2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz: Urban Utility Vehicle

Experienced by Brian Armstead, Auto Sense

Hyundai’s first foray into the pickup truck market is manifested through a small, but very capable pickup called the Santa Cruz. And while Hyundai dubs Santa Cruz a “Sport Adventure Vehicle,” my preferred moniker for this well-executed vehicle is “Urban Utility Vehicle.”

Hyundai’s rationale behind the name is they see owners living active lifestyles, hauling bikes and kayaks around, and filling the short bed with tents and coolers for outdoor adventures. I see it a bit differently – bikes, yes, but also bags of mulch from Home Depot, filling the bed with custom subwoofers, and otherwise tricking out their ‘Cruzes with lightbars and other cool, urban, Saturday-night-car-show gear. Either way you choose to look at it, the Santa Cruz delivers. Its main competition is Ford’s new Maverick, which appears on paper to be a very credible player in the mini-truck segment.

Santa Cruz Exterior

Santa Cruz styling is surprisingly good-looking. I’m only surprised because they integrated a short box into the design without it looking frumpy or goofy. It’s a winner folks, and once my UUV comrades adorn it with tasteful, rugged accessories, Santa Cruz becomes a bonafide head turner. Up front, wicked LED DRLs waterfall from the fenders inward to the bumper. At the rear, horizontal, T-shaped taillights sit high, and flow into the upper tailgate above the stamped  Santa Cruz name on the lower tailgate. You can easily step up to tie down or access the four-foot four-inch, sheet-molded composite bed via a pair of rear bumper steps on each corner.

Santa Cruz Interior

What I like the most about Hyundai vehicles is the brand heavily contents each trim level they offer in their excellent sedans and utes, and that continues with Santa Cruz. Standard or available comfort and convenience items depending on trim include, among others:

  • Bose Premium Audio
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Remote engine start
  • Rearview monitor with parking guidance
  • Wireless device charging
  • Hyundai Blue Link telematics
  • Heated and ventilated front seats
  • Heated steering wheel
  • 25 digital instrument cluster
  • 115-Volt power outlet in cargo bed
  • Underfloor storage that turns into a cooler with drainage


My test vehicle was the $39,720 top Limited AWD trim, and all of the aforementioned items are standard. Again, content depends on trim, but even the base $23,990 trim SE is well-contented. HTRAC AWD is a $1,500 option.

Santa Cruz Powertrain

Santa Cruz offers two engines. SE and SEL trims feature a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder outputting 191-horsepower, 181 lb-ft of torque, and Front-Wheel Drive. All-Wheel Drive is a $1,500 option on SE and SEL trims. SEL Premium and Limited trims feature a 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder producing 281-horsepower, and 311 lb-ft of torque, tied to Hyundai’s HTRAC All-Wheel Drive system. SE and SEL trims are mated to a SHIFTRONIC 8-speed automatic transmission. SEL Premium and limited trims utilize a Wet Dual Clutch, 8-speed automatic.  Max payload is 1,610 pounds. Max towing capacity is 3,500 pounds for FWD models, 5,000 pounds for AWD models.

Santa Cruz Driving Experience

Base 4-cylinder acceleration is decent, but once you experience the 281-horsepower turbo model, you’ll start rolling quarters to finance the upgrade. The standard-on-all-trims Motor-Driven Power Steering eliminates the parasitic loss of a belt-driven pump, and provides instant steering input to your actions with the steering wheel.

Ride quality regardless of trim is very good, as is handling. The only quibble is the cabin seemed noisy at times, with the chief culprit being tire noise. If Hyundai does not address this in future models, it’s fairly easy to apply sound deadening spray to the underbody and fender wells. It’s cheaper to do that instead of spending a few large on a quieter set of new tires. On off-road trails, Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel drive system shone brightly. Santa Cruz is not a rock crawler, but can competently handle most public trails. It’s fun to drive off-road.

Santa Cruz Notable Safety Features

Hyundai’s comprehensive “SmartSense” safety suite is standard on all Santa Cruz trims. SmartSense include:

  • Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist
  • Lane Keeping Assist
  • Lane Following Assist
  • Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go
  • Driver Attention Warning
  • Blind-spot Collision-Avoidance Assist
  • Highway Driving Assist
  • High Beam Assist
  • Rear Occupant Alert
  • Safe Exit Warning
  • Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist
  • Surround View Monitor’


Who Should Buy a 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz?

Santa Cruz is perfect for active lifestyle devotees who love the flexibility of an open bed, coupled with the smaller size that’s conducive with limited parking in many urban settings. Santa Cruz also fits easily in most garages.

The Bottom Line

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is legit. It represents a terrific value, irrespective of trim, and it’s fun to drive. And let’s not forget the standard 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and standard 3-year/36,000-mile complimentary maintenance. Until American consumers rediscover sedans and even station wagons, utes and pickup trucks will reign supreme. My guess is Hyundai dealers will not have any trouble selling as many Santa Cruz models as they are allotted.

Santa Cruz Competitors to Consider

·               Ford Maverick
·               Honda Ridgeline
·               Ford Ranger
·               Toyota Tacoma
·               Chevrolet Colorado
·               Nissan Frontier
·               GMC Canyon
·               Jeep Gladiator




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