SANTA CRUZ, CA – Is it a four-seat sedan with a small truck bed? Or is it a small pickup that drives like a car? To Hyundai, which has dubbed its all-new Santa Cruz a sport adventure pickup, it’s both.
The Santa Cruz represents Hyundai’s entry into the North American pickup market without going head-to-head with General Motors, Ford, Jeep or Toyota. Even the automaker’s Irvine, CA-based design teams occasionally refer to the Santa Cruz as a car, other times as a truck.
From the 20-in. tires to the tuned suspension and driver-assistance systems to the sloped D-pillar, locking tonneau cover and adjustable tailgate, Hyundai has designed an attractive, fun-to-drive truck.
The Santa Cruz has been well thought out from grille to tailgate, engineered to be easy and fun to drive and to provide a good level of safety and driver assistance.
The cabin (pictured below) feels comfortable in both hot or cold weather due to the diffuse airflow from the band along the top of the instrument panel. Dash layout is clean and simple, and the high-contrast touchscreen display is easy to understand, use and see, even in direct sunlight.
There is plenty of legroom and the headrest lets you sit up straight while driving, which makes for more comfortable long rides. Even after three hours on curvy, mountainous roads, I felt comfortable and energized. The reduced road vibration and noise level helps minimize fatigue.
The Santa Cruz is a breeze to drive in the city or country owing to the steering and suspension that eagerly take to curves and straightaways.
Acceleration was a bit touchy until I switched to Smart mode. Then, after a few minutes, the system learned my acceleration style, providing a feeling of full control. The steering has some weight to it, which makes keeping it in the lane easy without oversteer. Brakes are smooth and responsive, easily slowing the truck even during a few abrupt stops in the city.
The light, rigid frame is isolated from the body and is designed to accommodate gasoline powerplants and battery-electric drivetrains, even hydrogen fuel cells. This flexibility is a smart way to ensure the design will meet the needs of future Santa Cruz models while delivering a great driving experience.
The Santa Cruz targets two main markets. The first is the young, tech-savvy urban professional who enjoys the outdoors and appreciates the truck’s modern design and technology. They will enjoy the connectivity, intelligence and response of this mobile computer that happens to be good at carrying camping or hiking gear as easily as it does groceries and kids’ sports gear.
Connectivity for maps, entertainment and internet access will surely please this segment, as will available wireless smartphone charging, 8-speaker Bose audio system and intelligent voice recognition for many functions.
The second demographic is empty-nesters who like to garden, tackle FYI projects or shop for antiques. They will enjoy the quiet cabin and the ease of operating the tailgate and tonneau. My wife and I are in this demographic, and this would be the perfect vehicle for our acreage to haul lumber, fertilizer, trees, flowers and concrete blocks.
Both segments will appreciate the easy-to-use driver-assistance features including side cameras that activate and display the view in the cluster when the turn signal is activated. The side camera view replaces the left or right analog dial in the dashboard display to reveal the road space next to you, literally removing blindspots.
Side and rear sensors alert the driver of vehicles or people beside or behind them on the road and in parking lots. When backing up in parking lots, in addition to the rear-view camera, a fairly realistic 3D bird’s-eye view captures your vehicle and its surroundings.
The 2.5L turbocharged 4-cyl. delivers 281 hp and 311 lb.-ft. (422 Nm) of torque. With a curb weight of around 4,000 lbs. (1,810 kg), the Santa Cruz has plenty of power for on-ramps and hills.
The base engine, a naturally aspirated 2.5L, delivers a respectable 191 hp and 181 lb.-ft. (245 Nm) of torque. The turbo delivers combined fuel efficiency of 22 mpg (10.7 L/100 km) and 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km) for the non-turbo version.
Despite the Santa Cruz’s modest 118-in. (2,997-mm) wheelbase, a 6-ft.-1 (185 cm) occupant can sit in the left rear seat without hitting the back of the driver’s seat or the ceiling. So, most people will fit just fine back there even if it is a bit cozy.
The adjustable tailgate (pictured above) can be controlled by hand or with the Santa Cruz app, which also allows drivers to start the vehicle, set the climate control and unlock it without a key fob. Integration with smart speakers from Google and Amazon allow voice commands similar to the app.
There’s extra storage space below the rear seats, on each side of the bed and below the floor of the bed. The spare tire hangs below the body.
The Santa Cruz feels like a solid choice for the target markets with a range of prices from $23,990 for the naturally aspirated front-wheel-drive SE model to $39,720 for the fully tricked-out all-wheel-drive Limited edition.