2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz First Drive: Designing a lifestyle

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

Have you ever considered the current lineup of Hyundai vehicles? The massive South Korean brand is present in all major categories as well as low-volume segments such as sports cars. The only area it’s been shunned from so far is trucks, and that’s not going to change anytime soon… And so, here comes the brand new 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz.

Hyundai is adamant that it’s not a truck. But they say they know full well that their Tucson-based sports and adventure vehicle will be bought up against the likes of the Honda Ridgeline and, more than any other, the Ford Maverick. The twisted part, and I suspect that’s why Hyundai is “shy” about the Santa Cruz, is that it outperforms the Maverick on several key truck features.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

It’s not a truck, but it’s still capable

Let’s continue with some data. The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz’s payload capacity is just over 1,600 pounds and it can tow up to 5,000 pounds, outperforming the all-wheel-drive Maverick EcoBoost by 100 and 1,000 pounds, respectively. The differences are small, but the fact is that Santa Cruz performs better. The comparison is in Ford’s favor with regard to the length of the case, which is 1.37 meters against the Santa Cruz’s 1.31 meters. However, both can carry 4 x 8 sheets thanks to a number of tricks, including molded pockets and other arrangements, not to mention the adjustable back cover.

While we’re talking about the transmission, Hyundai has made two key decisions that I believe will help seal the deal with Tucson or Santa Fe buyers looking for something very similar and very different. The first is the standard integrated tonneau cover, which almost completely isolates the case from the elements. Its self-retracting and lockable operation always makes the box useful. The second is the safe in the cash register. Although not very deep, it can be used as a place for dirty shoes, cooler or storage for soft backpacks or small objects.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

Designed to be familiar and different

While it copies the general styling of the new 2022 Hyundai Tucson, it shares very few body panels. Much of it, especially from the ‘B’ pillars to the rear, is unique. The Santa Cruz is 340mm longer than the Tucson and its wheelbase is 250mm longer. Length gains have been concentrated to make the box usable, which as described is. The Santa Cruz’s overall footprint is well camouflaged on the outside thanks to its consistently perfect proportions.

I continue to believe that Hyundai’s relentless effort to reinvent its design language is nothing more than a good way to prematurely age its products. That said, the interior of Santa Cruz will not suffer the same fate. Taken straight from Tucson, its layout is attractive and functional. The basic Preferred version for $38,499 includes an 8-inch touchscreen. Starting with the $41,399 Trend, a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster is added to it, and finally, with the $44,799 Ultimate, the 8-inch unit is upgraded to a 10.25-inch display. . This latest version is the one we drove, and with its cooled front seats and other features, we’re definitely talking about a premium vehicle.

The cabin is also quite spacious, able to accommodate three occupants in the 2nd row folding seat. And by ‘folding up’ I mean the lower seat cushion opens up to reveal additional storage space. Up front, driver and passenger are comfortable with plenty of space and storage. The person at the helm of the Santa Cruz gets an actual shifter, rather than buttons, to operate the transmission – apparently customers love shifters. Who would have believed?

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

Big power, sporty driving

As for the powertrain, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz comes standard with an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and an HTRAC all-wheel drive system. They are powered by a 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that develops 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque. Thanks to this configuration, the Santa Cruz performs very well. The only downside is the delay in activating the eight gears, especially when attempting a three-point turn.

The Santa Cruz is also 30mm wider than the Tucson, which reinforces the impression that it is a heavier vehicle. In fact, from a driver’s point of view, it’s like driving a Santa Fe. The extra wheelbase and the work done to reduce noise infiltration combine to create a surprisingly refined vehicle. The handling of this “truck” is better than expected. If I had to comment, I would avoid the Ultimate, mainly because of the 20-inch wheels. As always, the shorter, stiffer sidewalls convey many imperfections from the road surface to the cab. This problem would be virtually eliminated with the 18-inch base wheels.

Dynamically speaking, the Santa Cruz is fun to drive. The Sport Adventure Vehicle’s chassis is more sporty than flexible, which means it’s very comfortable at higher speeds. Even with just over 1,000 pounds in tow (Kawasaki Jet Ski plus trailer), the Hyundai stays on course effortlessly.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

What is the purpose of Santa Cruz?

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is designed to improve Hyundai’s position in the small SUV segment, not to generate volume. It will help develop the brand’s image and will be little more than an extension of the Tucson range. It was also created to be versatile for urban use and outdoor adventures.

The Santa Cruz is more of a lifestyle trend vehicle than a true service vehicle. It is not limited to, but not intended to replace a truck. This contrasts with the Maverick, which Ford presents as an urban vehicle very close to the truck. So Hyundai doesn’t see Ford as a competitor, but it is. Also, Hyundai thinks a hybrid version is a very real possibility.

Finally, it’s impossible not to think of some of the Santa Cruz’s predecessors, like the Chevrolet El Camino and Subaru Baja, that barely sold. Like them, Hyundai was not created to attract truck buyers, which all but guaranteed its failure. The Santa Cruz is different in that it can function as a small “truck” and there are many accessories available, including a tent for the adventurous.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

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