drive (FWD) SE model priced at $23,990 and can be trimmed five additional ways up to the $39,720 MSRP for the fully equipped Limited AWD. With destination, the Limited AWD comes in at $40,945 – a very competitive figure for a vehicle with this level of equipment within this category.

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Hyundai calls it a Sport Adventure Vehicle and most consumers will consider it a pickup. Regardless of the designation, the Santa Cruz provides active folks with another vehicular means of fulfilling all their recreational – and even for some work – needs and desires.

Next week TBR Drives the Infiniti QX80.

Mike Geylin
Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Editor-in-Chief at Hagman Media. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.