2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Review

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Aug 13, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Hyundai deals!

After debuting several years ago at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit as a concept vehicle, Hyundai's long-anticipated pickup truck has finally arrived in U.S. dealer showrooms. However, the all-new 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz isn't a rough-and-tumble body-on-frame pickup in the traditional sense like the midsize Chevrolet ColoradoFord RangerNissan Frontier, and Toyota Tacoma. Rather, the 4-door Santa Cruz shares most of its underpinnings, powertrain, front-end sheet metal, interior layout, and unit-body construction with the also all-new Hyundai Tucson crossover SUV. The Santa Cruz also adds the lively 2.5-liter turbo/8-speed dual-clutch powertrain option from the Santa Fe Calligraphy. The defining characteristic of the Santa Cruz is its 4-foot-long open bed that takes the place of the Tucson's enclosed cargo area.

While J.D. Power classifies the Santa Cruz as a midsize pickup, Hyundai is marketing it as a Sport Adventure Vehicle and targeting buyers who wouldn't necessarily be interested in larger, more rugged truck-based offerings—or any sort of truck at all. There is precedence for this. The Santa Cruz is the newest example of half-car/half-truck models such as the Chevrolet El Camino and Ford Ranchero of the 1950s through the 1970s, the 1980s Dodge Rampage, Plymouth Scamp, and Volkswagen Rabbit pickups, and the Subaru Brat and Baja.

Designed for personal, recreational use, the Santa Cruz stretches 13.4 inches longer bumper to bumper than the Hyundai Tucson SUV. Still, it is nearly a foot shorter overall than the Nissan Frontier and almost 1-1/2 feet shorter than the Toyota Tacoma. It's configured to be easier to park and get better fuel economy than other midsize pickups that have grown in size and weight in recent years while maintaining an open bed for toting dirty or bulky items. And because it's based on a unit-body crossover SUV rather than a truck frame, the Santa Cruz is designed to offer SUV-like driving dynamics and the smoother ride and sharper handling associated with them.

The Santa Cruz is available with a choice of two 4-cylinder engines that can be configured with front- or HTRAC all-wheel drive (AWD). For 2022, the Santa Cruz lineup includes base SE, mid-level SEL, turbocharged SEL Premium, and range-topping Limited trim.

Because the Santa Cruz is based on the Tucson, it will be offered with the same extensive infotainment and driver-assistance technology. Another plus is the dramatic front-end design and wing-shaped LED running-lamp lighting signature, carried over from the Tucson, that's integrated into the parametric-segmented grille.

What Owners Say About the Midsize Pickup Segment - Find the best Hyundai deals!

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD Gray Front Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

The Hyundai Santa Cruz competes in the Midsize Pickup segment. According to data collected from verified new-vehicle buyers for the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 85 percent of new midsize pickup buyers are male (vs. 60 percent for the entire automotive industry), and the median age of a midsize pickup buyer is 56 years (same as the industry).

As part of the APEAL Study, owners rated the Midsize Pickup segment in 10 primary categories. Listed below in descending order, you'll find their preferences from their most favorite thing about the vehicle to their least favorite:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Setting up and starting
  • Interior design
  • Powertrain
  • Infotainment system
  • Driving comfort
  • Getting in and out
  • Fuel economy

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Hyundai Santa Cruz - Find the best Hyundai deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a well-equipped, top-of-the-line Santa Cruz Limited AWD equipped with the following option:

  • Carpeted floor mats

The price of the test vehicle came to $41,100, including the $1,185 destination charge.

Getting In and Getting Comfortable

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD Gray Front Seats

Photo: Ron Sessions

Because the Santa Cruz is based on the Hyundai Tucson crossover SUV, it features unitized body construction. Therefore, it doesn't have the bulky ladder frame and separate cab most midsize pickups (except the Honda Ridgeline) use. That means step-in height is passenger car-like. Just open any door, front or rear, and slip right in. No step-up is required.

The Tucson-based front bucket seats of the Santa Cruz are supportive and comfortable, with good lateral torso support. The Limited trim and all but base SE models feature a power driver's seat with power lumbar adjustment and heat for both front seats. Also standard on Limited are leather seat coverings and ventilated front seats.

The rear seat of the Santa Cruz, while not as spacious as that of the Tucson SUV it's based on, offers decent room for three adults and nearly 4 inches more rear legroom, and almost 2 inches more rear headroom than in the 4-door Toyota Tacoma Double Cab. The rear seatbacks don't fold down as in the Tucson, but the bottom cushions of the 60/40-split back seat of the Santa Cruz flip up, providing access to a pair of storage wells for small valuables and odds and ends.

Up front, there's more storage in the glovebox, covered console cubby, generously sized dual cupholders, door and console side pockets, and a deep console bin under the center of the dash. It houses USB and 12-volt power ports within easy reach for stashing electronica and road-trip detritus.

The Tucson-based cabin feels roomy, featuring a dual-cockpit instrument panel that sweeps into the front doors. The low-and-away dashboard provides excellent forward visibility. The interior is airy and quiet, courtesy of an acoustic laminated windshield and extensive body sealing.

The Limited and SEL Premium come standard with the larger of two available driver displays, a driver-configurable 10.25-inch digital display that changes color with different drive mode selections. In Limited trim, the virtual analog speedometer or tachometer transforms into a live blind-spot rear-quarter view display when the driver activates the turn signal.

Limited and SEL Premium trims upgrade from manual air conditioning with traditional knobs and buttons to a dual-zone system. The Limited ditches the knobs for an all-digital control panel that looks great but uses tiny arrows that are more difficult to see and select while driving down the road.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Infotainment System Review

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD Gray Interior Dashboard

Photo: Ron Sessions

The 2022 Santa Cruz features a modern-looking infotainment system with vibrant colors and up-to-date graphics. In the SE, SEL, and SEL Premium, highlights of the system include:

  • 8-inch high-definition touchscreen display
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Dual front charge ports (one USB-A and one USB-C)
  • Blue Link connected services (except SE)
  • Wireless charging for Qi-enabled phones (except SE)

The wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto included only with the 8-inch display eliminates the hot mess of USB cords. It also means you can stash your phone out of sight and out of mind in the glove box or in a purse or briefcase where it won't create a driving distraction. Connecting a phone for mirroring is easily done by clicking on the on-screen widget.

The 8-inch screen's controls are easy to use with simple analog knobs for volume and tuning. The base system has a simple 6-speaker AM/FM audio system with HD Radio, while SEL and SEL Premium add enhanced voice recognition, Blue Link, and a 3-month trial of SiriusXM satellite radio.

The premium infotainment system is standard and only available with Limited trim. Its highlights include:

  • 10.25-inch high-definition touchscreen display with split-screen functionality
  • Wired (via USB cable) Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Embedded navigation
  • Enhanced voice recognition
  • Four USB charge ports (two front, two rear)
  • Blue Link
  • Wireless charging for Qi-enabled phones
  • 3-month trial of SiriusXM NavTraffic, NavWeather, Sports, and Stocks

The premium system includes a much richer-sounding 8-speaker Bose premium audio system that features digital processing, custom equalization, and dynamic speed compensation. 

With the Limited's premium system, the convenient analog knobs for volume and tuning are replaced by attractive but tiny arrows and plus or minus symbols that are less easy to use on the fly. Hyundai also provides volume and tuning toggles on the steering wheel. Although the larger screen currently offers only wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Hyundai says a wireless system is coming.

The "Sounds of Nature" is an interesting feature you'll find only in some Hyundai and Kia products. It's accessed by selecting the media button. Once selected, passengers can relax to a selection of "atmospheres" that include the sounds of tropical ocean waves on the beach, a crackling fireplace, idle café banter, and more.

The Santa Cruz comes with enhanced voice recognition that uses speech-to-meaning and deep-meaning technology to assist with voice commands. Using the push-to-speak button on the Limited test vehicle, my request to find the lunch stop in a nearby town was quickly and correctly executed and generated helpful map directions and voice prompts. In the Limited test vehicle, I could use it to adjust climate control settings instead of searching for and pecking away at the tiny touchscreen arrows.

As with other 2022 Hyundai models, the Santa Cruz includes the Blue Link connected-car system, which allows drivers to perform functions such as locking and unlocking doors, finding the car in a parking lot, starting the engine, and setting the climate control and heated and cooled seats (in the Limited) remotely using the MyHyundai smartphone app. Hyundai offers full access to Blue Link at no cost for the first three years of ownership. Blue Link also now works with smartwatches and inside the home using Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

Digital Key transforms any Android smartphone (sorry, iPhone users), even those of friends or family, into a vehicle remote using near-field communications. As with Blue Link, Digital Key enables the holder to lock and unlock doors, activate the panic alert, and start and drive the car, but only in near proximity to the vehicle. The owner can also set the amount of time the Digital Key remains active and revoke it at any time.

What It's Like to Drive the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD Gray Side Profile View

Photo: Ron Sessions

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz gets the same MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link independent rear suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, and unit-body construction as the Hyundai Tucson. Accordingly, it drives and rides more like a crossover SUV than a midsize truck, with none of the jiggly ride motions and cruder vehicle dynamics of its body-on-frame, live-rear-axle midsize truck competitors.

There are two powertrain choices. Santa Cruz SE and SEL models use the Tucson's naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, rated at 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. This engine is paired with a conventional step-shift 8-speed automatic transmission and can team with standard front-wheel drive or optional AWD.

The SEL Premium and Limited models get the considerably livelier turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder shared with the Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy, cranking out 281 hp and, more importantly, 311 pound-feet of torque over a broad engine speed range from just 1700 rpm to 4000 rpm. This engine is teamed exclusively with a slick-shifting 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and AWD.

While most buyers likely won't purchase the Santa Cruz for its towing prowess, the small pickup is capable in that regard. The maximum tow rating for the base 4-cylinder engine on lower trims is 3,500 pounds, while the more powerful turbo-equipped version can tow 5,000 pounds.

I spent 95 miles behind the wheel of a Santa Cruz Limited powered by the eager 2.5-liter turbo engine. This power plant has a rich midrange and robust throttle response that never left me wanting, whether it was keeping up with the ebb and flow of traffic, merging onto high-speed freeways, or overtaking slower vehicles.

The Limited's standard 20-inch alloy wheels not only fill up the Santa Cruz's wheel wells and give it a planted stance on the road, but the associated meaty 245/50R20 all-season rubber delivered plenty of grip. That grip came in handy over a 25-mile stretch of challenging tarmac that snaked through stands of Redwood trees near Santa Cruz, California, studded with blind turns, 180-degree switchbacks, and steep grades. While the opportunity to try out the HTRAC AWD on dirt didn't present itself, the system's ability to send up to 50 percent of the drive torque to the rear wheels was a big boost through some of the tighter and more unexpected turns. Neither the front nor rear tires squealed once in protest.

Despite measuring 13.4 inches longer than the Tucson bumper to bumper and carrying 400-500 pounds more weight, the Santa Cruz felt as nimble and structurally cohesive as Hyundai's compact crossover SUV.

Hyundai SmartSense Review

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD Gray Driving Assistance System Menu

Photo: Ron Sessions

The 2022 Santa Cruz comes standard with Hyundai's SmartSense suite of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). These technologies are among the most advanced and extensive offered by any automaker, especially mainstream brands competing for buyers in the midsize pickup space. Standard features on all Santa Cruz models include:

SEL and higher trims add more SmartSense features, including:

  • Blind-spot warning and collision-avoidance assistance (can attempt to prevent unsafe lane changes by pulsing brakes)
  • Rear cross-traffic warning and collision-avoidance assistance (automatically brakes if necessary to avoid a collision)
  • Safe exit warning (tells car occupants when it is not safe to open a door into traffic)

Limited trim adds still more SmartSense features, including:

  • Intelligent adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and navigation-based curve control
  • Blind-view monitor (shows an image of the blind spot in the driver display when the turn signal is activated)
  • Surround-view monitor (upgrades reversing camera to 360-degree overhead view)
  • Highway Drive Assist (combined adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance to reduce stress during highway drives)
  • Intelligent speed limit assist

Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning with collision avoidance and forward-collision assistance with automatic emergency braking are items every new-vehicle buyer should have on their must-have list.

Most of the time, these systems work in the background, providing assistance or intervening only in the split second when you need them. Lane-keeping and lane-centering assistance usually help maintain the car in its lane, but they can be sometimes fooled by longitudinal tar strips or recent road construction lines. And in the absence of well-defined lane markings, these systems can sometimes let the vehicle wander off course.

ADAS is a great backup but no substitute for an alert driver with eyes on the road and two hands on the steering wheel.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz FAQ - Find the best Hyundai deals!

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD Gray Cargo Area

Photo: Ron Sessions

How much cargo space does the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz have?

The sheet-molded composite bed in the Santa Cruz is smaller than that of conventional midsize pickup trucks, but the Santa Cruz isn't a conventional midsize pickup truck. Its bed is nominally 4-feet long, measuring 48.4 inches front to back at the top and 52.1 inches at the bottom, and 53.0 inches wide except at the wheelhouses, where it measures 42.7 inches across. From the top of the rails to the bed floor, the space is 19.2 inches deep. Hyundai doesn't publish a total bed volume measurement. As with the Honda Ridgeline, there's also hidden storage under the cargo floor capable of holding several computer bags as well as a pair of breadbox-sized compartments on both bed sides.

Drivers can secure the entire contents of the cargo bed with a lockable, semi-hard, integrated window-shade-type tonneau cover that retracts into the front of the bed adjacent to the cab. The fold-down tailgate with assisted opening and closing operation extends the cargo surface nearly 2 feet when open, and it, too, is lockable. The tonneau and a 115-volt in-bed power outlet are standard with SEL Premium and Limited trim and optional on the SEL. All 2022 Santa Cruz pickups have utility rails with adjustable tie-down cleats along the bed sides. Integrated rear bumper side steps aid access to the bed.

Does the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz get good mileage?

According to EPA estimates, the all-wheel-drive 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited with the turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gets 22 mpg in combined city/highway driving. On our 95-mile testing loop that included a mix of freeway, rural highway, and residential roads, the vehicle displayed an average of 24.5 mpg on the trip computer. Factoring in the Santa Cruz's 17.7-gallon fuel tank would result in a driving range on this trip in excess of 430 miles.

Is the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz safe?

As this review was published, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had published crash-test results for the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz.

How much is the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz?

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz prices range from $23,990 for the base, front-wheel-drive SE to $39,720 for the top-of-the-line, AWD-equipped Limited model. All-wheel drive is a $1,500 upcharge on SE and SEL versions. The destination charge for all trims is $1,185.

What are the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz competitors?

The Ford Ranger ranks highest in the Midsize Pickup segment in the J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study (IQS). The Chevrolet Colorado and Honda Ridgeline are the next highest-ranked models.

In the 2020 APEAL Study, the Honda Ridgeline ranks highest in the Midsize Pickup segment. The GMC Canyon and the Ford Ranger are the next highest-ranked models.

Other competitors to the 2022 Santa Cruz include the Jeep Gladiator, Chevrolet Colorado, and Toyota Tacoma.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Hyundai deals!

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD Gray Rear Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

Part crossover SUV, part pickup truck, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is aimed at buyers who want the open bed and dirty cargo-toting ability a pickup truck provides without the associated high step-in height, jiggly ride, and lackluster fuel economy. As with the similarly configured but larger Honda Ridgeline, the Santa Cruz does not embrace the rugged look and macho styling cues that populate most midsize pickups. The Santa Cruz goes its own way with a dramatic front lighting signature and concept-car shape that will draw onlookers at local cars-and-coffee events. It's a bold step for the Korean automaker that has gone its own way with a unique and distinctive vehicle with no direct competitors.

Aside from its compelling functionality and evocative design, the Santa Cruz offers an extensive array of advanced connectivity, infotainment, and driver-assistive technology that's unmatched by any other midsize pickup on the market. The icing on the cake is Hyundai's outstanding warranty, with 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper, 5-year/unlimited-mile roadside assistance, and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage.

Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive and consumer websites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals, and newspapers.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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