The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is a cool-casual pickup and a thought-provoking reinterpretation of an American icon

A Sage Green Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup

The Hyundai Santa Cruz is based on a longer and wider version of the compact-class Tucson SUV crossover. (Photos courtesy of Hyundai)

Table of Contents

The 4-Foot Bed
Interior Function
Back Seat
Fuel Economy
Ride and Handling
Why Buy the Hyundai Santa Cruz?


The Hyundai Santa Cruz is a cool-casual kind of pickup. Hyundai’s first pickup is a thought-provoking reinterpretation of an American icon. In tribute to Hyundai’s California-based design team, the Santa Cruz tail lights are embossed with: “Designed in California.”

The Santa Cruz is too lightweight to box with the big boys and to help avoid tired associations Hyundai considers the Santa Cruz a “Sport Adventure Vehicle.” It is similar to how BMW relabels its X5 SUV a “Sport Activity Vehicle.” Both makes are attempting to avoid a reference to just mere functional utility. But it is what it is, and the Hyundai Santa Cruz is quite well conceived for a pickup with a 4-foot bed.

There were similar vehicles in the past, even as far back as the mid-1930s. More recent examples are the Subaru Brat and Ford Sport Trac. The 1937 Chevrolet Master Deluxe Coupe Pickup, also known as the Foreman’s Pickup, wasn’t particularly stylish, but it was a hybrid choice for light-duty pickup work. And the bed could be removed and a trunk lid attached.

Santa Cruz Limited front seat area

Upgrades on the Limited include leather-trimmed upholstery and a 10.25-inch wide navigation display.

Hyundai Santa Cruz Overview

The Santa Cruz is based on a longer and wider version of the new Tucson SUV crossover. It has a unibody (carlike) chassis rather than a ladder frame used by heavier-duty pickup trucks. It has standard front-wheel drive and optional HTRAC on-demand all-wheel drive. Up to 50 percent of the drive power can be sent to the rear wheels by the lockable, clutched center differential.

Standard rear self-leveling shock absorbers keep the truck level when weight is in the bed or when pulling a trailer. Towing capacity is up to 5,000 pounds for trailers with brakes.

Santa Cruz has two powertrain choices: the standard 191-hp, 2.5-liter direct-injection four-cylinder with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Or a turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter with 281-hp and 311 foot-pounds of torque from 1,700-4,000 rpm. This engine uses an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters.

The SE and SEL are available in front- or all-wheel drive. The Limited has standard HTRAC AWD, and a two-wheel-drive version will be added later in 2022.

Standard safety features and technologies are extensive and include: six air bags with rollover sensors, Forward Collision Avoidance-Assist with Pedestrian Detection, driver attention warning, lane-keeping and lane-follow assists, and automatic high beam assist.

Hyundai Santa Cruz front seats

Front headroom is tall at about 39.2 inches with the moonroof.

The 4-Foot Bed

The Santa Cruz is somewhat like two-thirds of an SUV with a 4-foot bed. And like many veteran pickup drivers will point out, a 4-foot bed is nearly useless. Until you start using this one, then this multifunctional, molded composite concept comes into focus.

Hyundai cherry-picked some successful pickup innovations and added its own to build an overachiever. Taking bullshit perception by the horns, here’s how features Hyundai applied to help the Santa Cruz:

  • Lockable roll-top tonneau cover;
  • In-bed “trunk” (ala Honda Ridgeline);
  • 115-volt AC power inverter;
  • Adjustable C-channel cleat rail system;
  • Heavy-duty cargo bed D-Rings and sliding cleats;
  • 2 sidewall bed storage compartments; one houses the 115-volt electric plug;
  • Bumper corner steps;
  • Dual side lights;
  • Rear sliding glass with defroster.
Above and below cargo capacity.

Above and below cargo capacity.

The tonneau locks with the tailgate. And because the roll-top tonneau can be locked in any position, it is possible to angle a surfboard or ladder out of the bed wedged in place by the tonneau and straps. And with the tonneau open, the front wheel of bicycles can be hung over the tailgate and strapped securely. And there is a full bed-length strap to pull the tonneau closed.

There is no cabin pass-through panel to the bed, but extra-long items can be fed through the back slider window. It is a small opening and manually opened and closed.

Hyundai Santa Cruz Pricing

The entry Santa Cruz is sold in SE and SEL trim levels with starting prices of $25,385 and $28,585; add $1,500 for all-wheel drive. Fuel economy ratings for front-drive are 21 mpg city, 26 highway and 23 mpg combined, and 21/27/23 mpg AWD.

Santa Cruz SEL Premium and Santa Cruz Limited get the turbocharged engine with the eight-speed wet, dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Its all-wheel-drive starting prices are $37,075 and $41,115. Fuel economy ratings are 19/21/27 mpg, and both engines run on 87-octane fuel.

All Santa Cruz MSRPs include the $1,245 freight charge from Montgomery, Ala.

Today’s Limited tester was $41,710 with Sage Gray metallic paint ($400) and carpeted floor mats ($195).

Check this link for current pricing and incentives.

The artful interior design.

Artful interior design.

The Pricing Breakout

Every Santa Cruz has a bedful of standard features in true Hyundai style, including self-leveling rear shock absorbers and heavy-duty cargo bed D-Rings.

SE FWD: Rearview camera with parking guidance lines; dual front USB charge ports; rear bumper side step and sidewall bed storage compartments; electric parking brake; sliding sun visors; tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel with audio, cruise and phone controls; removable under-second row storage bin; 18-inch alloy wheels; LED taillights, daytime running lights and center brake light with LED cargo light; stain and odor resistant cloth seating; six-way manual driver seat with manual height adjustment; rear privacy glass; 4.2-inch color multi-information gauge display; body-colored power exterior mirrors; a six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and an 8-inch display audio screen; Android Auto and Apple CarPlay infotainment and apps.

The infotainment screen in the Santa Cruz

The 10.25-inch edgeless infotainment screen.

SEL upgrades include: blind spot collision-avoidance assist; side mirrors with turn-signal indicators; rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist; remote engine start (on key fob); eight-way power driver seat with two-way lumbar support; heated side mirrors and heated front seats; proximity key entry with push-button ignition; lighted sun-visor mirrors; Blue Link connected car system; front auto-down and up power windows; and satellite radio.

Limited AWD additions include: dark chrome grille and tailgate handle trim; 20-inch alloy wheels; intelligent cruise control with idle stop/start; Highway Driving Assist; Intelligent Speed Limit Assist; leather-trimmed upholstery; heated steering wheel and ventilated front seats; surround-view monitor; Bose premium audio system; rear air conditioning vents; dual rear USB charge ports; ambient lighting; and 10.25-inch wide navigation display with dynamic voice recognition.

Paint colors: Ice White, Phantom Black, Hampton Gray, Sage Gray ($500), and Blue Stone.

The 10-inch digital gauge cluster Santa Cruz Limited Interior

The interior plastics have a high-quality appearance, from top to bottom. And every panel was joined precisely in the test vehicle. Together, the presentation is refined and rewarding and not the usual for a pickup truck.

A dual-cockpit treatment has an attractive dual-bead line of satin metallic trim separated by a band of piano black. The treatment flows into the doors. Also, a dark sage-colored fabric swath carries along with the trim lines.

While the fan is noisy at higher speeds, the front air vents have a diffuse mode to waft airflow.

A large and deep e-bin includes a wireless charging pad, charging USBs, a data USB, and a 180-watt, 12-volt outlet.

The front headroom is tall at about 39.2 inches with the moonroof.

There isn’t a physical button or switch on the 10.25-inch, edgeless center stack infotainment screen.

The Limited’s digital gauge cluster display also measures 10.25 inches.

Santa Cruz Back Seat

There is plenty of back-seat space for children and teens, but legroom of 36.5 inches is short for adults. The seatback does not recline, but it is at a comfortable angle. The low hump to the transmission tunnel helps with three-across footroom, but the window seats are the most accommodating. Rear air conditioning vents add to the comfort level.

Flip up the seat bottom for some usable bin storage. And other conveniences include two USBs, overhead grab handles, and a hook for a jacket or dry cleaning.

Santa Cruz Limited Performance

The base engine might be power-challenged for towing, with the entry models’ curb weights of 3,700 to 3,879 pounds.

A turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter in the SEL Premium and Limited is eager for responsive driving or towing, even with all-wheel drive. The engine’s 311 foot-pounds of peak torque are steady from 1,700-4,000 rpm. There is good launch force and urgent power for passing or keeping up with the Interstate pack on long uphill grades. Motor Trend clocked 0-60 mph acceleration in 6.3 seconds, which it reports was a tenth quicker than the Honda Ridgeline in its long, figure-eight test loop.

No auto stop-start at idle is needed to help meet government fuel economy or emissions ratings.

HTRAC AWD is an on-demand system. But it includes a locking differential, which is necessary for true four-wheel traction in snow or on the trail.

Four-wheel disc brakes are up to towing with 12.8-inch vented rotors front and solid 12.8-inch rotors rear.

20-inch tire and wheel of the Santa Cruz Limited

20-inch wheels and Michelin Primacy LTX tires, 245/50 on the Limited.

Santa Cruz Limited Fuel Economy

There isn’t much incentive to buy an entry model with the non-turbo engine, except for the price difference. It has fuel economy ratings of 21 mpg city, 26 highway and 23 mpg combined on the recommended 87 octane fuel.

The turbo engine has ratings of 19/27/21 mpg, with all-wheel drive. And the 27 mpg highway rating is not a typo — the AWD Santa Cruz gets 1 mpg better highway mileage than the FWD model.

I was impressed when my highway driving clicked over to 28 mpg, and it kept advancing until I reached my exit at 28.9 mpg. Some reviewers have clocked 30 mpg on the highway. That’s not bad for an all-wheel-drive curb weight of 4,057 pounds. Around town, I recorded a consistent 18 mpg.

The 17.7-gallon tank could provide a cruising range of nearly 500 miles with careful driving.

Ride and Handling

It feels tough and durable but never harsh, even on hard-packed gravel roads. But the body shape kicks up wind noise at highway speeds.

The Santa Cruz does not have a beefy ride height and glaring disposition. Instead, it is a smooth roller, kind and gentle. The smoothness is a hallmark of Hyundai engineering to eliminate friction for improved fuel economy.

Ride quality is quite civilized and controlled from the independent suspension. At the front are MacPherson struts with coil springs and gas-pressurized shock absorbers. The rear multilink has self-leveling gas-pressurized shock absorbers.

A long wheelbase of 118.3 inches helps with a settled highway ride, and the Michelin Primacy light-truck tires (245/50) are also quiet and smooth-rolling.

The Santa Cruz is an easy driver, but the turning circle of 39.6 feet can feel wide in tight parking situations. However, the Limited’s around-view monitor helps the driver keep it centered in the parking slot.

Why Buy the Hyundai Santa Cruz?

The Santa Cruz is a precision piece, from refined engineering and friction-free drivability to artful interior design. The closer you examine the Santa Cruz, the more potential you’ll realize.

The Limited tester was an example of “fully loaded,” but the SEL Premium with the same options would save nearly $4,000. If you can live with 18-inch wheels and fabric upholstery

As $70,000 has become the new $50,000 for full-size pickups, is a $41,000 compact truck considered a good buy? It is, with everything that Hyundai builds into it.

A rear view of the Santa Cruz

Standard rear self-leveling shock absorbers keep the truck level.

 Santa Cruz Limited AWD Specifications

Body style: compact-class four-door unibody pickup constructed of advanced high strength steels and high tensile steel with 4-foot cargo bed made of sheet molded composite

Engine: 281-hp, turbocharged and direct-injected 2.5-liter 4-cylinder; 311 lb.-ft. peak torque from 1,700-4,000 rpm

Transmission: 8-speed wet dual-clutch automated manual with steering-wheel paddle shifters

Maximum trailer weight: 5,000 lbs. AWD; 3,500 FWD w/ trailer brakes; with trailer sway control and auto-leveling rear suspension

Fuel economy: 19/27/22 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane fuel recommended


Fuel tank: 17.1 gallons

Cargo space: 12-33 cubic feet

Front head/leg room: 40.7*/41.4 in. *w/o sunroof

Rear head/leg room: 40.1/36.5 inches

Length/wheelbase: 195.7/118.3 inches

Curb weight: 4,057 lbs.

Turning circle: 39.6 ft.


Limited model standard equipment includes: smart-key locking with push-button ignition, 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, 10.25-inch infotainment screen, surround-view rearview monitor with guidance lines, navigation system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, leather-trimmed upholstery, Bose audio system, 3 years of Blue Link Connected Services and Blue Link remote start, electric parking brake, dual front USB ports, wireless device charging, 8-way power driver’s seat with lumbar, heated and ventilated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, rear air vents, 60/40 folding back seat with storage bins below, 115-volt power inverter in the bed

Exterior Limited features: sheet-molded composite 4-foot bed, self-leveling rear suspension, heated side mirrors with turn-signal indicators, HTRAC AWD, 20-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights with high-beam assist, dark chrome tailgate and grille, power sunroof, roof side rails, LED bed lighting, adjustable C-channel cleat rail system, rear sliding glass with defroster, integrated and lockable hard tonneau cover, under bed and sidewall storage compartments, rear bumper corner steps

Safety features include: 6 air bags, forward collision avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist and lane-following assist, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, downhill brake control, hill-start assist, driver-attention warning


Base price: $41,115, including the $1,245 freight charge; price as tested $41,540

Options on test vehicle: Sage Gray paint $400; carpeted floor mats $195

Where assembled: Montgomery, Ala.

Warranty: 5-years/60,000-miles basic coverage with roadside assistance; 3-years/36,000-miles free scheduled maintenance; 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain

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