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Whether you want to believe it or not, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is a truck. Yes, we know it's not capable of towing your neighbor's fifth wheel. But it may be one of the most versatile pickup trucks on the market today. Let's face it, most of us don't need a full-size truck with 500 horsepower (although we do understand the appeal). This unibody wonder has the capability to do it all — if buyers are willing to give it a chance — especially in the SEL Premium and Limited trims. It's snazzy looking, thoughtfully designed, comfortable, fun and able to handle some light truck duty.
*The views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not reflect the views or opinions of KSL.com or its employees.
Price and value
The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz comes in four trims, with a competitive MSRP range of $25,385 to $41,115. Beginning with the SEL Premium, you'll be treated to a suite of standard features that includes a powerful turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. Inside, there's dual zone climate control and a leather wrapped steering wheel. For night driving, it has LED headlights and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Some of the major differences in trim levels are noted below.
● SE: $25,385
191 horsepower 4-cylinder engine
8-inch color touchscreen
Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
● SEL: $28,585
Proximity key with push-button start
Blind-spot collision avoidance assist
Power driver seat with power lumbar
● SEL Premium: $37,075
281 horsepower 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine
HTRAC all-wheel drive
10.25-inch digital instrument cluster
● Limited: $41,115
Blind-spot view monitor
10.25-inch touchscreen navigation
Due to its versatility and capability in the SEL and Limited trims, the Hyundai Santa Cruz is a great value for most buyers. Hyundai's compelling 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty only adds to the Santa Cruz's appealing value proposition.
The upgraded 2.5-liter turbocharged engine is the way to go here, but you'll need to spring for one of the top two trims to get it. Our tester was the Limited trim and it was a capable performer for commuting, running errands and heading up to favorite hiking and biking trails. The Santa Cruz is also surprisingly quick, making for fun acceleration and canyon carving, especially when using the paddle shifters in sport mode.
Trust us when we say you will be surprised by how quick the Santa Cruz feels. The 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder produces 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque, which is plenty of power for having fun and freeway passing. However, it doesn't produce the most sonorous sound below 3,000 RPM.
The Santa Cruz is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds, an impressive number given its compact size and unibody construction.
Equipped with all-wheel drive and the upgraded turbocharged engine, our Limited tester was rated at 19 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined. Our real-world mileage was right in line with those figures.
Our tester was equipped with all-wheel drive, but front-wheel drive is available on lower trim levels. It seemed to handle well on slick roads, in part due to the tires. The real surprise here is Hyundai's choice to equip the SEL Premium and Limited trims with an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, typically reserved for sports cars. It shifted quickly under acceleration but felt a bit lost at slower speeds.
Acceleration and handling
One of the biggest surprises was just how peppy the Santa Cruz was. Its 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque scuttle the Santa Cruz from 0-60 in 6 seconds flat, as tested by Car and Driver. The Santa Cruz handles pretty well in sport mode, too. While no sports car, it corners well and keeps the power where you want it — in the middle of the torque band.
Brake feel and stopping power was good with no inconsistent pedal travel observed. My Limited was equipped with automatic emergency braking, pedestrian/cyclist detection and rear cross-traffic automatic braking. Each feature seemed helpful and didn't interfere.
Interior comfort and convenience
As striking as the Santa Cruz is on the outside, it's as thoughtfully laid out on the inside. The backseat is a little tighter than most, but the front has nice touches designed for both comfort and aesthetics.
The front seats are very comfortable and would be excellent for long commutes and highway cruising. The leather was average, but it did seem a little looser than it should be with just a few thousand miles of use. The heat worked well. It was too cold to test the ventilated features. The back seat was also comfortable, but the legroom was a little tighter than some of the competition.
Hyundai really went for it with the design of their cabin, especially on the Limited trim. While it looks attractive, there are some drawbacks. For instance, the climate control buttons are all touch-sensitive, making it difficult to know what button you're pushing. Dual-zone climate control was nice, and the cabin seemed to heat up fairly quickly on frigid teen-temperature mornings.
Cargo space and cabin storage
Being a compact truck, you don't expect a lot of interior storage space. The Santa Cruz felt about average, with decently sized door pockets and center console. You can fold up the rear seat, which gives you a lot more storage in the rear of the cabin.
If you're all about screen size, then you'll want to spring for the Limited trim. Included in our tester was a 10.25-inch center touchscreen, thoughtfully integrated into the dash with the air vents above the screen. Well done, Hyundai! The screen was simple to operate, consistent with other Hyundai products. Our tester was equipped with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but it never connected wirelessly. Chalk it up to user error. The stereo also sounded great, as expected from a Bose sound system.
Exterior appearance and functionality
We're not kidding when we say it's been a while since we've had so many people breaking their necks to see what we were driving. It's a real head turner, although the Santa Cruz likely offends as many as it impresses. The exterior styling is wonderfully unique and very well thought out, with interesting lines, curves and great proportions. It doesn't just look great, it's very functional, too.
The bed is just the right size for all your gear or a quick trip to Home Depot. It even comes with an integrated roll up bed cover. Oh, and should you need more storage, there is a large under-bed compartment — complete with drains. Getting into the bed is easy with the footholds integrated into the bumper.
Towing capacity and payload
The Santa Cruz is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds in the SEL Premium and Limited trims, with a 1,748-pound payload capacity. Not bad considering its size and unibody construction.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz is available with either 18- or 20-inch wheels. Our tester was equipped with 20-inch wheels and all-season tires. Freeway road noise was low and it handled bumps nicely, despite the large wheel size.
Lights and turn signals
The exterior lights on the Santa Cruz are a showstopper. No one else is doing their lights like Hyundai. The interesting sideways L shape in the front grille gives the truck a futuristic, almost science-fiction look. Definitely eye-catching.
Cameras and side mirrors
As with any fully-loaded vehicle these days, cameras are plentiful. Hyundai has done a nice job with the clarity and resolution of its rearview and surround-view cameras. The blind spot view cameras are a nice touch, but we found the sensors more helpful than the cameras. Side mirrors were a good size and had integrated blind-spot alert lights.
Front and rear windshield
Outward visibility was also very good. The windshield defrosted quickly in the cold, as did the rear window. The rear window also has an integrated sliding glass piece, giving you access to the truck bed and increasing airflow. My 6-year-old son thought it was the coolest thing in the world.
The loaded Limited trim brings a host of safety features that should satisfy those spending the money for this top trim. Hyundai has done a nice job of packaging all the features where they don't feel overly intrusive.
The Limited's safety features are appropriate for the price point, and they don't disappoint. These include:
Blind spot collision avoidance assist
Blind spot view monitor
Lane keep assist
Driver attention monitoring
Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection
Rear cross-traffic automatic braking
Adaptive cruise control
Awards and ratings
The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz was chosen by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as a top safety pick, receiving top marks in all categories for the Limited trim. It has not been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as of this writing.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz is perhaps the ultimate lifestyle vehicle. It does everything pretty well, with the added versatility of a truck bed. It is evident that Hyundai really thought through this one, and overall we'd say it's better than what you're probably expecting. We enjoyed our time with the Santa Cruz, and we came away thinking buyers should consider this if they don't need full-size truck capabilities.
Whether you buy a Santa Cruz will likely come down to personal styling preferences, but the Santa Cruz is so good it deserves to be on your list — as long as you go for the SEL Premium or Limited models.
Is the Santa Cruz family-friendly?
The Santa Cruz is a compact truck, so you should expect a compact interior. Our two kids fit fine in the backseat in their child seats, but their legroom was less than what you might want. There isn't a ton of storage in the cabin, so take that into consideration for your family hauling needs.
Is the Santa Cruz fun to drive?
Yes, the Santa Cruz is fun to drive. Its punchy 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder is a lot of fun to push around and is faster than you'd expect. Handling is good, too, especially in sport mode.
Can you actually use it as a truck?
The answer to this depends on what you want a truck to do. If you're into heavy hauling, you're probably better off looking at something bigger and body-on-frame. If you only want to put some skis, bikes or other gear in the back, then you'll be pleased with the Santa Cruz. It can also tow 5,000 pounds, so pulling small trailers or other machines should be no problem.
Wondering if a Hyundai Santa Cruz is right for you? Check out all your options on KSL Cars.
About the author: Having owned everything from a DeLorean to an E46 BMW M3 and a Toyota Land Cruiser, Jason Bell is a lifelong car enthusiast who loves sharing his passions as a teacher, freelance automotive journalist, speaker and social media manager. Contact him at email@example.com for comments/questions, or just to say "hi."