Hyundai offers the Santa Cruz with front-wheel drive and a naturally aspirated engine, but my loaded Limited model has all-wheel drive and a punchy 2.5-liter turbo I4. Since the Santa Cruz has a lot in common with the Tucson, it’s no surprise the front end has the same ultracool lighting treatment, and the 4.5-foot bed around back is pretty adorable. The Santa Cruz is one of those cars that makes me give a look back and smile when I walk away from it in a parking lot.
We can have the “real truck” debate until the cows come home, but the Hyundai Santa Cruz has a lot of capability. I’d argue it’s more than enough for 95% of truck buyers out there. My all-wheel-drive tester can tow up to 5,000 pounds with a braked trailer, though front-drive examples lower that rating to 3,000 pounds. Trailer sway control is standard, though it’s worth noting that, if your trailer isn’t braked, Hyundai recommends a max towing capacity of 1,650 pounds.
The Santa Cruz’s bed measures 52.1 inches long and 53.9 inches wide, with 42.7 inches of space between the wheel wells. No, you won’t be flat-packing any plywood back there, but with multiple tie-down points and sliding rail anchors, you can secure a whole lot of gear. There’s underfloor storage that’s lockable, waterproof and drainable, and the bed’s tonneau cover easily slides back and forth, adding another layer of security.
The bed is smaller than what you’ll find on larger, midsize trucks like the Chevrolet Colorado and Toyota Tacoma, but the Hyundai’s rear is easier to access. The bed floor is only 30.6 inches off the ground, making it much easier to load heavy items. Furthermore, the bed’s sides are pretty shallow, so I can reach in without an issue. A base Santa Cruz SE can haul 1,753 pounds of payload but my Limited AWD tester can handle 1,609. That latter spec is more than what the Chevy Colorado, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma can handle. Who you callin’ a fake truck?
Hyundai calls the Santa Cruz a Sport Adventure Vehicle, though there are definitely limits to the go-anywhere fun you can have. The truck’s 8.6 inches of ground clearance is akin to other compact crossovers, and off-road geometry is nothing to write home about, with a 17.5-degree approach angle, 23.2-degree departure angle and 18.6-degree breakover angle. The Santa Cruz’s basic all-season tires don’t help matters, either, especially the 245/50-series Michelin Primacy rubbers wrapped around the Limited’s standard 20-inch wheels.
If I was buying a Santa Cruz for adventure time, a lift kit and bigger tires would be first on my list. Still, this little guy isn’t too bad out in the dirt. The independent front and rear suspensions can handle dusty whoops at 15 to 20 mph, and a center locking differential can provide a 50/50 front/rear torque split. The Santa Cruz even has hill-descent control, though in testing I find it to be a little too speedy — you’ll definitely need to use the brakes.
Obviously, my desire for dirt antics makes me a bit of an outlier, and most people will keep their Santa Cruzes on pavement. They definitely won’t be disappointed, especially with the optional 2.5T engine, which produces 282 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. With an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission managing power, the Santa Cruz has plenty of scoot.
Base models come with a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter I4 with 191 hp and 181 lb.-ft. With the Santa Cruz’s 3,700-pound curb weight, non-turbo models will likely feel a bit pokey.
Driving around town, the transmission executes smooth shifts, but it’s less refined in stop-and-go highway traffic. The Santa Cruz’s ride quality is great, soaking up rough pavement with ease. The steering is nicely weighted and accurate, if a bit numb.
The best thing about driving the Santa Cruz is that it’s small and easy to maneuver. Even midsize trucks can feel beastly from behind the wheel, but all that goes out the window with the Santa Cruz. It’s nimble enough to shoot through traffic and it’s easy to park, all while maintaining most of the utility of its larger brethren.
The 2022 Santa Cruz has an EPA fuel economy rating of 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. After a week of testing I’m observing 21.6 mpg. Not too shabby, considering I tend to drive faster than most.
If it’s advanced driver-assistance systems you’re after, you’ll want to pick an SEL model or higher. Here you get standard forward-collision braking, lane-keeping assist, lane-following assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rear-seat occupancy alert. My Limited tester goes a notch above with Highway Drive Assist that combines adaptive cruise control with lane centering. The Limited trim also gets the cool blind-spot view monitor that puts a side-view video display right in the gauge cluster when the turn signal is engaged. Everything works as advertised, and heavy commuters will love Highway Drive Assist as it really takes some of the stress out of stop-and-go traffic.
The Santa Cruz comes standard with an 8-inch touchscreen running the Hyundai BlueLink infotainment system, but my top Limited tester goes big with a 10.3-inch display. Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both here, but curiously, the smaller 8-inch screen supports wireless smartphone compatibility. I don’t have many complaints about the infotainment system as a whole, save for the lack of a physical volume knob. I’m also not digging the panel of touch-sensitive buttons under the screen. They may be quick to react, but the icons are small and your finger has to hit the exact center to get a response. Smudges galore, too.
If you’ve seen the interior of the Tucson then you’ve pretty much seen the interior of the Santa Cruz as well. My tester has some orange contrast stitching and a splash of color on the dash, but don’t expect anything revolutionary here. Heated front seats are standard on the SEL trim and up, and my Limited model adds seat ventilation, too. The seats are comfy enough for long-haul trips, but legroom in the back is compromised at only 36.5 inches. Only put your kids or small adults back there. Or your enemies.
Of course, the Santa Cruz isn’t the only game in town. The Ford Maverick is a little larger and its bed is a few inches longer. It also starts at a super-affordable $21,490 including a $1,495 destination charge and comes standard with a hybrid powertrain. It also looks a little more trucky. The Santa Cruz, meanwhile, starts at $25,365 including $1,225 for destination, and my fully loaded Limited tester comes in at a whopping $41,540.
If you don’t need all-wheel drive, stick with a Santa Cruz SEL to save a bunch of money. Sure, you’ll miss out on things like the leather-wrapped steering wheel, large digital gauge cluster and some driver-assistance features, but you’ll save $13,000. And hey, if you do need or want all-wheel drive, it’s only a $1,500 add-on.
The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is a weird little runabout that I absolutely love. It’s quirky and functional, with the potential to go far and wide given the right aftermarket support. I’d certainly buy it over the less-interesting Maverick and the larger Honda Ridgeline. Some folks may need the larger footprint of a midsize truck, but most certainly don’t. For them, the Santa Cruz is plenty of truck.