The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is the Sports Adventure Vehicle That Wins My Heart

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is small, but that could be a big win for most buyers.

“Which one of you boys left your matchbox car in the driveway?” was my husband’s joke about this new compact pickup truck. All week long I heard jokes from friends about the truck’s size and appearance. Yes, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is small (tiny) and it has a very urban appearance. It also has a unibody frame which most truck fans will say excludes this vehicle from the truck category. You know that old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”?  We all know you shouldn’t judge, but if you did,  I discovered that the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz’s book would be “The little truck that could” and it deserves a lot more attention.

The entry price for the 2022 Santa Cruz is the SE that starts $24,140 and includes a 191 horsepower 4-cylinder engine,  an 8-inch color touchscreen display, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and more. Bump up to the SEL for $27,340 and add blind spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, a proximity key with push-button start, and a power driver’s seat and more. If more power is your desire, you can get spend $35,830 for an SEL Premium. With that model you’ll get a 281 horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, all wheel drive, a digital key (use your phone in lieu of a key), a 10.25 inch digital instrument cluster and paddle shifters and more. Lastly, the Limited gives you all that the SEL includes, plus a blind spot view monitor and a surround view monitor and more. My test Santa Cruz was a Limited and rang up at $41,100 after dealership handling fees.

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

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

These boxes of books were so big and so heavy and the Santa Cruz handled them like a champ and kept them dry too, thanks to the roll-out bed cover. Photo: Erica Mueller

Truck or Sport Adventure Vehicle? The Santa Cruz Might Be Both

One of the quips I heard while showing off this compact truck is that it was nothing more than an SUV with the back of the cab cut off. While it is built on the Santa Fe’s frame and takes a lot of design notes from it, there are a few features that earn this vehicle the pickup truck name, even if Hyundai does call it a Sport Adventure Vehicle.

First of all, it has a bed. Not a trunk or a cargo area, a bed, and it’s quite a bit roomier than it looks. Once you slide back the cover you see that the space is actually quite large. We were able to haul twelve very large boxes of books to donate and still close the top to keep the books and boxes dry while it was raining. Had it been a sunny day we could have left the top open and carried even more. I was also tickled to discover we could fit our small air compressor in the bed and still close the cover because one of the tires had a slow leak and needed to be topped off every other hour.

Second of all, the Santa Cruz can tow. Yes, you read that right. The 2.5 liter turbo engine and all-wheel-drive version with the optional tow package can actually tow up to 5,000 lbs which is pretty impressive for a vehicle this small. That means you could tow a popup camper or a small utility trailer with some off-road toys. One thing to keep in mind is the height of the truck. While it could technically tow a larger camper, anything a whole lot taller than the truck could catch the wind and make for unsafe driving conditions.

Related: Ford Maverick vs. Hyundai Santa Cruz: How Do They Compare?

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

The interior of this truck feels more like a luxury sedan with all its pretty curves, soft leather seats, and amenities. Photo: Erica Mueller

Hyundai Goes All Out with Style & Comfort

I was seriously impressed with the materials in this little truck. The interior had a very luxurious feel and everything from the door trim and shape flowing seamlessly into the dash to the center stack and infotainment system felt so purposeful and elegant. Features like heated and ventilated seats, a premium sound system, wireless charging and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and tons of legroom made our week in this truck so comfortable. My kids were surprised at the amount of legroom in the back seat and I was pleased to be able to fit the toddler’s big rear-facing car seat behind the driver’s seat. The outside of the truck just doesn’t look big enough to be this spacious inside!

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

I’m 5′ 6″ tall and I have long legs, so being able to sit behind the driver’s seat which was all the way back, and still have legroom shocked me! Photo: Erica Mueller

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is a Dream to Drive

I had the all wheel drive model which hugged our long winding roads like a cable knit sweater, but I think even the front wheel drive version would be a pleasure if inclement weather isn’t an issue, especially on city streets.

Thanks to the unibody construction and years of fine-tuning the suspension on the Santa Fe, the Santa Cruz offers a very smooth and quiet ride. Passengers can converse, listen to music or make phone calls without excess road or engine noise and I found that surprisingly nice considering how much I normally enjoy a big loud pickup truck.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

This locking compartment has a drain so you can use it as a cooler! Photo: Erica Mueller

Fun Little Surprises

Did you know there’s a lockable storage compartment under the bed floor? The only other truck I know of that offers this is the Honda Ridgeline. I love it especially because this space can double as a cooler for your camping trip or tailgate party! Personally, I could see using it to store tools and emergency stuff like first-aid kits, flares, and other roadside equipment that I wouldn’t want sliding around on the floor under the back seat.

There is a 12v power outlet on board and the optional LED bed lights are brilliant for unloading after dark. (See what I did there?)

The automatic headlights on this little truck are some of the best I’ve experienced. Having just driven another truck whose headlights turned off every time they reflected off a road sign I could really appreciate the Santa Cruz’s working so well.

Family-friendly safety technology is a big thing for me and I was tickled to learn that the Santa Cruz includes things like rear-seat reminders when you’re exiting the truck, a great around-view cameras so you can make sure you’re not about to drive over a pet or bike, driver attention warning, lane follow assist, and rear child safety locks.

And finally, I’m a huge fan of Hyundai’s cameras that show what is beside the rear tires. These turn on when you activate your turn signals and the video appears in the driver’s display. I first experienced these on the Kia Carnival and I got so excited to see them on the Santa Cruz too.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

This bed cover comes standard on every Santa Cruz. It is not an add-on! And check out those steps in the bumper. So handy. Photo: Erica Mueller

Practicality Wins

Had you asked me before my week with this truck if I thought I would like it, I would have said, “No.” And I would have been wrong. My husband is still in disbelief that I actually enjoyed my time in the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz. After this week I can honestly say that if I was in the market for a small vehicle I would completely skip the sedans and small SUV’s and shop for a compact truck. I so enjoyed the practicality of the bed on the Santa Cruz. It is low and easy to access from the sides or the back. While there is a super handy step in the bumper I never had to use it because I could actually reach the things I was hauling. And that cover! Oh, how I loved having a covered bed. It really made me want to add one to our big truck!

Related: The All-New 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Is The Ideal Adventure Truck for City Driving

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Window Sticker

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Disclosure: Hyundai lent me the Santa Cruz to drive for a week. It was a grand adventure filled with flat tires, snow and ice, and closed carwashes. But it was good and all opinions here are my own.

A web developer, digital marketing consultant, auto journalist, truck expert, photographer and lover of gadgets, Erica is a textbook... More about Erica Mueller