Behind the Wheel of the All-New 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Behind the Wheel of the All-New 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

What it's like to drive Hyundai's first compact pickup

  • A new pickup referred to by Hyundai as an "SAV"
  • Compact size; it's 10-15 inches shorter than most midsize rivals
  • Two available four-cylinder engines, one naturally aspirated and the other turbocharged
  • Introduces the first Santa Cruz generation for 2022

What is the Santa Cruz?

Well, it's an all-new pickup, Hyundai's first. But there's a lot more going on than just that. This is a compact truck that uses unibody construction rather than the traditional body-on-frame pickup underpinnings. What does that mean? Well, underneath, it shares a basic platform with the redesigned 2022 Hyundai Tucson compact crossover SUV. This car-like construction results in a more comfortable ride than body-on-frame construction would, but it also results in lower overall capabilities when it comes to off-roading, towing and hauling.

Hyundai, for its part, is calling the Santa Cruz a "sport adventure vehicle," or SAV, and asserts that it's establishing an entirely new class of vehicle. But when I see a bed, I can't help but call something a truck. However, the Santa Cruz is smaller than the midsize pickup trucks currently on sale, so it might very well have the potential to dominate an entirely new market.

How does the Santa Cruz drive?

The Santa Cruz is currently available with two engines. The first is a non-turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It puts out 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. The second engine is a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder that is paired with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and puts out 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. That's the one I've tested out so far.

The dual-clutch automatic transmission is unusual in a pickup truck — this style of transmission is often used in sports cars, especially when the automaker is looking to have quick, responsive shifts. The combination of the high-horsepower engine and the quick-shifting DCT make for a surprisingly sporty driving experience. Shifts are crisp and quick, but the turbo 2.5-liter engine isn't exactly enjoyable to listen to on the highway. It drones on a bit, especially on long uphill climbs.

Steering is responsive and gives you a good sense of what the front wheels are doing at all times. The steering wheel gains some extra resistance in Sport mode, but in Normal mode, it's light enough to maneuver into the tightest of parking spots with ease. Handling is impressive too, with generally flat cornering. Unlike a number of body-on-frame midsize trucks, the Santa Cruz is entertaining to drive on a winding canyon road. 

How comfortable is the Santa Cruz?

Ride quality and seat comfort in the Santa Cruz are both excellent. Even with the optional 20-inch wheels, the ride is smooth over broken highways and the suspension soaks up most of the larger bumps. For the driver and the front passenger, top-notch seat comfort makes this experience even better. For sporty driving, the front seats could use a bit more side bolstering, but they are otherwise supportive and well padded.

The rear seat is a bit flatter, as you'd probably expect, but still uses padding that will keep your passengers comfy on all sorts of long road trips. Legroom is limited, but that's expected when you consider the Santa Cruz's compact size. Adults who check in under 5-foot-10 should fit just fine, but if your legs are particularly long, you'll be cramped in the back seat. Also, the rear seatbacks are very upright, and there's no way to recline them. There's no fold-down center rear armrest either. 

How's the Santa Cruz's interior?

While I wouldn't exactly call the Santa Cruz a luxury pickup truck, its cabin is a really nice place to be. The optional 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen and the matching 10.25-inch driver display screen are both high-resolution and typically easy to read. The one exception is that the driver display can be a bit hard to read in intense direct sunlight. The layout of the interior is intuitive, with high-quality materials and lots of soft touchpoints for your elbows and knees to rest on.

Santa Cruz models fitted with the optional 10.25-inch screen don't have traditional shortcut buttons. Instead, it's one large touch-sensitive area. The thought of trying to change the volume or select a radio station this way can seem a bit odd at first, especially since there's no physical feedback from the buttons when you press them. But during our test, we found using them become second nature after a short time. There are also several redundant buttons on the steering wheel if you prefer the old physical-style controls. Base trim levels will get a smaller 8-inch screen with more traditional physical shortcut buttons, which some drivers may prefer.

How's the Santa Cruz's tech?

Even the base Santa Cruz trim has an impressive amount of equipment. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is standard, so you can mirror your smartphone's apps on the touchscreen without ever plugging it in. Forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist and a driver-attention warning system are all standard. Midlevel trims get extras such as a safe-exit warning that watches for oncoming traffic before you open the vehicle doors, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

The upper-most Limited trim level gets all of the bells and whistles. Along with the upgraded 10.25-inch center touchscreen, the top trim gets a navigation-based cruise control system that adjusts for curves in the road and posted speed limits. There's also a high-resolution 360-degree parking camera that's a big help when you're trying to fit into tight spaces. Unfortunately, some of the driver aids are accompanied by a number of loud beeps and chimes, and they tend to err on the side of caution, which can be a bit annoying. Oh, and that wireless smartphone connectivity? It's only available on the base 8-inch screen. With the upgraded screen, you have to switch back to the plug-in style of seeing your apps.

How's the Santa Cruz's towing and hauling?

The Santa Cruz has some pretty impressive numbers when you consider its size. Max towing is between 3,500 and 5,000 pounds, which is pretty strong and suitable for small boats or two-wheel trailers. Unfortunately, you can't get a trailer brake controller with the Santa Cruz (a feature that allows you to adjust the trailer's brakes from the cabin), so anything larger will require its own surge brakes or some aftermarket modification of the Santa Cruz itself.

When Hyundai first revealed the Santa Cruz, it listed the bed capacity at 660 pounds, a relatively low number considering the high payload rating. Since then however, the automaker has removed that number from its press materials and won't tell us what the bed capacity is. Instead, it simply quotes its newest payload numbers, which have been revised significantly since the vehicle was first revealed. Payload capacity is actually quite high when you consider the Santa Cruz's small size, ranging from 1,568 pounds on all-wheel-drive Limited models all the way up to 1,906 pounds on front-wheel-drive SE models. That's more than enough to rival the capability of any midsize pickup.

The Santa Cruz's overall dimensions do, however, limit the size of the bed. It's only 48 inches long, whereas most midsize crew-cab pickups have beds that are about 12 inches longer. Thankfully, there are a few extra cargo enhancements. First, there's a locking and drainable trunk in the bed. It's relatively shallow, but it's tall enough for some ice and a deluge of 12-ounce aluminum cans. Or if you're not tailgating, you can store your wet or muddy gear from your latest adventure and easily rinse things out when you're finished. Then there's the height-adjustable tailgate. Simply move the two cables that hold the tailgate in place to a higher position on the bedside. At that point, you've got a tailgate that's held up a few inches higher, matching the wheelwells inside the bed, so you can haul longer items like sheets of plywood or extra-long surfboards.

A standard composite bed cover, a rear bumper with several built-in steps, and a number of in-bed cargo tie-down locations make the Santa Cruz very competitive when it comes to utilitarian needs. Other items such as a roll-up tonneau cover, a roof basket and a 115-volt in-bed power outlet are also offered, giving the Santa Cruz a very adventure-friendly look and feel.

How economical is the Santa Cruz?

For its size, the Santa Cruz's fuel economy is underwhelming. With the base 2.5-liter engine, paired with either front- or all-wheel drive, it's rated at 23 mpg combined by the EPA. Upgrade to the turbocharged 2.5-liter engine (all-wheel drive only) and fuel economy ratings drop slightly to 22 mpg combined. Those aren't terrible numbers, but depending on your choice of powertrain, several midsize trucks can match or beat those fuel economy ratings.

Then there's the issue of the Ford Maverick. It isn't officially rated by the EPA yet, but according to Ford, the base hybrid powertrain in the Maverick will be capable of achieving 37 mpg combined. For anyone who's following prices and the pump, that's a huge win.

Thankfully, there might be hope on the horizon for Hyundai in the form of a few hybrid powertrains. The Santa Cruz shares a platform with the Tucson SUV and the Tucson offers two different hybrid powertrains. The first is a 1.6-liter engine paired with a hybrid system for an EPA estimate as high as 38 mpg combined. The second is an upcoming plug-in powertrain that offers up to 28 miles of EV range. While Hyundai hasn't officially confirmed the production of future Santa Cruz hybrids, we expect to see these two powertrains under the hood of the Santa Cruz very soon.

Edmunds says

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz fills in a gap beneath larger, more expensive midsize trucks. It has the comfort of an SUV with most of the utility of a pickup. Plus, it has cool features like an in-bed trunk, which only Hyundai and Honda offer. It might appeal to you if you don't have high towing and hauling needs but still want something that's more utility-oriented than a regular SUV. Sure, Hyundai is calling it an SAV instead of a truck, and that's cool, but we're gonna call a spade a spade. Check back in the coming months for additional information and our full Edmunds Expert Rating evaluation.


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