INDIANAPOLIS — You may think the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz answers questions nobody asked, but if that’s true, somebody should have asked. A car-based pickup is not a new idea. Chevrolet and Ford offered the El Camino and Ranchero over sixty years ago, Subaru had the Baja two decades hence, and Ford currently offers the sold-out Escape-based Maverick. I think most people will decide the Santa Cruz answers all the right questions.
Nothing looks like it, with its angry multi-faceted dark chrome mask sporting driving lights embedded vertically and squinty LED headlamps integrated horizontally. As with the Tucson crossover on which it’s based, the Santa Cruz could have suffered from a congelation of creases and bumps, but didn’t. It’s both beautiful and muscular, planted on 20” alloy wheels. The composite bed harbors an integrated tonneau cover, adjustable rail system for tie-downs, under bed and sidewall storage, 115v power outlet, and LED lighting for nighttime escapades.
As much as I like the exterior, stylists did their best work inside where smart integration of technology provides a modern traveling environment. Drivers are confronted with flatscreen instruments and grip a perfectly sized heated leather-wrapped steering wheel. Another flatscreen controls audio and navigation. I prefer actual knobs for volume and tuning, but the screens are vivid and lend a contemporary sheen to the cabin.
Devices easily connect to the Bose audio system through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Wireless charging keeps them humming. Heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone auto climate control, and power sunroof add unexpected luxuries. Details like cloth strips across the dash/doors, rear air vents, and 60/40 flip-up rear seats with hidden storage should delight owners.
There’s an incredible amount of safety technology, too. Automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, and blind spot warning are a start. There’s also rear cross traffic alert with braking, adaptive cruise control, lane following steering, and surround vision cameras. Adaptive cruise keeps a safe distance from other vehicles. A rear occupant alert keeps kids from being left behind while safe exit assist uses the blind spot system to prevent you from stepping into traffic.
Step in and move out. Base models come with a 191 horsepower four-cylinder, but ours conjures more attitude with the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder that shoves 281 horsepower and 311 lb.-ft. of torque through an eight-speed automatic transmission – paddle shifted, if you please. Front-drive is standard, but we went with all-wheel-drive to handle slick winter roads and muddy off-road trails. As equipped, our truck achieves 19/27-MPG city/highway and can tow a robust 5,000 lbs. of boat, motorcycles, or RV.
Given that capability, it’s no toy. But, it goes further with a self-leveling rear suspension and drive mode selector to configure the throttle and shift points for sportier or calmer behavior. The Tucson was already a very nice-driving crossover, but reinforcements to the platform for truck duty create a vehicle that feels more robust. Even over rough pavement, it is solid as an ingot of iron. You would never guess it foregoes a full frame as on-pavement performance is impressive.
People will undoubtedly compare the Santa Cruz to the Ford Maverick and Subaru Baja. In concept, that makes sense, but the Hyundai is much more. It has unique EV-age style, a full suite of technology, and feels very well developed whether taking it to work or utilizing its bed for hauling mulch or toys for a weekend away. A base price of just $24,140 reached $41,100 with every imaginable option. Beyond those already mentioned, competitors include the Chevy Colorado, Nissan Frontier, Honda Ridgeline, and Toyota Tacoma.
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2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited
Five-passenger, AWD Pickup
Powertrain: 2.5-liter T4, 8-spd trans
Output: 281hp/311 lb.-ft. torque
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 20”/20” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Capability
Towing: 5,000 lbs.
Fuel economy: 19/27 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Montgomery, AL
Base/As-tested price: $24,140/$41,100