Hyundai doesn’t want you to think of the Santa Cruz as a truck. Instead, it’s marketing as a so-called sport adventure vehicle. Think of this more as a pickup for people who need a bed but don’t need the capability of trucks like the Toyota Tacoma or even the Honda Ridgeline. Its capabilities allow the Santa Cruz to slot neatly under its midsize counterparts.
From a size perspective alone, the Hyundai Santa Cruz is a compact truck underpinned by a unibody chassis. The bed is quite small, too, at 4.3 feet. That’s 0.7 feet shorter than a Honda Ridgeline. It’s also got an integrated tonneau cover complete with a strap that you can pull to close and hide all of your belongings. There’s also an in-bed trunk with a drain plug, allowing it to double as a cooler for your tailgates.
In terms of looks, the Santa Cruz differs from the Tucson thanks to a squared lower front fascia. Thanks to its bed, the Santa Cruz is now the same length as the three-row Palisade. The similarities to the Tucson end from the angular C-pillar and the bed. Cool T-shaped taillights with chevrons mean you won’t mistake the Santa Cruz for anything else. The truck’s name is also emblazoned across the tailgate.
The resemblance to its crossover sibling, the Tucson, continues beyond the exterior. Inside, the interior is nearly identical from the waterfall-style center stack to the available 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster. Hyundai, however, adds a mechanical gear selector instead of the push-button one found in the larger crossovers. There’s also storage under the rear seats for added practicality. Hyundai’s Smart Sense suite of driver assistance features will be available in the Santa Cruz.
Once you step inside the cabin, you’ll notice that the Santa Cruz is more crossover-like than larger midsize trucks like the Ridgeline and Nissan Frontier. Don’t expect the interior to be wider because it’s exactly the same as the Tucson.
Under the hood, you’ll find a choice of two 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines. Lower trims get a naturally aspirated unit with an estimated 190 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque paired to an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission. If that’s not enough not for you, upper trims get a turbocharged mill with over 275 hp and 310 lb-ft. You also get an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. Towing capabilities stand at 3,500 pounds for the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-pot and 5,000 pounds for its turbocharged counterpart.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz marks the revival of the compact truck segment, which has been dormant since the discontinuation of the previous generation Ford Ranger. Now, this class is poised to return and grow as midsize trucks get larger and manufacturers add smaller, more affordable options beneath them. The Santa Cruz is the first of an upcoming salvo of unibody trucks and it will soon be joined by the Ford Maverick, which is based closely on the Escape and Bronco Sport. These trucks will be more for people who want to use the extra utility for their big kid toys that won’t fit in a compact crossover.
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