2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz First Drive Review: Truck for When You’re Tired of the Crossover

Hyundai Santa Cruz Truck

Can’t decide, truck or SUV? The Hyundai Santa Cruz doesn’t want you to choose.

There’s nothing worse than making a sacrifice, but now you don’t have to. The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is an affordable part-truck part-crossover — seriously, it starts at just over $24,000 — that will give you that easily navigable crossover size you love, but with a truck-like bed that can keep all the gross bits of your life where they belong: well outside your comfort zone.

We had the chance to take the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz for an all-day spin down a variety of northern California roads — down coasts, up mountains, and through forests. We had a great ride, and we’re excited to share our impressions of this unique vehicle with you.

Related: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy: A Luxury Drive Without the Heavy Price Tag

Hyundai Santa Cruz Truck

A sleek, high-tech interior balances an understated look with minimalist luxury. Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Who’s Hyundai Building this Truck For?

Let’s be honest: cars with truck beds haven’t exactly been a big hit in the past. Whether it was the Chevrolet El Camino or the Subaru Baja, Americans haven’t quite jumped on this trend — though these types of vehicles are huge in Australia. Hyundai’s hoping we take a cue from our sisters down under in our adoption of the Santa Cruz.

Basically, Hyundai has been saying that this is a great car for the urban professionals who are fond of their outdoorsy weekend getaways. So, they’ll need something that can park on and navigate through congested New York City streets… but they also want something that can cater to their long weekend bike rides out near the Finger Lakes. A sedan can’t get the job done, and a small crossover can be a pain, since you’ll likely end up cleaning out your trunk or mounting a bike rack any time you want to do something fun. It’s an attitude befitting the easygoing, outdoorsy Australian lifestyle — and something we could use a little more of here in America.

We think the Santa Cruz has a ton of possibilities because it’s a seriously flexible vehicle. We’d recommend it for:

  • Young, active professionals
  • People who want a little more visual excitement in their cars
  • Childless couples or small families with young children
  • Empty nesters, no matter the age
  • Truck families who aren’t sure their child needs a large vehicle
  • Anyone who frequently hauls things like mulch, dirt, sandy hiking boots, or wet clothes but who doesn’t want those things in the cabin of their car
  • Those who frequently haul messy things and don’t want a full sized truck

Basically, if you’ve ever had anything you turned up your nose at putting in your trunk, that’s what you’ll put in the truck bed.

American Designed, American Built

Hyundai says it doesn’t want to compete with the truck crowd, but I still think they’re trying to make a statement with the Santa Cruz. This is the team’s first car that’s been conceptualized, designed, and built in the United States, which means the whole crew has been attuned to the American market — and to the American buyers who want to keep their purchases local.

And Hyundai did a damn good job here. Statement grilles are all the rage right now — think Lexus’s hourglass, Genesis’ diamond pattern, or BMW’s kidney shapes. Hyundai is doing something similar here with its shapely grille. I found it to be a nice angular contrast to the sloping lines that carve out the rest of the body. The running lamps are integrated into that pattern, which looks incredibly sleek on the road. You’re not going to miss this car when it’s behind you.

And the body, too, looks like a really beautiful blend between a crossover and a pickup truck. It doesn’t look awkward, like some cars with truck beds have appeared, which makes it a hell of a lot more appealing than something like the Subaru Baja. It’s the kind of look that may not win over everyone, but it’ll at least be easy on the eyes.

Related: 2021 Hyundai Elantra: Shouldn’t a Modern, Stylish, Tech-Filled Sedan Be Affordable, Too?

Hyundai Santa Cruz Truck

The Hyundai Santa Cruz has a distinctive front end that makes it instantly recognizable in your rearview mirror. Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Flexibility Reigns Supreme

Hyundai has done a great job of ensuring that the Santa Cruz can do it all. It’s the kind of vehicle that expands your horizons, not narrows them.

  • You can tow.
  • You’ll be comfortable taking the kids to school.
  • You’ll have no problems conquering a bumpy, potholed road.
  • You have two engine options (a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder and a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine), two powertrain options (FWD and AWD), and five trims.
  • Hyundai offers multiple additional packages that can customize your driving experience.
  • You’ll also have the option to buy 25 optional add-ons, such as bed extenders, tow hitches, surfboard restraints, and more.
  • Hyundai’s BlueLink app connects your phone to your car to save your driver preferences, give you an opportunity to loan someone a temporary digital key, start your car from afar, and locate it if it gets stolen.
  • Safety features like collision alerts, lane-keep assists, and rear seat reminder will always leave you feeling in control and at ease.

Related: 2020 Hyundai Venue SEL: Empowering at All Life Stages

Hyundai Santa Cruz Truck

The Hyundai Santa Cruz truck bed may not be large, but its flexible storage options make it seem much bigger than you think. Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

A Luxury Experience for an Affordable Price

I was struck by how comfortable the Hyundai Santa Cruz was when I was driving it. We started the morning in cool conditions, but by the afternoon, I was sweaty and tired. The dual-zone climate control system, plus front heated and ventilated leather seats made the ride feel like a breeze, no matter where I was. Further, the suspension did a great job of absorbing the bumps in the road while the insulated cabin kept out road noise so I could enjoy the high-quality 8-speaker Bose sound system.

And, Hyundai has added a number of features (hello retractable bed cover ?) as trim options, which means buyers can buy them with the Santa Cruz rather than having them installed after purchase. This means those options are covered under the vehicle’s warranty and they are factory installed, not maybe installed properly, maybe not.

For a short person, too, this activity truck was great. I had incredible visibility over the steering wheel, which can be rare for most trucks. I didn’t feel like I had to pole vault into the truck bed or turn into a gymnast just to get in the front seat. It really did feel like I was driving a small crossover, but with the added benefit of external rear storage for anything I didn’t want to stick in cabin with me.

I was, admittedly, driving the fully-loaded Limited trim, so I definitely got the best that Hyundai had to offer, but it’s still an incredible ride for only $40,000. Normally, you’ll be paying a lot more to feel like queen of the road.

Hyundai Santa Cruz Truck

There’s even plenty of extra storage space under the rear seats. Just pull a loop on the side of the seat, and they fold up. Pull the tab again, and they fold right back down. Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

What We Loved

  • Flexible bed with easy-lower tailgate and easily-closable bed cover
  • The bed cover is standard, not an optional extra that costs more money.
  • No menu screen on the infotainment system
  • Sleek new designs for both the vents and trim as well as the front end
  • Thoughtful details like cupholders and vertical vents
  • The fact that this is something fun and different!

I only had one qualm with the pickup-styled Santa Cruz: your backseat passengers won’t have access to the trunk. Despite the fact that her kids are grown, my mom still stores everything in the back of her SUV: blankets, snacks, water bottles, and more are always just an arm’s reach away from the rear passengers. If you’ve gotten used to having that kind of in-vehicle access to your trunk space, the Santa Cruz can take some getting used to.

Hyundai Santa Cruz Truck

There are so many great details in the Hyundai Santa Cruz, including small images of the Santa Cruz integrated into the design elements of the truck. Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

What’s the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Towing Capacity?

  • With the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
  • With the turbocharged 2.5-liter engine, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

If you have towing plans, make sure you let your Hyundai dealer know. You’ll want to make sure you get all of the available towing add-ons, including the tow hitch.

Hyundai Santa Cruz Truck

There are plenty of truck accessories and packages that can transform the Santa Cruz from a base-model vehicle to the car of your dreams. Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

What You Need to Know

  • Starts at $23,995 but runs to $39,720
  • Seats 5 but more comfortable for 4
  • In front: one wireless phone charger, one 12-volt cigarette lighter plug, one USB charging port, one USB-C charging port
  • In rear: two USB charging ports
  • 191 horsepower, 181 lb-ft torque, 3500 pound towing capacity for 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine; 21 mpg city / 27 or 27 mpg highway / 23 mpg combined
  • 281 horsepower, 311 lb-ft of torque, 5000 pounds towing capacity for turbocharged 2.5-liter engine; 19 mpg city / 27 mpg highway / 22 mpg combined
  • Lockable under-bed storage; two lockable side bin compartments in truck bed; LED bed lighting
  • Self-retracting, water-resistant, lockable bed cover
  • Molded pockets in truck bed to allow for additional storage flexbility
Hyundai Santa Cruz Truck

The chrome-and-leather steering wheel is soft to the touch and looks beautiful. Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Price and Trim Breakdown

  • SE: 8-inch color touchscreen, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, wireless AppleCarPlay and Android Auto, standard safety features, heat-molded composite bed, 18-inch alloy wheels; $23,995 for FWD, $25,490 for AWD
  • SEL: Add blind-spot collisions and rear cross-traffic alert, BlueLink connected technologies, proximity key with power start, power driver’s seat, heated front seats; $27,190 for FWD, $28,690 for AWD
  • SEL Activity: Add integrated tonneau cover, dual C-channel utility rail system in bed, rear sliding glass with defroster, in-bed 115-volt power outlet, power sunroof, rear side rails; $30,460 for FWD; $31,960 for AWD
  • SEL Premium: Add 2.5-liter turbo engine, steering wheel paddle shifters, LED headlights, digital key, dual-zone temperature control,  AWD only; $35,680
  • Limited: 10.25-inch navigation system, surround and blind view monitors, leather-trimmed seats, smart cruise control with stop-and-go, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel; $39,720

Looking for Some Music?

We’ve got you covered with our Santa Cruz inspired playlist.

Disclosure: Hyundai invited me to drive the Santa Cruz for the day; travel and accommodations were provided. All opinions are my own.

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I'm Elizabeth Blackstock, managing editor of AGGTC, blogger, journalist, novelist, editor, MA/MFA graduate student, wife, motorsport fanatic, and bearer... More about Elizabeth Blackstock