Ford Maverick vs. Hyundai Santa Cruz: Tiny Truck Throwdown

Ford Maverick vs. Hyundai Santa Cruz: Tiny Truck Throwdown

New segment, same dilemma: Which is best?

  • The Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz are both all-new for 2022.
  • We put the two smallest trucks on the market head-to-head.
  • Check out the video for an in-depth look at the smallest trucks on the market.

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz and 2022 Ford Maverick have given new life to the long-dormant compact pickup truck segment, and we couldn’t be happier. For the first time in over a decade there are two genuinely interesting alternatives to midsize or full-size trucks. These trucklets are based on crossover SUVs (the Ford Escape and the Hyundai Tucson) but with short but usable cargo beds instead of rear cargo compartments.

Both trucks are similar in their appeal. They are small and easy to drive and offer optional turbocharged engine upgrades. The Maverick is less expensive than the Santa Cruz to start, but when you equip them similarly then the pricing gap narrows. So which one's the better buy? Did Hyundai’s pickup truck pull a fast one on Ford and get it right on its very first try, or was the Blue Oval’s experience in the pickup truck space too much for the Santa Cruz to overcome? Check out the video to watch Senior Reviews Editor Travis Langness put them through their paces and declare a winner.

Hyundai Santa Cruz

Hyundai Santa Cruz

Ford Maverick vs. Hyundai Santa Cruz Round 1: How do they drive?

The Ford Maverick showed up to this showdown in top-spec Lariat trim and had an as-tested price of $31,665. The Ford came with its optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and all-wheel drive. That engine’s 250 horsepower combined with the added traction of AWD helped it zip from 0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. That makes it a tenth of a second quicker than the top-of-the-line Santa Cruz Limited we tested, which also came with its optional engine, a 281-horsepower turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder, and AWD. The Hyundai pickup rang in at a hefty $40,945 but brought nearly every option with it.

While most of the people who are looking to buy a small pickup truck probably aren’t interested in drag racing, they might be interested to know that one of these two trucks is surprisingly good to drive. It’s easy to think of pickups as lazy and uninspiring, but not this Hyundai pickup truck. The steering is sharp, the eight-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly, and the truck stays planted around turns without sacrificing too much in the way of comfort. Its SUV underpinnings mean it drives nothing like a truck, but it drives better than most SUVs in its price range.

Ford’s been in the pickup game longer than pretty much anyone, so it might not surprise you to hear that the Mavericks drives like, well, a small pickup. “Steering is a bit over-light. It's hard to tell where the wheels are and it's not enjoyable on curvy sections of road. … Midcorner bumps upset it a bit [and] if I didn't crawl underneath it and check, I'd swear this thing was riding on a flimsy little body-on-frame structure,” Langness said. Not exactly high praise. The Maverick’s transmission is smart and the AWD system puts power down well, but dynamically it doesn't satisfy in the same way the Santa Cruz does.

Off-roading might be important to you if you’re thinking about a truck, and while the Maverick offers an FX4 off-road pack, the Santa Cruz doesn't. That said, both of these simply aren’t going to tackle tough off-road courses with the same aplomb as a traditional midsize truck. They’re more for light-duty city use, but if you need to take your compact pickup off the beaten path, the Maverick’s options list has you covered in a way the Santa Cruz’s does not.

Ford Maverick

Ford Maverick

Maverick vs. Santa Cruz Round 2: What’s on the inside counts

Both crew-cab cabins look like SUV cabins, not truck cabs. They're easier to get into than regular trucks (thanks to their relatively normal ride heights) and have all the tech you’d expect of a compact SUV.

The Santa Cruz’s cabin feels a bit nicer to the touch than the Maverick’s and there are more premium materials used throughout. It was the more expensive of the two, but it’s obvious where the money’s been spent. Both come with standard 8-inch touchscreens that work well. Hyundai also goes one step further on the top Limited trim by adding a bigger 10.25-inch screen.

That doesn’t mean that the Ford is a bad place to be; it’s just not as premium as the Hyundai. Even so, Ford leveraged plenty of its truck expertise inside the compact Maverick. There is a storage cubby for nearly everything, the center console is neatly divided into useful storage areas, and the backseat area has a place where you can install your own 3D-printed accessories if you’re so inclined. Now that’s clever.

Hyundai’s pickup truck doesn't offer as many neat storage solutions, but the rear bench does fold up in two sections where the Maverick demands you lift up the entire seat. That means you’d be able to haul a large item in the back and have a third passenger in the Santa Cruz, but not in the Maverick.

Ford Maverick

Ford Maverick

Maverick vs. Santa Cruz Round 3: What about the bed?

The beds in the Maverick and Santa Cruz are both usable and are almost the exact same size, but both come with different quirks and perks. The Maverick’s load floor is nice and low, which makes throwing stuff into the back a little bit easier than in the Santa Cruz. Hyundai’s pickup truck comes with a cool integrated trunk toward the back half of the bed (with integrated drain plugs) that should make tailgating a breeze. The Santa Cruz also brings a standard composite bedliner and an optional roll-up bed cover to the bed — two things the Maverick doesn't offer from the factory.

The Hyundai can also tow more than the Ford (5,000 pounds for the Hyundai versus 4,000 pounds with the max tow package from the Ford). However, the Maverick's tow package includes a trailer brake controller, which is a feature that allows you to adjust your trailer's brakes from the cab. This is something you'll need when towing a heavy trailer, and the Santa Cruz doesn't come with one from the factory. To take advantage of the Santa Cruz's maximum capability, you'll have to add one from the aftermarket.

Hyundai Santa Cruz

Hyundai Santa Cruz

Edmunds says

So which one is best in this small truck comparison? We like the Maverick, particularly as a pick for a low-cost compact truck. Its base engine is a hybrid, too, so you'll save more on gas. But it's the Santa Cruz that ends up being the most desirable truck overall thanks to its more comfortable ride and classier cabin design. Hyundai's excellent warranty is just icing on the cake.



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