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A TRUCK FOR NON-TRUCK PEOPLE: 2022 HYUNDAI SANTA CRUZ 2.5T

There is a fine line of what is advertised verses what really plays out in reality. Ask any non-commercial truck owner why they bought a truck, and generally you’ll get the same answer, to haul, to tow, to off-road. After all that is the majority of a trucks duty. But as we take a look at the all-new Hyundai Santa Cruz, it’s more like a crossover with a its hatchback stolen.

Hyundai advertises this new little-ute as a “Sport Adventure Vehicle” – essentially for the group of individuals that prefer skiing in the morning, mountain biking in the afternoon, and ending the day with a romantic hike, #ewww.  In fantasy land, it paints a picture-perfect setting. However, down to reality, without buying into all of the dealer accessories that makes the Santa Cruz an “urban outgoing” vehicle like the roof rack to strap in the skis or a bike bar and bed extender for those mountain bikes, the Santa Cruz is, well, just a crossover with a four and half foot bed on the back.

Hyundai goes to great lengths not to call the Santa Cruz the t-word, but as my mother always said, “if it looks like a duck, quack likes a duck, then it most likely isn’t a cow.” Looking every bit like a truck, the Santa Cruz is attractive in that sense. Sort of simulating that Subaru Baja look, it carries a muscular, masculine, ruggedness with lower black body cladding with a hint of premium sporty attributes with our features 20-inch wheels, dark chrome grill and abstract body lines.  

There is also no getting behind the elephant in the Santa Cruz room being based off the Hyundai Tucson. Doing exactly what Honda did to Ridgeline, hardly any styling changes were made to separate the Santa Cruz from the Tucson, sort of giving the consumer an idea where its roots are – kind of a lazy approach in our books, but yeah, if it works for Hyundai, who are we to judge.  

Which brings us to the cabin space of the Tucs…errr Santa Cruz. Being that we haven’t tested the all-new Hyundai Tucson, the cabin space of the Santa Cruz feels like a breath of fresh air. Inside our Limited, top range model, we find it’s a premium-esc place to be. Its sharply styled with a minimalistic approach. Centering the design around the center infotainment stack, the swooping lines give it an upscale look.

Loaded with technology, there was no getting away from the ooo’s and ahhhh’s of the nicely sized 10.3-inch touch screen display, as opposed to the standard 8-inch in lower trim models. And as part of our Limited model, we were able to bask in the luxury features a decently sized digital gauge cluster that is semi-customizable, a 360-degree camera, blind-spot monitoring camera, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a long list of standard safety features including Hyundai Highway Drive Assist that takes the adaptive cruise control up a nickel. The only dislike we walked away from was the touch sensitive panel to control the climate control and radio functions. As we discovered with Honda years ago, the lack of knobs and buttons are frowned upon.

Overall, there is a comfortable appeal, even to taller passengers. However, unlike the Tucson, the back seat is smaller with space taken out of the legroom area. In the long run it can be uncomfortable for long travels, but kept short and the back seat isn’t a terrible place to be.

One quick punch of throttle and the thought of the Santa Cruz being a truck won’t even be a passing thought. Riding on an extended platform from the Hyundai Tucson, the Santa Cruz feels composed and quiet, like a crossover. It feels very carlike without some of the odd roughness in the rear one would get from a typical, body-on-frame truck. Part of that is due to the multilink suspension system with struts in the front and self-leveling dampers in the back that gives it a superior ride quality and controllability.

With four trim options available the entry SE and SEL come equipped with the same engine that is found in the Tucson, a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine good for 191-horsepower. The crème of the crop however, lies with the 281-horsepower, 2.5-liter turbocharged engine found in the SEL Premium and Limited model (seen here) – the same engine used in the Hyundai Santa Fe. This turbo-engine gives a punchy dose of a good time through its eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. The only downside to this engine, it’s not available on the Tucson Limited.

All-wheel drive is available on the SE and SEL for a $1500 upcharge; however, the turbocharged engine comes standard considering the 311 lb-ft of torque it needs to manages. Especially given in a straight line, the Santa Cruz is one quick scandal taking nearly 6-seconds to achieve 60-mph.

With its HTRAC all-wheel drive system, the Santa Cruz can handle just about any ordinary terrain, as long as it doesn’t exceed its 8.5-inches of ground clearance. However, if the off-road lifestyle is for you, perhaps the least expensive model is the way to go considering our Limited model was equipped with 20-inch wheels that are too pretty for rock-climbing. 

As a truck, the Santa Cruz manages to keep up on its truck-like duties being able to tow 5000lbs with the turbo-AWD models. Even the entry SE and SEL non-turbo front wheel drive can tow upwards of 3500lbs with a trailer sway control. Its bed is even fully functional and supposedly dent resistant thanks to the molded composite bed compared to the steel stamped bed in a standard pick-up truck. Throughout the bed there are little cubbies and compartments thanks to its unibody design. Similar to the Honda Ridgeline, there is a large trunk area stowed under the bed, great for anything that requires an ice chest and can easily be drained out with the bottom drain plug.

The hard reality is that Hyundai isn’t the first to do turn a crossover into a truck. We first saw it with the Subaru Baja which only lived four short years. Then it was the Honda Ridgeline which took some beefier design cues to keep its four-wheels planted on the ground. What the Santa Cruz does differently is being a truck for non-truck people – it’s not trying to be anything more than what it is, a crossover with more versatility for those Home DIY project types, unwarranted IKEA purchase pickups and that chair that your significant other just purchased but don’t want to pay the $199 delivery fee… and everything else in between.

Photos provided by Hyundai USA

VEHICLE SPECIFICATIONS

Vehicle: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited
Base Price: $24,140
As-Tested Price: $41,140

PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 2.5-liter Turbocharged Four-Cylinder
Horsepower | Torque: 281-Horsepower | 311 lb-ft of Torque
Transmission: 8-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic
Drivetrain: HTRAC All-Wheel Drive
MPG: 19 | 27 | 22 (City | Highway | Combined)
As-Tested MPG: 19.3-MPG Combined
Fuel Range: 285 miles
0-60 MPH: ±6.5-seconds

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