2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Review: Thinking Well Outside of the Box

No good as a car, a truck, or an SUV, the new Santa Cruz is nevertheless an absolute delight.

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Americans love trucks, and there are two new ones to consider. The 2022 Ford Maverick and the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz resurrect the idea of the traditional small pickup, though each automaker takes a unique path to get there. Without turning this into a comparison test, let’s just summarize by saying the Ford is the more affordable and utilitarian one, and the Hyundai is the more stylish and lifestyle-oriented one.

Christian Wardlaw

If you experience both models, you may determine that with the new 2022 Santa Cruz, Hyundai attempts to create white space between the Maverick and the larger Honda Ridgeline, a midsize truck with a similar lifestyle angle. Does Hyundai succeed? In my opinion, yes.

Based on the Hyundai Tucson crossover SUV, the dramatically designed Santa Cruz looks better in person than it does in photos – especially in Limited trim with its larger wheels and toned-down grille finish. The Limited version tops a lineup that also includes the SE, SEL, and SEL Premium. Prices run from about $25,000 to just over $41,000, including destination charges to ship it to your local dealership from the Alabama factory that builds it.

For our 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz review, we were provided a Santa Cruz Limited dressed in trendy Sage Gray paint with dark gray leather and orange interior accents. It had the optional carpeted floor mats, bringing the price to a little more than $41,500, including destination charges. For comparison, the test vehicle priced out higher than a Ridgeline RTL. Add every option to a Ford Maverick, and you’ll barely crest the $40,000 mark.

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Larger in size than you might expect, the Hyundai Santa Cruz has unusual styling rooted in the automaker’s current design ethos. As such, geometric shapes dominate, and because Hyundai bases the truck on the Tucson SUV, it shares a front styling theme complete with running lights deftly integrated into the grille design. Based on my experience driving this truck around Los Angeles during the holidays, the Santa Cruz certainly commands attention, that’s for sure.

Just like with a Tucson, getting into and out of the Santa Cruz is easy, though rear-seat passengers need to contort a bit due to the angled rear roof pillar and more cramped seating area. The rear bench seat accommodates adults, but Hyundai does their knees and shins no favors by paneling the front seatbacks with hard plastic trim. Also, rear air conditioning vents are restricted to the Santa Cruz Limited. The split bottom seat cushions fold up to reveal storage space but do not fold down to provide a flat in-cabin load surface.

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Limited trim in this Santa Cruz review includes heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and leather upholstery. The Tucson’s high-tech and upscale dashboard carries into the Santa Cruz, complete with soft-touch surfaces, classy fabric trim, touch-panel climate controls, and available 10.25-inch digital instrumentation and infotainment displays. Thanks to responsive touchscreens, excellent voice recognition technology, and steering wheel controls, the lack of physical buttons and knobs is not as significant a problem as you might expect. But the infotainment and climate system displays collect fingerprints and significant amounts of dust.

Christian Wardlaw

From the driver’s seat, the Santa Cruz looks and feels like anything but a truck. And, as we will discuss below, it drives like anything but a truck. Inside and out, there is a sense of considered style and futurism to the Santa Cruz, which puts clear distance between it and both the Ford Maverick and Honda Ridgeline.

As for utility, you can equip the Santa Cruz with a roof rack for holding longer items like surfboards and kayaks and with a trailer hitch-mounted rack for carrying bikes. The Santa Cruz will tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped, which is plenty of capacity for a small travel trailer or off-roading toys. Maximum payload capacity, depending on the configuration, measures 1,753 pounds. These numbers are significantly better than the Maverick and match or exceed the Ridgeline.

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The 4.3-foot cargo bed is more useful than you might expect. The dampened tailgate includes remote opening via the key fob, and it reveals 27 cubic feet of volume under the available locking hard tonneau cover. Just like the Honda Ridgeline, there’s a locking in-bed weather-tight storage compartment under the load floor, complete with a drain plug. The Santa Cruz’s rear bumper includes corner steps, and the bed has adjustable tie-down cleats, rotating D-rings, and hidden storage bins on each side wall, one of which with an available 115-volt power outlet.

Overall, the Santa Cruz provides plenty of style, comfort, and utility to satisfy personal-use truck buyers.

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There is no shortage of technology inside the Santa Cruz, but you’ll need to get one of the top trim levels to experience most of it. Highlights include an available 10.25-inch digital instrumentation system with different visual themes, a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system with natural voice recognition technology, and a touch-sensing climate control panel.

Oddly, only the Santa Cruz’s standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system offers wireless smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android devices. The larger 10.25-inch system requires a wired connection. Most Santa Cruz models have satellite radio and Blue Link connected services with a complimentary 3-year trial subscription, and the top two trims include wireless smartphone charging.

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If you are familiar with modern smartphones and tablet computers, the more sophisticated 10.25-inch infotainment system is intuitive to use, and the natural voice recognition technology produces fast, accurate results most of the time. Unfortunately, the available Bose premium sound system is merely adequate, lacking resonance and depth.

The primary takeaway regarding the Santa Cruz Limited’s flat, high-tech control panel, is that the lack of physical buttons and knobs is not as irritating as expected. Between the responsiveness of the touch-sensing controls, the voice recognition technology, and the controls on the steering wheel, you’ll quickly adjust to the layout. But if I had a vote, well, buttons and knobs remain preferable.

Christian Wardlaw

If you have an Android-based smartphone, you can use it as a digital key to enter and start the truck. This feature is helpful to people who would prefer not to carry the Santa Cruz’s remote fob with them at all times. Instead of their smartphone, Apple users can employ a digital key card, similar to what hotels increasingly use.

Hyundai equips the Santa Cruz with numerous standard safety features, but to get a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic warning, you’ll need to upgrade to the Santa Cruz SEL. Limited trim brings the next round of safety improvements, adding a surround-view camera system, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, a camera-based Blind Spot View Monitor system, and Highway Driving Assist.

Highway Driving Assist combines the adaptive cruise control technology with a lane-centering assistance system for hands-on semi-autonomous driving on highways. As such systems go, the technology is excellent, though you’ll still occasionally feel the need to override the system’s steering assistance.

In crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Santa Cruz earns a Top Safety Pick rating, but only the SEL Premium and Limited models with upgraded headlights.

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Hyundai offers a choice between two engines in the 2022 Santa Cruz. The SE and SEL have a 191-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder driving the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. An all-wheel-drive system is an option.

The SEL Premium and Limited have a standard turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine for more power and performance. It generates 281 horsepower and a robust 311 pound-feet of torque, put to the ground through all four wheels. Hyundai employs a unique “wet” dual-clutch automatic with this engine, and it does exhibit the occasional engagement delays that are common for this type of transmission.

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In my opinion, the turbocharged engine is the way to go. The Santa Cruz Limited reviewed was zippy, nimble, and quick, and it returned an average of 20.9 mpg on the testing loop while primarily using the Smart driving mode (others include Normal, Sport, and Snow). The Environmental Protection Agency says the Santa Cruz’s turbocharged engine should get 22 mpg in combined driving, just one mile per gallon less than the standard engine.

Equipped with a 4-wheel independent suspension and Limited-exclusive 20-inch wheels wrapped in 245/50 all-season tires, the Santa Cruz rides and drives more like a crossover than a truck. There is an athleticism here that rewards drivers who use the Santa Cruz on pavement, yet the truck remains capable in light off-roading situations.

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Drenching rains in Southern California helped to demonstrate the all-wheel-drive system’s capability on muddy, puddle-strewn trails and slick mountain roads alike. Ground clearance is generous at 8.6 inches, but the shallow approach, breakover, and departure angles restrict travel when the going gets really tough. A Lock button on the center console ensures that half of the engine’s power flows to the rear wheels at low speeds to maximize traction when off-roading on more challenging terrain.

Hyundai says the Santa Cruz can tow up to 5,000 pounds. You’ll need the turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, and the Trailer Prep Package for that, plus a set of trailer brakes. Hyundai rates the truck to tow no more than 1,650 lbs. without trailer brakes.

This trailer-brake requirement is worth noting because, during testing on a twisty stretch of mountain road, the Santa Cruz’s brakes heated up and began to grumble a bit. That happened while driving the truck with enthusiasm without a trailer, payload, or passengers aboard. The brakes did not fade, but it’s easy to conclude that you’ll want to follow Hyundai’s trailering recommendations to the letter.

Christian Wardlaw


During my week-long test, I met a friend for lunch. He drives a newer Ram 1500 and asked me if I liked the Santa Cruz. Telling him yes, I explained that it is perfect for someone like me. I don’t tow a trailer. I don’t haul heavy payload. I like to drive smaller and more responsive vehicles that are quick and fun in corners. But sometimes I need or want a truck – even one with only a small cargo bed.

Though the Hyundai Santa Cruz isn’t particularly good as a pickup truck, an SUV, or a sports sedan, it provides enough capability in each of these areas to meet my family’s second-vehicle requirements in almost every respect. My only wish is that Hyundai would offer the same hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains found in the Tucson. Also, if Hyundai had designed the Santa Cruz with folding rear seats and a removable rear window and bed wall, similar to the Midgate design of the old Chevy Avalanche, that would’ve been cool. After all, a 4.3-foot bed floor isn’t very long.

Christian Wardlaw

While I am enthusiastic about this new model, I realize that the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz represents an acquired taste. From its unconventional styling to its limited capabilities, it isn’t the best choice for everyone. People seeking a small, affordable, efficient truck will find plenty to like in the Ford Maverick. Others who want the Santa Cruz’s lifestyle vibe but need more interior room and cargo volume may prefer the Honda Ridgeline. And then, of course, there are numerous traditional midsize trucks from which to choose.

But none of these alternatives can match Hyundai’s industry-leading ownership benefits package, including complimentary scheduled maintenance and access to Blue Link connected services and one of the best warranty and roadside assistance plans available to consumers. On top of the Santa Cruz’s undeniable personality, those perks make it irresistible to a specific kind of customer.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Review: Features


A truck for people who don’t usually need a truck, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz blends the best elements of a pickup, a crossover SUV, and a sedan in one vehicle. The result is an entertaining, practical, and unusual daily driver.


  • Rear Occupant Alert – Standard feature reminds the driver to check the back seat before leaving the vehicle
  • Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist – Standard forward-collision warning system with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking
  • Blind-Spot Collision Avoidance Assist – Available blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic warning*
  • Blind Spot View Monitor – Available camera-based blind-spot warning system*
  • Highway Driving Assist – Available semi-autonomous driving assistance system combining adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance*


  • Infotainment system – Standard 8-inch and available 10.25-inch touchscreen displays
  • Leading Vehicle Departure Alert – Standard feature can tell a distracted driver that traffic ahead is moving again
  • Blue Link – Available connected services technology with a free 3-year subscription*
  • Digital Key – Available feature turns an Android smartphone into a digital key used to unlock the doors and start the engine*
  • Digital instrumentation – Available feature with 10.25-inch digital instrumentation display*


  • 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, 191 horsepower
  • 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, 281 horsepower
  • 8-speed automatic or 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
  • Front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive
  • 22-23 mpg in combined driving


  • Cloth seats – Standard feature with stain- and odor-resistant properties
  • Leather seats – Available feature*
  • Heated and ventilated front seats – Available feature*
  • Heated steering wheel – Available feature*
  • Premium sound system – Available feature*

*Availability is subject to specific trim level specifications

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Christian Wardlaw
My first word was “car.” That’s what I’m told, anyway. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with them. The design. The engineering. The performance. And the purpose. I’m a car enthusiast who loves to drive, but I’m also most interested in the cars, trucks, and SUVs that people actually buy. Anybody can tell you that a sports car is fast. What you need to know is whether or not you should buy that new SUV, and why. My life purpose is to help you make that decision.