It’s been six years since Hyundai won raves for the Santa Cruz concept pickup truck and, finally, it pulled the covers off the production model.
Think of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz as the world’s first “Sport Adventure Vehicle,” suggested Jose Munoz, CEO of the automaker’s North American operations during a media background briefing earlier this week. You might also think of it as the modern incarnation of the compact pickups that were wildly popular with then-young Baby Boomers a half-century ago.
This is no retro-mobile, however. The Santa Cruz gets a distinctive design that blends the functionality of a pickup with the decidedly modern curves of a crossover like today’s Hyundai Tucson. Indeed, the new truck rides on a beefed-up version of that SUV’s newest platform. And Santa Cruz offers a variety of new features, from its high-tech infotainment system to the hidden storage compartment under the cargo bed that can double as a beverage cooler. There are even built-in attachment points for GoPro cameras so you can record your adventures.
The one key thing not carried over from the original Santa Cruz concept is the bed extender that provided a bit more space for hauling cargo when needed.
“It is a vehicle that completely shatters conventional design,” said Munoz during Tuesday’s background briefing. “The Santa Cruz is something entirely new in the market, a vehicle that creates a whole new automobile category, the ‘Sport Activity Vehicle.’”
Some might see that as a bit of hyperbole, though there’s no question that the Santa Cruz is quite different from the pickups on the road today. It’s dwarfed by full-sized models like the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado, as well as the midsize offerings, like Honda’s Ridgeline, Ford’s Ranger and Chevy’s Colorado, that have made a comeback in recent years.
By the numbers
At 195.7 inches, nose-to-tail, it’s at least 10 inches shorter than those midsize models. The wheelbase is about nine inches shorter, but it’s nearly identical in width. With a turning circle of just over 20 feet, it should score points with urban dwellers.
Another significant difference: Santa Cruz is based on a car-like platform shared with Hyundai’s Tucson — though the wheelbase was stretched about a foot. The only other crossover-based pickup now on the market is the larger, more traditional Honda Ridgeline.
Hyundai isn’t the only automaker that has looked for an alternative to traditional pickups. Subaru went there with the Baja in 2003, but pulled it off the market three years later.
In search of a market
Nonetheless, “I think there is a market,” said analyst Sam Abuelsamid of Guidehouse Insights, though not as big as either the full-size or midsize segments,. The cool factor will help Hyundai market the new model, “though functionality will be key.”
The design of the new Santa Cruz has much in common with the new Tucson — and other Hyundai offerings — starting with its distinctive “parametric” grille. It features a series of interlocking blocks that all but conceals daytime running lamps and headlights until they’re turned on.
In silhouette, Santa Cruz features more curves than most other pickups, with the possible exception of the Ram 1500, and the cab ends in a flying buttress vaguely reminiscent of the first-generation Ridgeline.
The missing bed extender
That takes us to the business end of the new pickup. The bed measures a modest four feet but can hold longer items, such as a 4×8 sheet of plywood, by folding the tailgate down at a 45-degree angle.
By now, you might be wondering what happened to one of the most talked-about features of the original Santa Cruz concept, the pull-out bed extender. The development team struggled to find a way to put it into production, product development manager Trevor Lai told TheDetroitBureau, “it would have driven up costs and delayed the program even more.”
Lai feels the final version of the pickup more than makes up for that loss. Some of the features likely to win notice include a retractable, locking tonneau cover, as well as a large locking storage bin under the cargo floor. It can be used to protect valuables but also is waterproofed for use say, as a beverage cooler. There’s a pop-out drain plug for when all the ice melts. There’s also a 110-volt outlet hidden inside one of two storage nooks on the bed walls, and built-in cargo rails.
“We think we’ve identified a new generation of buyers,” Chris Chapman, Hyundai’s senior chief designer, told TheDetroitBureau.com.
While it’s likely the Santa Cruz will find its strongest appeal in urban and suburban settings, Hyundai also has taken steps to let the true backwoods adventurer keep track of their wanderings. There are special attachment points built into the cladding above the pickup’s 20-inch wheels to mount GoPro and other video cameras.
By stretching the Tucson platform Hyundai has given the Santa Cruz a reasonably roomy interior easily fitting four and, if needed, five. The two models have a number of things in common, including plenty of storage. The Santa Cruz adds usable space under the fold-up rear bench. Both models feature a 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster. The Santa Cruz gets a base, 8-inch touchscreen with an optional, 10.25-inch upgrade.
Tech features include wireless versions of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging and an optional Bose premium audio system. The standard Hyundai SmartSense safety system includes features like Forward Collision Warning with brake intervention and pedestrian and bicycle detection, as well as Lane Keeping Assist. A number of systems, including highway driving assist, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, are optional.
The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz will offer a choice of two powertrains, both of which are paired with an 8-speed automatic. A naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-4 turns out 190 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. A turbo version of the engine bumps that to 275 hp and 310 lb-ft. It also allows a driver to tow up to 5,000 pounds, a full 250% more than the Tucson.
Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel-drive system is available with both engines and, like the pickup’s suspension, has been retuned from the Tucson to handle more rugged driving situations. Three modes are available, to cope with different driving conditions.
For its part, Hyundai officials acknowledged they’ll be feeling out demand for the Santa Cruz once it goes on sale. That’s much like what happened when automakers began reviving their midsize models nearly a decade ago in a very uncertain market.
If sales show strength, don’t be surprised to see the automaker expand the range of features and options, Design Manager Brad Arnold told us. Hyundai has also been talking with vendors who could provide a range of aftermarket features, like roof bins, lighting and ladders.
According to CEO Munoz, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz will go on sale this summer. The automaker hasn’t revealed pricing but considering buyers could have midsize options, like the Ford Ranger, starting at $24,820, expectations are that the new “Sport Adventure Vehicle” will start in the low-$20,000 range.