Stylish, practical, and a fresh take on the truck
THE GOOD
  • Stylish, unique
  • Practical
  • Lots of features
  • Great driving dynamics
THE BAD
  • Price
  • Lack of analogue buttons
  • Smartphone mirroring packaging

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a pickup truck is defined as a vehicle with “an enclosed cab and an open body with low sides and a tailgate.”

So while traditional truck enthusiasts – not to mention the very brand that builds it – refuse to call the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz one, this vehicle can definitely be classified as a pickup truck. This pickup’s non-conformity and non-traditional approach is a fresh take on trucks, and its biggest strength.

Style: 9/10

This is a fantastic-looking new vehicle and it’s been a while since anything I’ve driven has gotten this much attention from strangers. While it is a brand-new model that probably gets a lot of looks because nobody has seen it before, the handful of people who stopped me to ask about it were all hyped about the truck, saying that it looks really cool, that they loved the colour (called Sage Grey, by the way), and that it was great to see something so unique.

I particularly like the colour and the headlights, but the whole package comes together well, and the design overall is cohesive and fun, displaying both its rugged and urban ethos proudly. Hyundai likes to point out that the truck was designed in California, which totally makes sense. I get California vibes from this truck, and that is a big compliment to all the thought that went into its design.

Inside, the cabin has some personality with the grey textile trim, contrast stitching on the leather seats, and orange accents on the dash that are exclusive to the Ultimate trim’s two-tone interior option.

I wish there were even more adventurous design decisions made inside, but it’s still low-key and attractive. My only complaint about the interior design is the shiny black surface used to house the touch-sensitive buttons and touchscreen. It took less than two days during testing before it got unbearably dusty.

Practicality: 9/10

Practicality is where the Santa Cruz shines. It’s not a body-on-frame truck, so it won’t have that type of outright capability, but its towing capacity is still rated at an impressive 2,268 kg (5,000 lb), which is enough to tow a couple dirt bikes, pretty much any personal watercraft or a small boat. And with the right racks (which can be ordered right at the dealership), paddle boards, bikes, skis, snowboards, cargo boxes, and kayaks can be strapped right to the roof.

The bed isn’t big enough to fit a bike without dangling it over the closed tailgate with a specialized pad; this truck is smaller than the midsize Toyota Tacoma, but it still has a very usable bed. It holds 764 L of cargo, and a rolling tonneau cover can also be locked for extra security and a small amount of weatherproofing. That tonneau cover is included as standard, is rated to withstand 100 kg (220 lb) of weight on top, and can be pulled back into place using a simple and handy strap. The standard tonneau cover alone makes this truck even more practical than it already is.

A substantial hidden under-floor storage compartment in the bed offers even more extra storage. It’s lockable and drainable, so you could fill it with ice and use it as a cooler or fill it with dirty gear and hose it down to clean it.

Of course, the bed also has multiple fixed and adjustable tie downs, cargo lights, a 115-volt three-prong power outlet, sidewall storage compartments, and integrated bumper steps that make accessing the bed easier.

Inside, the rear seats flip up easily to reveal more hidden storage. This is also where the emergency jack is hidden, but the plastic storage bin can be removed with just a screwdriver to make room for taller items if needed. There aren’t a lot of cubbies inside to store small items, and the door pockets in the front are also quite shallow. The rear bench doesn’t have a centre armrest, so the cupholders are in the rear doors, which don’t have any other storage in them, either.

Power: 9/10

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz comes standard with front-biased all-wheel drive (AWD) and is powered by a turbocharged 2.5L four-cylinder that outputs 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. It gets to all four wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

This truck has more than enough power and even feels quick when you need it to, helping you get to highway speeds and pass people with no drama at all. The engine does sound a bit harsh when you stomp on the pedal or you’re trying to climb up a hill, but it feels peppy and responsive in most situations. The transmission might act a little choppy at low speeds, but most of the time it’s relatively good at knowing where it needs to be and shifts smoothly. This powertrain is a great, capable match for this small truck.

Driving Feel: 9/10

Some people might see the Santa Cruz’s small size and crossover platform as a negative, but its compact footprint is an incredible bonus because that’s a big reason why it feels so composed versus a traditional body-on-frame pickup. This small truck pretty much drives and handles better than most typical crossovers, so you get none of the bucking around you get with big trucks over rough roads, and it’s amazingly easy to manoeuvre around the city. It feels nimble and responsive, the body doesn’t move around too much in turns, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to pilot around, and it doesn’t require you to start braking two blocks away like big trucks do. Parking the Santa Cruz in tight spots is ridiculously easy, there’s no drama when parallel parking, and U-turns are completed with remarkable ease.

Anytime I drive a half-ton, I get a bit nervous when I have to drive it in downtown Toronto. Those big trucks don’t even fit in my parking garage at home, but this Santa Cruz fits everywhere and that’s a big reason why I like it so much. Its size just makes so much sense because most people don’t need huge half-tons and if you frequent the city often, a truck like this will be a lot less stressful to drive.

Safety: 9/10

The Santa Cruz comes standard with a long list of safety and driver assistance features even in its entry-level Preferred trim, including forward collision avoidance with camera-based pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-following and lane-keep assist, driver attention warning, automatic high-beam headlights, rear occupant alert system and safe exit warning that warns of vehicles approaching from behind, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

Adding the Trend package brings a radar-based forward collision avoidance system with junction assistance that can warn of oncoming vehicles when making left-hand turns, and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic. The fully loaded Ultimate model adds intelligent speed limit assist, blind-spot cameras that display live feeds in the instrument screen when the turn signal is activated, surround-view parking cameras, and steering assist for the adaptive cruise control.

In practice, all the driver assistance systems aren’t overly sensitive and they feel natural, with the vehicle adapting to changing situations smoothly in a way that isn’t jarring.

Features: 9/10

In the top Ultimate trim I tested, this little truck offers all the features you want at this price point except for a head-up display, heated rear seats, and wireless phone mirroring. The last one is odd because the base Santa Cruz has a smaller eight-inch infotainment screen and offers wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but once you upgrade to the larger 10.25-inch screen, you’ll need to use a wired connection to access them. This means drivers who get the Ultimate trim won’t get much use of the wireless phone charger, so this packaging doesn’t make a lot of sense. Besides that, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay don’t use the whole screen, so there’s a dead zone that seems like a waste of valuable screen real estate.

Some of the standout features in the top-trim model include heated and ventilated front seats, 64 colours of ambient lighting, as well as that long list of excellent driver assistance and safety features. The base Preferred model is decently featured, but the mid-range Preferred with Trend or this Ultimate model are the ones I’d go with.

User Friendliness: 8/10

As far as trucks go, the Santa Cruz is as user-friendly as it gets, as it requires almost no learning curve even if you’ve never driven a truck before. There are no tricks or previous truck experience needed to feel comfortable, and even the AWD system is fully automated and requires no driver input.

The infotainment system also has logical menus and is easy to navigate, so it’s never a chore to find what you’re looking for. I also appreciate the simple user-friendliness of the now old-school T-handle gear selector. While using buttons and knobs for gear selection clears up room around the centre console, they’re just never as intuitive to use as a lever.

Where the Santa Cruz suffers in the user-friendliness department is its lack of analogue buttons, however. Nearly all the functions are controlled via touch-sensitive buttons, which also means there’s no volume knob or hard controls for tuning, temperature, or fan speed. I can appreciate the slicker look, but having a few analogue buttons in the mix makes it safer and easier to find what you’re looking for while on the move, especially if it’s to make a quick change.

Comfort: 8/10

For someone my size who stands at about 5-foot-6, the truck is comfortable in all positions, but someone taller than, say, 6-foot-3 might find it a bit tight for head- and legroom, especially if there’s a taller passenger in front. Still, the seats were comfortable during a few long drives and the truck is quiet and smooth.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

The other bonus to its small size is decent fuel economy. Over about 800 km of mixed driving, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz was returning an average of 10.7 L/100 km – very close to its official combined rating of 10.6 L/100 km. Earlier during my time with the truck, after I had logged about 300 km of mostly city and suburban driving, the economy varied between 11.3 and 12.4 L/100 km. Officially, the Santa Cruz is rated at 12.1 L/100 km in the city and 8.6 on the highway. Hyundai also says the Santa Cruz can run on regular-grade fuel.

By four-cylinder crossover standards, that fuel economy isn’t amazing, but by truck standards, those ratings are excellent. I did hear from two different passers-by that they wished the small truck came as a hybrid or electric, and I loved the idea, but it would have made it even more niche and would have seriously impacted its towing capacity.

Value: 8/10

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz starts at $38,499 for the Preferred trim plus a non-negotiable $1,825 destination fee. Adding the Trend package is an additional $2,900, while the fully loaded Ultimate trim starts at $44,799. All things considered, my Ultimate tester rings in at $46,954 before tax, which in Ontario means the final price including tax would be $53,058. While that total might seem like a lot to pay for a small truck, Hyundai makes it work by packing the Santa Cruz full of features and offering excellent build quality and overall packaging that makes it feel worth it.

The Verdict

Hyundai continues to set the bar high for itself and routinely impresses by offering fully featured vehicles that go above and beyond what’s expected, and the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz continues this trend. It’s a unique, practical, stylish, and user-friendly small truck that’s well-suited for a variety of lifestyles. Its excellent driving dynamics and long list of features truly help seal the deal. I am thoroughly impressed by this small truck and love to see something so unique offer so much real-world utility.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.5L   Model Tested 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Ultimate
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $44,799
Peak Horsepower 281 hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 311 lb-ft   Destination Fee $1,825
Fuel Economy 12.1 / 8.6 / 10.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $46,924
Cargo Space 746 L  
Optional Equipment
$200 – Sage Grey paint, $200