Road Test: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

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Would You Believe a “Sport Adventure Vehicle”?

Take the Hyundai Tucson compact crossover, replace the rear section with a truck bed, and voilà…the Hyundai Santa Cruz is born! But as with most things that seem simple on the surface, going from a crossover body to pickup body is a bit more complex, not the least of which is who Hyundai thinks will be buying the Santa Cruz.

Hyundai’s first-ever pickup comes at a time where the Ford Maverick compact pickup is making waves of its own. Both sell in the same space but will appeal to different customers. The Ford Maverick is more truck-like, while the Hyundai Santa Cruz is more car-like.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
A little crossover, a little truck

Hitting the Road

Clean Fleet Report drove the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited that comes standard with HTRAC, Hyundai-speak for all-wheel drive (AWD). The Limited comes with a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine; running on unleaded regular it puts out 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. All four wheels are driven by a wet 8-speed dual clutch automatic transmission (DCT), with a manual shift mode, paddle shifters, and driver-selectable drive modes of Normal, Sport, Smart and Snow.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
A torquey turbo four

The “wet” part of a DCT means it uses oil to improve lubrication and cooling. A “dry” DCT does not use oil, but is the more fuel efficient of the two types. Regardless, a DCT is the most efficient automatic transmission you can get. 

The EPA rated the Santa Cruz’ fuel economy at 19 mpg city/27 highway/22 combined. In 226 miles of mostly freeway driving through Southern California we averaged 23.8 mpg. We did a bit better on a 120-mile freeway run with the adaptive cruise control set at 65 mph, achieving 28.1 mpg.

The 2.5T torque comes on at 1,700 rpm and pulls through 4,000 rpm to easily negotiate highway onramps and passing big rigs. Selecting the Sport mode for that extra oomph helped turn 0-60 mph in about 6.3 seconds. We only took the Santa Cruz to 80 mph (Hyundai rates the top speed at 155 mph) where the engine was pleasantly quiet and smooth, delivering seamless power when needed. The base Santa Cruz engine is the non-turbo 2.5L 4-cylinder that gets 21 mpg city/26 highway/23 combined with front-wheel drive, and 21/27/23 mpg with AWD.

Driving Experience: On the Road

The 4,123-pound Santa Cruz Limited AWD handled well and was easy to drive, just like the compact crossover it is based on. The relaxed feel in town and at highway speeds extended to maneuvering, which was solid and predictable thanks to the Michelin Primacy LTX 245/50 all-season tires mounted on 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. The MacPherson struts, coil springs, and gas-pressured shock absorbers up front, and the self-leveling multi-link rear suspension resulted in a composed and even ride. Pickups can suffer from a bouncing rear when the bed is empty, but not so in the Santa Cruz where empty or loaded, the ride is stable and car-like.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
You can load it up

The responsive steering delivered taught handing with little body roll when pushed on corners. In general, the Santa Cruz is a comfortable riding and handling pickup, er, Sport Adventure Vehicle. The 2.5T AWD has a tow rating of 5,000 pounds with trailer brakes and 1,650 pounds without, and the payload (bed and cabin) is 1,609 pounds.

Drive Mode Select helps you get the most performance from the engine. Normal is for everyday driving, Sport stiffens the steering feel and holds the transmission in a lower gear for extra performance and Snow is for when things get sloppy. Smart is where you let the computer choose which drive mode is best for the conditions so there is no need to toggle between the other drive modes. The Santa Cruz Limited AWD can be locked in all-wheel mode for when going off-road (8.6-inches of ground clearance and 23.2º departure angle) or driving in slippery or muddy conditions.

Stops were solid and consistent with a good brake pedal feel from the power-assisted braking system, consisting of vented front and solid rear discs, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. The latter adjusts brake proportioning to compensate for added weight from passengers or cargo, and even adjusts as fuel is consumed. This is invisible and instant to the driver and passengers, making for a comfortable and controlled ride. The Santa Cruz with all-wheel drive comes with towing features of downhill brake control, trailer pre-wiring, a heavy duty transmission cooler and trailer sway assist.

A City Truck

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD stands-out with a bold, sharp-looking dark chrome grille featuring six horizontal rows of geometric shapes. When at the dealer, make sure to turn on the lights to see the unique and great looking LED lighting scheme. The sculpted hood leads to a crossover SUV cabin that morphs into a truck bed. The Santa Cruz has a unique side profile with an angled transition from the rear window to the bed rails. It may seem like a small thing, but for some not having that connecting point at a 90º angle will affect access. To improve bed access the Santa Cruz has foot steps in the outer edges of the rear bumpers.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
The light show

The sides, without chrome or cladding, are smooth with a deep crease along the door bottoms. The door handles and power heated rearview mirrors that have turn signals are body color, with pronounced black brush guard trim along the wheel wells. The geometric theme of the front grille continues to the distinctive 20-inch machined alloy wheels, which feature a star pattern and gloss black inserts.

The nearly flat roof has rack rails with a 220-pound carrying limit; our Limited model came with a power panoramic sunroof. Geometric shapes again appear on the brush guard wheel trim, the top of the sheet-molded composite bed rails and the rear bumper, where all surfaces are adorned with a Santa Cruz Easter Egg. Clean Fleet Report’s Santa Cruz was painted in a soft blue, which Hyundai calls Blue Stone. That is joined by exterior colors of Hampton Gray, Phantom Black, Sage Gray, Ice White and Mojave Sand.

The tail end is where things get interesting. The LED taillights have an attractive design. Imagine an arrow lying on its side, connected by a red reflector strip. The liftgate, with a dark chrome release handle and a bold stamped S-A-N-T-A C-R-U-Z, completes the 4-foot box. The bed has an underside lockable storage compartment with a drain plug so it can be used as an ice chest, a standard integrated tonneau cover, interior LED lights, 115V power outlet, storage pockets, C-channel cleat rail system and D-ring tie downs.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Everything but the knobs

Driving Experience: Interior

Hyundai says the 2022 Santa Cruz is “Gutsy outside. Glam inside.” We have already looked at the outside, and its smooth 0.37 Coefficient of Drag (Cd) certainly does have an attention getting design. The interior though is all SUV, seating five with black-on-black front heated and ventilated leather seats. The driver seat gets 8-way power adjustments, including lumbar, while the passenger gets manual adjustments. The front seats were comfortable and supportive, with their multiple power adjustments and the tilt and telescoping steering column allowing the driver to find a comfortable position. The door pockets were a bit small for large bottles, but there are cup holders on the center console next to the gear selector, and there is a large and deep center console. The 60/40 rear seat flips-up revealing handy storage bins. Access through the rear doors is a bit tight, but once settled in the rear leg and head room was plenty for six-footers.

Sliding behind the wheel reveals a curved dash design that has no physical buttons, switches or toggles. Surface materials include cloth and soft touch on the dash, door panels and center console armrest. The 10.5-inch multi-information digital instrument display features tachometer and speedometer gauges that change colors depending which drive mode is selected; the Sport display of red and black is pretty sharp. The Santa Cruz Limited interior is a clean design coming with ambient lighting, brushed aluminum trim accents and top stitching. The heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel, which has a unique design, has audio and telephone controls with the paddle shifters peeking out from behind. The only thing missing, that for $41,000 sticker should be included, is a head-up display.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Sport mode!

The Santa Cruz Limited comes with a 10.25-inch high-definition color touchscreen with navigation, and a multi-view front and rear camera system. The Bose premium audio system, with eight speakers, includes SiriusXM, AM/FM, multiple USB ports as well as wireeless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Aux-in jacks and Bluetooth streaming audio with voice recognition complete the system. The system is not as user-friendly as Clean Fleet Report prefers, lacking volume and channel selection knobs, but in time it is easy to figure out and navigating the different screens becomes second nature.

Adding to the interior comfort and convenience were wireless phone charging, rain-sensing wipers, auto hold, push button and remote start, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear seat vents, power windows with one-touch up/down, power door locks, a rear sliding glass window, carpeted floor mats, auto dimming rearview mirror with a compass and Homelink, multiple beverage holders, and front and rear dual USB ports. Blue Link and Digital Key offer connected services including being able to start the Santa Cruz remotely.

Safety

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz comes with a long list of safety features consisting of front, side and side-curtain air bags with roll-over sensors, and advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), including forward collision avoidance, lane keep assist and warning, blind spot detection, back-up warning, electronic parking brake, hill start assist, surround view monitor, tire pressure monitoring system, automatic stop/start and electronic stability control. One very cool feature is, when using the right or left turn signal, a camera comes on automatically showing the side of the Santa Cruz, depending on which direction is being turned.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Versatility comes standard

The 2022 Santa Cruz has not been safety rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded it with their highest rating, the Top Safety Pick.

Pricing and Warranties

There are six different 2022 Santa Cruz models ranging in base price from $25,385 to $41,115. These prices, before any optional items, depend on the engine, drive system and trim level. Clean Fleet Report’s Santa Cruz Limited AWD 2.5T AWD, with $195 in options for the carpeted floor mats, had a MSRP of $41,310. All prices include the mandatory $1,245 freight and handling fee.

The 2022 Santa Cruz comes with these warranties:

  • Powertrain                        10 years/100,000 miles
  • New Vehicle                      Five years/60,000 miles 
  • Maintenance                    Three years/36,000 miles
  • Roadside Assistance       Five years/Unlimited miles       
  • Anti-perforation              Seven years/Unlimited miles

Observations: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Hyundai doesn’t want the Santa Cruz to be called a truck, but rather a Sport Adventure Vehicle. For our purposes here, we will test their wrath and go with truck.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
Good timing

Trucks and crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) are the two hottest automotive sales categories, and Hyundai creating a combination of the two was a smart move. Was the driving public sitting back waiting for a compact pickup or did Hyundai just hit the right nerve at the right time? Some of both obviously.

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is pleasant to drive, much like its Hyundai Tucson sibling. The styling is unique and a class-up interior offers comfortable seating and storage flexibility. The features list is long and deep with a full safety suite, choices of front-wheel and all-wheel drive and two engine options. Offering the Santa Cruz as a hybrid would allow it to equal the Ford Maverick compact pickup for fuel efficiency. As with all Hyundai vehicles, the Santa Cruz comes with an outstanding warranty.

The Santa Cruz will be appealing if you have the occasional need for a pickup, even one with a four-foot bed. The payload and towing numbers are more than adequate. Being able to fit four full-size adults in the cabin is ideal for making it your camping or other outdoor adventure vehicle, or those quick runs to the DIY store. Heck, you can even go off-road if opting for AWD.

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Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Hyundai.

Other “Adventure Truck” options

Road Test: 2019 Ford Ranger

Road Test: 2022 Ford Maverick

Road Test: 2021 Jeep Gladiator

Road Test: 2017 Honda Ridgeline

Road Test: 2020 Toyota Tacoma

Flash Drive: 2015 GMC Canyon

Road Test: 2018 Chevrolet Colorado

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected]

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