The small pickup trucks are back! We'll be honest here; not everyone needs a full-size truck to go camping or stay at the lake house. Especially if you live in an urban area, American half-ton trucks are too much for many people, and Hyundai is presenting the Santa Cruz as an alternative. Is this another stroke of genius from the Korean brand? Let's find out. This small Sport-Adventure vehicle is manufactured at the Montgomery, AL plant and has an MSRP of $47,938.
Hyundai had the brilliant idea of releasing a small pickup truck at the right time. The last small pickup was the previous Ford Ranger, which has since returned in a larger format. More people are moving away from small sedans and hatchbacks to SUVs, but this is a different take. The Santa Cruz is essentially the same as the Tucson from the front doors to the grille. That is a good thing because the Santa Cruz has an appealing and modern design with the running lights integrated into the front part of the vehicle. It's a different and bold look that may be a bit over the top on an SUV but suits the purpose of this vehicle. The profile also tells you that this is a rugged vehicle meant for some off-roading. The added black cladding over the wheel arches is a nice touch. Like many larger pickup trucks, Santa Cruz letters are engraved on the rear tailgate. The LED taillights are also a nice touch. All in all, it is a modern take on the compact pickup truck, and the Korean automaker has a nice hit in their hands with this vehicle.
When you climb inside, the interior is much less daring than the outside. That being said, the seats are comfortable, heated, and ventilated, which is always excellent. The steering wheel is different; it includes an extra spot to place your hands on to hold or make turns. It's clever and may be helpful to some drivers to find an even more comfortable driving position. On our test model, we had the 10.25-inch gauge cluster screen with a Blind View Monitor inside the gauges, a feature still pretty much limited to the Hyundai group vehicles but so helpful on the highway to make a lane change. The left or right gauge will switch, and a camera will show the side you put the turn signal on. You can modify the appearance of the meters to your liking; we found the gauges in a cube exciting and different.
In the center, you will find another 10.25-inch screen. Once again, the infotainment system is excellent, with Apple Carplay and Android Auto available. During our test week, it was pretty cold, and the absence of physical buttons and knobs made it nearly impossible to use the climate controls or buttons to change the radio on the center screen with gloves. It can also become annoying, regardless of the temperature, considering you must tap many times to adjust the volume instead of just turning a knob. We're aware the driver can do it quickly on the steering wheel, but even then, it's impractical. The same applies to the climate controls, and this setup is the biggest drawback of the Hyundai Santa Cruz. Fortunately, the designers kept physical buttons for the heated/ventilated seats and heated steering wheel. We also liked the Bose premium sound system; the music is crisp and clear.
As for the rest of the interior, we got the black interior, but you can also get it in dark green. The seats are pretty comfy, and you can easily find an appropriate seating position. Even though this is a small pickup truck, you sit unusually high. It might be due to the additional ground clearance compared to the other model on this platform, the Hyundai Tucson. This vehicle sits up to 37mm higher off the ground; you feel you are in a pickup when you climb inside. There's enough room to fit four adults, or two adults, and up to three kids in the rear bench seat. Cutouts in the front seat backs improve legroom for the rear passengers. Headroom is also quite good, thus making this an excellent vehicle for an adventure in the woods with your friends or family. If you're planning on using the rear space for storage, you can too with an easy fold-up back seat cushion. There's a removable cargo tray if you don't want particular objects rolling around. Finally, ISOFIX ports are indicated on both lateral seats in the back; the latches are easily accessible. The rear anchors are a bit difficult to access, but there are there to keep your children safe.
As for the bed, it is 4ft long with the tailgate closed. The Hyundai Santa Cruz procures the interior room of an SUV with a small open cargo space instead of an enclosed area. It procures many more options to transport objects of different sizes that wouldn't usually fit in a trunk. There is also an integrated tonneau cover to shield your precious belongings from the rain. If you have long objects such as skis, there's also a manual sliding door to help you fit them into the bed. Even though this is not a full-size pickup, there is enough room in the bed for most people's toys. Hyundai also modified the rear bumper to include built-in steps to help people of all sizes access the bed.
Onto the driving experience, a 2.5L turbo 4-cylinder engine coupled to an 8-speed Dual-Clutch automatic transmission power the Hyundai Santa Cruz. This powerplant makes 281hp and 311lb-ft of torque, bringing the vehicle to 100kph in 6,3 seconds. It can tow up to 5,000lbs, similar to more expensive pickups. Also, Hyundai only sells it with an all-wheel-drive configuration. The Santa Cruz is great on the road if you don't want the impression of driving a pickup, although it looks like one on the outside. There isn't any lack of power from the engine, and you can easily pass someone on the highway. Still, it doesn't bounce nearly as much on the road as a regular pickup. It felt planted and stable, even during the harsher conditions we faced during our test week. Braking also didn't feel too truck-like; you could feel the vehicle coming to a stop quickly without too much weight transfer.
The suspension helps the new Hyundai Santa Cruz feel like a crossover. The tunings made by the engineers maintain that feeling to draw in the crowd that is not looking to drive a pickup daily. The steering was a bit lighter to our liking, once again recalling the crossovers in 2022. Still, the vehicle felt tight in corners, without too much body roll. Finally, the other disappointment in the Santa Cruz is the fuel consumption. We were surprised by the bad fuel economy for a compact pickup; we averaged around 14L/100km during the week we tested the vehicle. However, the Korean automaker announced 10.6L/100km combined. A hybrid powertrain would help, especially in an urban area.
The new Hyundai Santa Cruz is a pickup truck for people who don't want a pickup truck. It doesn't drive like one. Imagine the midsize SUV Tucson with a bed, and now you understand the mental process behind this vehicle, and it is a huge success. A big hit, you'll have to wait for next year's model since they're all sold out! The compact pickup market had disappeared for a decade, but Hyundai is coming back at full strength with the Santa Cruz.
Hyundai has lent us this vehicle for one week as a press vehicle. We have no affiliation with Hyundai Canada. The above reflects our personal opinion of the car referred above.