Saturday, December 2, 2023
First Reviews 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz First Drive Review: Projecting a Lifestyle

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz First Drive Review: Projecting a Lifestyle

The new Hyundai Santa Cruz is a better sport utility vehicle for adventure seekers

  • The Santa Cruz is priced from $38,499 in Canada, $23,990 in the US.

  • This small truck will complement the Tucson’s product line.

  • The Santa Cruz is not a truck according to Hyundai, but it can do “truck” things.

Have you ever contemplated Hyundai’s current crop of vehicles? The massive South Korean brand has a stake in every major segment as well as low volume ones like sports cars. The only domain they’ve so far kept away from is trucks, and that’s not about to change. And so, here we have the all-new 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Hyundai is adamant: this is not a truck. But they say this knowing full well that their Tucson-based Sport Adventure Vehicle will be cross-shopped with the likes of the Honda Ridgeline and, more than any other, the Ford Maverick. The twisted part, which I suspect is why Hyundai’s being “coy” about that Santa Cruz, is that it outdoes the Maverick in a number of key truck markers.

Not a truck but still capable

Let’s continue with a few figures. The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz’ payload capacity is just over 1,600 lbs and it can tow up to 5,000 lbs, besting the Maverick EcoBoost AWD by 100 and 1,000 respectively. The gaps are narrow, but the fact remains that the Santa Cruz is more capable. The comparison tips in Ford’s favour when it comes to bed length as it’s 4.5 feet deep to the Santa Cruz’s 4.3 feet. Both, however, can haul 4×8 sheets of anything thanks to various bed trickery including molded pockets, various other arrangements, not to mention the adjustable tailgate.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

While we’re on the topic of the bed, Hyundai has made two important decisions that I believe will help seal the deal with Tucson or Santa Fe buyers looking for something very similar and quite different. The first is the standard integrated tonneau cover which all but completely seals the bed from the elements. Its neatness, self-retracting, and lockable operation always render the bed useful. The second is the in-bed trunk. Though not very deep, it can serve as a spot for dirty footwear, as a cooler, or storage for soft backpacks or smaller items.

Designed to be familiar and different

Although it shares the all-new 2022 Hyundai Tucson’s general styling, it shares very few body panels. Much of it, especially from the “B” pillars rearward is unique. The Santa Cruz is 340 mm longer than the Tucson and its wheelbase is 250 mm longer. The length gains were focused to make the bed usable, which, as described, it is. The Santa Cruz’ overall footprint is well camouflaged on the outside thanks to its still tidy proportions.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

I continue to believe that Hyundai’s unrelenting endeavour to reinvent its design language is nothing more than a good way to date its products. Having said that, the Santa Cruz cabin will not suffer the same fate. Lifted directly from the Tucson, its layout is equal parts attractive and functional. The base $38,499 Preferred trim includes an 8-inch touchscreen. From the $41,399 Trend, a 10.25-inch digital instrument panel joins in, and, finally, with the $44,799 Ultimate, the 8-inch unit grows to a 10.25-inch display. This final version is the one we drove and, with its cooled front seats and other features, is all but a premium vehicle in name.

The cabin is also quite roomy, capable of handling three occupants on the 2nd-row folding bench. And by folding, I mean to say that the lower seat cushion flips up to reveal extra storage. Up front, driver and passenger are at ease with plenty of room and storage. The person at the Santa Cruz’ helm is entitled to an actual shifter, as opposed to buttons, to work the transmission – Apparently customers like shifters. Who knew?

Big power, sporty driver

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

While on the topic of the drivetrain, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is delivered as standard with an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and HTRAC AWD system. Powering these elements is a turbocharged 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine that produces 281 horsepower and 311 lb.-ft. of torque. Thanks to this configuration, the Santa Cruz is a brisk performer. The only annoyance is the 8-speed’s delays in activating, particularly when attempting a three-point turn. Otherwise, we have the workings of a Tucson N here.

The Santa Cruz is also 30mm wider than the Tucson which further feeds the impression that this is a larger vehicle. In fact, from the driver’s perspective, one feels as though at the wheel of a Santa Fe. The extra wheelbase and work done to mitigate NVH combine to create a vehicle that is surprisingly refined. This “truck’s” road-going manners are better than expected. If I was to make a comment, I’d avoid the Ultimate if mostly for the 20-inch wheels. As always, the shorter stiffer sidewalls transmit far too much of the road surface’s imperfections into the cabin. This issue would all but be eliminated with the basic 18-inch wheels.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Dynamically speaking, the Santa Cruz is enjoyable to drive. The Sport Adventure Vehicle’s chassis is more sport- than comfort-tuned which means that it is very much at ease at higher speeds. Even with a little more than 1,000lbs in tow (Kawasaki Jet Ski plus trailer) in tow, the Hyundai effortlessly stays the course.

What’s the deal with the Santa Cruz?

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz was designed to enhance Hyundai’s position in the small SUV segment and not generate volume. It will help grow the brand’s image and will be little more than an extension of the Tucson product line. It was also conceived as versatile for urban use, and outdoor adventures.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The Santa Cruz is a lifestyle-trend vehicle more than an actual capable vehicle. It’s not limited because of this, but it’s not meant to replace a truck. This is in contrast with the Maverick where Ford is pushing at as a very truck-like urban vehicle. Therefore, Hyundai does not consider the Ford as a competitor, but it is. Plus, Hyundai’s thinking that a hybrid version is a very real possibility.

Finally, it’s impossible to not think about some of the Santa Cruz’s predecessors such as the Chevrolet El Camino and the slow-selling Subaru Baja. Like they, the Hyundai wasn’t created to attract truck buyers which all but ensured that they would fail. The Santa Cruz is different because it can work plus there are loads of accessories available including a tent setup for adventure seekers.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

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Matt St-Pierre
Trained as an Automotive Technician, Matt has two decades of automotive journalism under his belt. He’s done TV, radio, print and this thing called the internet. He’s an avid collector of many 4-wheeled things, all of them under 1,500 kg, holds a recently expired racing license and is a father of two. Life is beautiful. Send Matt an emai



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