PALO ALTO, Calif. — If it looks like a truck, it is a truck. Not so with the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz.
This vehicle is trying to pull off a marketing sleight of hand. It has a bed like a pickup truck but nothing else.
It doesn’t have the myriad of powertrains that most pickups have. This truck has one engine, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that comes with either a turbocharger or without.
With normal aspiration, the engine generates 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. With the turbo, you get 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque.
We had the turbocharged engine. Like the regular engine, it was mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddles shifters and all-wheel-drive. It got 21 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined.
The Santa Cruz was smooth, gear shifts were non-interruptive but there was a bit of wind noise. However, we don’t think normal drivers will ever hear it. We had the windows up, the radio off and the fan for the climate controls was not engaged.
Although the Santa Cruz had a lower step-in point, we felt like we were sitting a bit higher than in a crossover because of the hip point. The vehicle handled well. California may be expansive, but the interstate and local highway lanes here were narrow. Still, the vehicle was easy to drive in the quick-shifting directions of the narrow lanes on the roads here.
The challenge for Hyundai is not product. The Santa Cruz has what it takes. It drives like a compact crossover, but it looks like a small pickup truck. And that is the task.
They’ve got to reach their target buyer. That is someone who engages in shopping, camping, mulching, canoeing, sailing, biking, renovating, climbing, skiing, driving, kayaking, loading, surfing, rafting, delivering and backpacking or any of the aforementioned. And more to the point, that is somebody who does some of those things.
What they’ve got to do is make the Santa Cruz the icon for activity to a younger driver. Calling it a sport adventure vehicle will not get it. That’s why, it seems to us, this is a marketing challenge.
Who they don’t need and probably won’t buy this vehicle is somebody who is looking for transportation to go back and for to work and run errands. Hyundai wants the driver who will incorporate the Santa Fe into their awfully active lifestyle.
One of the things the automaker doesn’t play up enough is the digital instruments. We didn’t see a knob anywhere. What’s more, the Santa Cruz has a hoodless instrument panel. In other words, the instruments in front of the driver have no cowl over them. It works, even in bright sunshine.
Although it is not a pickup truck, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is versatile. The bed has a compartment beneath the floor of the cargo area. It can haul a good bit of stuff including bikes, surfboards, dirt bikes and more.
And the new Santa Cruz is specific to North America. It has hidden LED running lights in the grille, horizontal taillights that Hyundai hopes distinguish it from a regular pickup truck.
There were also LED lights to illuminate the bed. It had a cloud-based navigation system, voice recognition, keyless operation, touch screen and a virtual key.
Creature comforts also included heated and cooled seats, remote start, wireless charging, a dual-clutch transmission, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a towing capacity of 3,500 lbs. for FWD versions and 5,000 lbs. for AWD versions.
We were surprised by the multi-link rear suspension. It provided a smooth ride, there was no fishtailing. There was even under the seat storage space in the back seat.
There are five trim levels, six exterior colors and the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is on sale now. Our top-of-the-line Limited trim line was $41,100 as tested, but the base price is $23,990.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.