The Santa Cruz is neither a pickup truck nor an SUV, but has created its own niche and it looks strong

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The Santa Cruz was one of the most anticipated vehicles from Hyundai for the better part of the last decade. The company unveiled it as a concept back in 2015 at the Detroit Motor Show and there were a lot of eyes on it since it was the automaker’s first pickup truck. Fast forward to 2021, the Santa Cruz is finally unveiled and the automaker has taken a different approach to it. Hyundai is referring to the Santa Cruz as a Sport Adventure Vehicle and not a pickup truck. We don’t know what the reason for this is, but the Korean automaker is coming across as a little defensive here and not as a niche-maker.

That said, the truck, err., SAV, does look pretty fancy and seems to be quite rugged and tough. The truck will be available from the summer of 2021. Also, doesn’t BMW also call the X7 an SAV? The ‘A’ there stands for ‘Activity’, I believe.

2022 Santa Cruz Exterior

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Exterior
- image 983701

So what we see here is a Sport Adventure Vehicle disguised as a pickup truck. There’s no denying that the overlanding and adventure market is growing by the day and automakers are capitalizing on it. To sell accessories is one thing, but to create a whole vehicle based on it is quite brave from Hyundai. So far, everything seems to be going in its favor.

Up front, the Santa Cruz looks very similar to the 2022 Tucson. The huge cascading grille which integrates the headlights into looks smart. The daytime running lights are also incorporated here, and as we’ve seen on Tucson, it looks smashing. The Santa Cruz is quite bold, thanks to the cuts and creases. Even though such designs draw polarizing opinions, the Santa Cruz might be an exception.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Exterior
- image 983708

The SAV looks rugged from the side, too. You can have it with 20-inch wheels in the top trim, but if you’re looking to take it off the roads often, then the 18-inch wheels wrapped in high-profile tires would be a better option. The C-pillar isn’t a straight drop as you in trucks generally. Hyundai has angled it slightly to break away from the conventional truck image.

The truck bed is another interesting aspect here. It isn’t as long as conventional trucks. It measures 4.3 feet. There is a hidden lockable storage in the truck bed to keep goodies away from prying eyes. The Santa Cruz also comes with bumper steps to access the bed without having to open the tailgate every time. The automaker will come up with bed extension accessories, including an extendable Tonneau cover for the base that can extend and be locked to carry longer items.In terms of measurements, the Santa Cruz is 195.7 inches long, 75 inches wide, 66.7 inches tall, and has a 118.3-inch wheelbase. It is significantly smaller than the likes of the Honda Ridgeline, Toyota Tacoma, and Nissan Frontier.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Exterior
- image 983706
2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz exterior dimensions
Length 195.7
Width 75.0
Height 66.7
Wheelbase 118.3

The 2022 Santa Cruz will be offered in six different exterior shades:

  • Ice White
  • Phantom Black
  • Hampton Gray
  • Sage Gray
  • Blue Stone
  • Desert Sand

2022 Santa Cruz Interior

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Interior
- image 983669

The cabin dimensions aren’t revealed, but it doesn’t look like a very spacious space to be in. It is in such things that ‘creating a new niche’ trick goes wrong. The SAV won’t be as spacious as an SUV on the inside and neither does it have a truck bed as long as a pickup truck’s. Hyundai hasn’t revealed the upholstery details yet, but you can expect a rather premium cabin.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Interior
- image 983659

On the tech front, the base trims come with an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen system. A 10.25-inch touchscreen system comes as standard on the higher trims. It supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Even a digital instrument cluster is available as you go higher up the pecking order. Apart from this, the Santa Cruz also comes with stuff like:

  • Power-adjustable seats
  • Dual-automatic climate control
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel
  • Under-seat storage at the rear

2022 Santa Cruz Drivetrain and Towing Capacity

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Exterior
- image 983688

The Santa Cruz isn’t a body-on-frame truck. This unibody construction won’t be your typical workhorse and Hyundai isn’t marketing it as one either. The Santa Cruz will be similar to the Ridgeline in terms of driving dynamics, or perhaps, even better since it is smaller in size. The Santa Cruz will be happier being chucked around rather than lugging weight in its cargo bed. The independent suspension system will make the ride quality even better.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Drivetrain
- image 983653

The SAV will be offered with the same engine in two different states of tune.

The base engine is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder mill that will make an estimated 190 ponies and 180 pound-feet of torque.

Power hits the ground via an eight-speed automatic hydraulic gearbox in this case. This engine will be offered on two of the base trims.

The same engine is offered in a turbocharged form that churns out 275 horses and 310 pound-feet of twist.

These are also estimated figures and we’ll get the exact numbers closer to the launch of the product. Here, power is sent to the wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. It also comes with steering-mounted paddle shifters. This mill will be offered on the top two trims.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Exterior
- image 983682

Both the engine options will be available with Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel-drive system. As for the towing capacities, the non-turbo engine can tow up to 3,500 pounds, whereas the turbo option with the all-wheel-drive configuration will be able to tow up to 5,000 pounds. The maximum payload capacity is rated at 1,410 pounds. The numbers aren’t bad for a unibody construction and are identical to the Honda Ridgeline. So, good job there convincing potential pickup truck owners to have a look at the Santa Cruz.

2022 Santa Cruz Trim Levels

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Exterior
- image 983696

The SAV will be offered in four different trims – SE, SEL, SEL Premium, and Limited. On the base SE, you will be getting stuff like an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, 4.3-foot cargo bed, 3,500 pounds of towing capacity, 1,410 pounds of payload capacity, and so on.

Move one step up the hierarchy and your Santa Cruz will come with niceties like a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, eight-way power-adjustable heated driver seat, etc. The SEL trim adds LED headlights, dual-automatic temperature control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, to name a few.

Finally, the top Limited trim will be graced by a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Bose audio system, ventilated and heated seats and steering wheel, optional 20-inch wheels, and dark chrome exterior accents, amongst other things.

2022 Santa Cruz Pricing

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Exterior
- image 983710

Hyundai hasn’t revealed the price of the Santa Cruz, but we speculate a starting price of under $30,000, probably a shade under $28,000 if we had to be a little more precise. The top trim with packages and accessories could see the price go north of $45,000.

2022 Santa Cruz Competition

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Exterior
- image 983696

If only we could go back in time and pit the Santa Cruz against the likes of other unibody construction ‘pickup trucks’ like the Subaru Baja, the Chevy El Camino, or even the Ford Ranchero. But, for now, we have to put it up against…

Honda Ridgeline

2017 - 2018 Honda Ridgeline High Resolution Exterior
- image 661640

This is the only obvious rival for the Santa Cruz in the market today. Both the products are priced differently so they won’t cannibalize into each other’s sales. On the flipside, potential Ridgeline customers could consider the Santa Cruz if Hyundai can offer a similar product, with a smaller real estate, of course, and at a much cheaper price.

So far, the Ridgeline was the only successful unibody construction truck amongst a horde of body-on-frames. While the purists look down at it, Honda has been raking decent numbers every year (around 30,000 examples). The Japanese automaker refreshed the truck in 2020 and it looks like an even better package.

2017 - 2018 Honda Ridgeline High Resolution Exterior
- image 661610

The Honda Ridgeline is powered by a 3.5-liter, V-6 engine that makes out 280 horses and 262 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to all the wheels via a nine-speed automatic gearbox. The Ridgeline features an independent rear suspension that complements the unibody construction well for good driving and handling dynamics. The towing and payload capacities are rated at 5,000- and 1,580 pounds, respectively, for all-wheel-drive models. The 2021 Honda Ridgeline starts around $37,000.

Read our full review on the Honda Ridgeline

Ford Maverick

It's Almost Official - a Ford Bronco Pickup Is Coming, But The Question Is When
- image 924412

We are waiting for this truck to arrive and it will serve as a true blue competitor to the Hyundai Santa Cruz. The Maverick will be a unibody truck, too, and will undercut the Santa Cruz also in terms of pricing in all likelihood since it will be slot below the Ford Ranger. For now, all we know about the Ford Maverick is that it exists and has been spied a few times. The ‘Maverick’ nameplate makes a comeback after being used on vehicles in the 20th century.

Just like the Santa Cruz is based on the Tucson, the Maverick could be counted as an Escape-based pickup truck. Engine options could include the same 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engine that makes 181 horses and 190 pound-feet of torque, and a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder mill that dishes out 250 horses and 280 pound-feet of torque. These go up well against the Santa Cruz’s engines and will plonking them as it is will save Ford some developmental costs. Both engines are paired to an eight-speed automatic gearbox in the Escape, and it could be the same for the Maverick as well. There’s no word on when it will arrive, but it could have a starting price of around $20,000.

Read our full review on the Ford Maverick

2022 Santa Cruz Safety Features and Warranty

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Interior
- image 983654

The Santa Cruz will be offered with a variety of safety features, some standard and some optional.

  • Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist
  • Lane Keeping Assist
  • Driver Attention Warning
  • Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist
  • Safe Exist Assist
  • Blind-Spot View Monitor
  • Highway Drive Assist
  • Surround-View Monitor
  • Rear Cross-Traffic Assist
2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Interior
- image 983661

A freshly baked product needs to have a good warranty to instill faith in people’s minds. Hyundai is offering:

  • 10-year/100,000-mile limited warranty on the powertrain
  • 5-year/60,000-mile new vehicle limited warranty
  • 7-year anti-perforation warranty

Complimentary maintenance of 3-year/36,000 miles is also offered. This includes normal oil changes and tire rotations.

Final Thoughts

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Exterior
- image 983695

Hyundai’s approach to call this a niche within the SUV, pickup truck, and crossover segments sounds a little absurd, but the final product looks quite good. The Santa Cruz does seem like an amalgamation of all three segments and ticks most of the boxes confidently. But, as they say, it’s a jack of all trades and master of none. We will hold our reservations till we see the actual product, but if someone is not looking for a full-fledged SUV, crossover, or a pickup truck, the Santa Cruz might invoke some interest.

So, the target market for Hyundai is people who are ready to cross-shop, are flexible with their requirements, and are willing to let break certain shackles associated with each of the segments to try something new that offers a mix of all of them. In the end, it will boil down to the pricing since convincing potential customers to spend big bucks on a mixed product in these competitive times will be an arduous task otherwise.

The Santa Cruz will be manufactured at Hyundai’s plant in Montgomery, Alabama starting June 2021. The deliveries will begin a couple of months thereon. The bookings for the SAV are now open and can reserve yours for a $100 refundable deposit.

  • Leave it
    • Traditional truck buyers will steer clear
    • Not as spacious as an SUV
    • V-6 engine should’ve been offered
Sidd Dhimaan
Sidd Dhimaan
Senior Editor, Truck Expert, EV Expert - sidd@topspeed.com
Sidd joined the Topspeed.com team in 2017 as an intern and in less than a year he earned a full-time position as an associate editor and junior automotive expert. Fast forward to today, and he is currently serving as a senior editor, pickup truck expert, and EV expert.  Read full bio
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