First Drive: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Review

Hockley Valley, ON – Is it a car or is it a truck? This is the Santa Cruz and Hyundai is calling this their new Sport Adventure vehicle. Aimed at people that could benefit from an open bed yet not compromise on the benefits of a compact SUV.

Although based on the latest Hyundai Tucson, the Hyundai’s new compact truck shares some styling cues like the parametric grill with embedded lights, however, the Santa Cruz shares no exterior panels with its bedless brother and is wider, longer and has a longer wheelbase as well.

Open the dampened tailgate with either the electronic handle or key fob and you’re greeted to a very functional 4’4” or 1323mm open bed. Items can be secured using a built-in channel system and by placing 2 pieces of wood in molded pockets, you can create a shelf system where a 4×8 piece of plywood will actually fit.

Similar to the Honda Ridgeline, the Santa Cruz also offers in bed storage which can provide lockable, dry storage that can be easily hosed out or used as a cooler as there is a drain. One of my favourite features is the integrated hard sliding tonneau cover which comes standard on all Canadian trims, in the US, there are some lower trim models where this is not standard.

The cover is extremely easy to use and with a strap attached to it, theres no need to hop into the bed to close it. If you need a nice flat hard surface to place things, no worries as this cover has a weight capacity of 220 lbs and of course I had to try it out by standing right on it.

The advantages of this open bed style

Why is an open bed so great? If you’re like me and own an SUV, I’m sure you’ve loaded up the back of your vehicle to the gills with everything from hockey equipment to camping or outdoor gear. Having a lockable and secure bed to place these items is so much better in terms of safety.

2022 Santa Cruz. Photo: Hyundai
2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
2022 Santa Cruz. Photo: Hyundai

If you were in a bad accident with your loaded up SUV, where do you think all your scuba gear of camp stoves are going? They will be entering your passenger compartment making a bad situation worse.  With the Santa Cruz, just throw them in the back and not only is it safer, it keeps your interior much cleaner and less stinky if you’re transporting your sweaty hockey gear.

One other thing I noticed is that because of the size and height of this bed, items were easy to reach from either the back or the sides unlike larger truck beds where often you need to climb up to get something. Just because it’s a smaller bed doesn’t mean you can’t haul big heavy things. The cargo capacity is rated at 732 kg or 1600lbs.

Santa Cruz trims available across North America

6 choices in the US

The US market has several choices when considering Hyundai’s new truck starting at $23,990 – including engine, transmission, and either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive options.

Model Transmission Drivetrain
SE 2.5L 4-cyl. 8-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC Front-Wheel Drive
SEL 2.5L 4-cyl. 8-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC Front-Wheel Drive
SE 2.5L 4-cyl. 8-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC All-Wheel Drive
SEL 2.5L 4-cyl. 8-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC All-Wheel Drive
SEL Premium 2.5L Turbo 4-cyl. 8-speed DCT with SHIFTRONIC All-Wheel Drive
Limited 2.5L Turbo 4-cyl. 8-speed DCT with SHIFTRONIC All-Wheel Drive
2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
2022 Santa Cruz. Photo: Hyundai

3 choices in Canada

Model MSRP
Santa Cruz Preferred AWD $38,499
Santa Cruz Preferred Trend AWD $41,399
Santa Cruz Ultimate AWD $44,799

Inside Hyundai’s New Truck

In Canada, there are 3 trims: Preferred, Trend and Ultimate – all equipped with all-wheel drive. Heading inside you get essentially the same open concept design of the new 2022 Tucson. Standard is a 8” touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and our Ultimate tester receives two 10.25” screens.

All trims comes standard with heated front seats and steering wheel and the top 2 trims get leather and ventilated seats on the Ultimate. It’s the back that is a little bit different than the Tucson. Rear seat legroom is reduced by a few inches but still allows for my 5’11” frame.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz interior
2022 Santa Cruz. Photo: Hyundai
2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz interior
2022 Santa Cruz. Photo: Hyundai
2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz interior
2022 Santa Cruz. Photo: Hyundai

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When compared to vehicles like the Ford Maverick and Honda Ridgeline, the Santa Cruz is the winner when it comes to rap seat headroom. Although there is no behind seat storage, the rear seat bottoms do flip up providing under seat storage bins.

Power and Performance

Choosing your Santa Cruz has been simplified in Canada. There is only 1 drivetrain offered and its a good one. Standard on all trims is the 2.5 Turbo engine with 8 speed dual clutch transmission with AWD. There is no FWD or the lower powered 2.5 naturally aspirated engine offered like in the US.

The 2.5T is the same engine used in the 2021 Sonata N-Line with 290 hp and 311 lb.ft and is no slouch. Put it in Sport mode and you get a very engaging drive. Off the line, it isn’t the quickest but remember this is not a sports car but keep it in the mid range and it’ll keep a smile on your face especially with the 8 speed DCT.

Need to tow, no problem, the Canadian trims can tow up to 5000 lbs because of the engine and AWD set-up. 

Not an off-roader and that’s ok

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
2022 Santa Cruz. Photo: Hyundai

The Santa Cruz is not a rock crawling 4×4 machine. However, it’s more than capable in off pavement situations. The independent rear suspension soaks up washboard gravel roads with little hop while maintaining a quiet cabin for the occupants.

There are multiple terrain modes for the AWD; we set it for mud as we traversed a ski hill and the hill decent control worked flawlessly with the ability to override it by just using the throttle, perfect for those steep loose situations.

Takeaway

The Santa Cruz is not competition for the Tucson but more a compliment to it. If you’re looking into a compact SUV but think that your lifestyle can benefit from an open bed (especially with the lockable hard top tonneau cover) this sport adventure vehicle could be the right fit for you.

I know after spending a couple of days with it I’ve realized this is something that would be more useful to me than my bedless SUV. If you’re shopping for a small truck, here are the 9 compact pickup trucks on the market today.

Interior and exterior 2022 Santa Cruz Pictures