Trucks are the most popular vehicles in the USA, but compact trucks have only recently been accepted by the masses. These light-duty trucks are of unibody construction and based on car or compact SUV platforms, but they're still expected to haul and tow alongside having car-like driving abilities. The top-selling model in this niche market is the square-jawed Ford Maverick, but it wasn't the first. It was beaten to the punch by the boldly futuristic Hyundai Santa Cruz, which arrived shortly before the Ford. This is a rather limited class because the only other unibody truck around is the near-$40k mark is the mid-size Honda Ridgeline.
Its $26k base price makes the Hyundai Santa Cruz more expensive than the $23k Maverick - and too close for comfort to the mid-size brigade like the Chevy Colorado, which starts at around $30k. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in naturally aspirated 191-horsepower form - or with turbocharging and 281 hp - provides the power but, unlike the Maverick, its engine choices are tied to the trims, and it lacks the Ford's thrifty hybrid option. Are its striking looks and sharp driving experience enough to overcome these disadvantages?
The 2024 Santa Cruz carries over from last year with relatively few changes. The automaker has been rolling out a new XRT trim, and this year, it's the Santa Cruz's turn to get one. The XRT replaces the old SEL Premium trim and combines features from the SEL and SEL Premium trims, with the Activity package added. The entire Santa Cruz range benefits from more equipment, starting with newly standard Bi-LED projector headlights on all trims. The Night trim is upgraded with H-Tex leatherette upholstery this year, while all trims except the SE gain an automatic defogger and dual-zone climate control. The 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation is now fitted to the Night trim too, and becomes part of the SEL's Activity package. Last of all, the lane-keep and blind-spot systems now give the driver haptic feedback through the steering wheel. The base price of the 2024 Hyundai Santa Cruz increases by $950.
This year, the base price of a new Hyundai Santa Cruze SE starts at $26,650. The SE is followed by the SEL at $29,400, the Night at $38,210, the new XRT at $39,850, and the Limited at $41,070. There's only a single available package - the Activity package - and it is available only to the SEL trim at a cost of $3,660. All of these prices are MSRP, and they exclude Hyundai's destination charge of $1,335. All-wheel drive will cost you $1,500 extra on the SE and SEL.
The base engine is underwhelming, so our favorite Santa Cruz last year was the turbocharged SEL Premium trim. This has now been replaced with the slightly better-specced XRT, and it's still the one to have. The 281-hp engine provides strong performance, and this trim is only around $1,600 more expensive than the Night with the same powertrain, but it gains the much nicer leatherette upholstery, leather on the steering wheel and shift knob, and some useful extra driver assists, such as cyclist/junction-turning detection and adaptive cruise control. At nearly $40k before destination, it's not cheap, though.
As is typical of Hyundai interiors lately, the materials are of excellent quality, and the design is modern, stylish, and contemporary.
The interior of the Santa Cruz is modern and spacious. Although it lacks a few features and has a smaller touchscreen, even the SE looks smart inside; the same steering wheel with its four odd horizontal spokes is used in all trims, though it's only leather-clad in the top trims. The instrument cowl with traditional gauges makes way for an exposed digital gauge cluster in the higher trims, where the cleaner design also makes the symmetrical twin-pod design of the dashboard more obvious, with a whiff of old-school Mustang to it. The materials are upscale, and the cabin looks as though it's pulled from a class above. The touch-sensitive pads below the bigger touchscreen can be irritating and distracting to use on the move, but we're still not convinced of touch controls in most cars we've tested.
The seats are covered in plain cloth, but leatherette and leather make an appearance higher up the trim line. With an ample ground clearance of over eight inches, it's easy to get in, and there's plenty of interior space, even in the second row, but over-the-shoulder visibility isn't that great due to the narrowing glasshouse. Disappointingly, not a single trim is fitted with rear parking sensors to ease parking, and only the Limited gets a surround-view monitor.
Interior space is a strong suit, and the legroom available to second-row passengers is on par with the mid-size Ridgeline while comfortably bettering the Maverick and Colorado. Rear headroom is particularly abundant and superior to any of its obvious rivals. Compact the truck might be, but Hyundai has outdone itself in ensuring that nobody feels too cramped when seated in the Santa Cruz, except perhaps the fifth passenger in the center rear seat, which is par for the class in any event. It's just a shame that the dark materials make the cabin feel a little confined and somber in the SE and SEL; from the SEL with the Activity package and up, the sunroof is useful for letting in a bit of natural light to lift the mood.
The default 4.3-foot bed is 52.1 inches long, which is 2.3 inches shorter than that of the Maverick. Its width is 53.9 inches, and its height 19.2 inches, making for a total bed volume of 27 cu-ft, compared to the 33.3 cu-ft of the Maverick. With the tailgate open, the length increases to 74.8 inches, making it possible to transport two dirtbikes on the back. Hyundai prioritized passenger space over cargo space, but the Santa Cruz does compensate with other nifty storage solutions, such as a lockable under-bed storage compartment that's big enough to accommodate two backpacks. It's a great place to store things securely or to put groceries that you don't want to slide around in the bed. There's additional storage space in the bed's sidewalls.
Maximum payload capacity is 1,411 lbs, short of the Maverick's 1,500 lbs. Accessories to make the space more usable include a bed fence or cargo netting. The Activity package (standard on the Night and XRT, optional on the SEL), includes bed lighting, an integrated tonneau cover, bed rails, and roof side rails. Up to 220 lbs can be carried on the roof.
In the cabin, the Santa Cruz offers useful storage space underneath the left-hand side of the rear seat (the jack and tools are under the right-hand seat), where you can store quite large items. Other than that, cabin storage is actually quite limited. There's the usual glovebox, and the front doors' pockets incorporate bottle holders while you get the expected lidded center-console storage bin. Ahead of this bin are two front-seat cupholders. The rear-seat passengers' cupholders are molded into the door panels, and they get front seatback pockets but no door pockets.
|Hyundai Santa Cruz||Ford Maverick||Honda Ridgeline|
|5 Seater||5 Seater||5 Seater|
|38.4-40.2 in. front|
39.6 in. rear
|38-40.3 in. front|
39.5-39.6 in. rear
|39.5-40.1 in. front |
38.8 in. rear
|41.4 in. front|
36.5 in. rear
|42.8 in. front|
35.9-36.9 in. rear
|40.9 in. front |
36.7 in. rear
|Volume: 27 ft³|
Payload: 1,411 lbs
|Volume: 33.3 ft³|
Payload: 1,500 lbs
|Volume: 33.9 ft³ |
Payload: 1,583 lbs
Futuristic and upscale the cabin may be, but Hyundai is decidedly stingy with the interior colors it offers for the Santa Cruz. Only in the SE and SEL trims with their cloth upholstery do you get a choice between black or gray. You can have the H-Tex leatherette in the Night and XRT trims in any color as long as it's black, and the same goes for the leather upholstery in the Limited. A leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob is only standard on the XRT and Limited.
The SE is fairly well-equipped, but it gives away its entry-level status with its manually operated and unheated front seats and regular air-conditioning. Both bottom trims also make do with cloth upholstery and conventional analog gauges with a 4.2-inch driver-information display. Upper trims get a power driver's seat, heated and/or ventilated front seats, upgraded leatherette or leather upholstery, a 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster, and more. There aren't many options to add except for a few accessories, and the Activity package with items such as side steps, a sunroof, a tonneau cover, bed rails, and the big gauge cluster is the only package available - and only to the SEL trim (it's standard on the Night and XRT).
The infotainment system in the SE and SEL lives on an eight-inch touchscreen and comes with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, HD Radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, and a six-speaker audio system. When fitted with the Activity package, the SEL upgrades this setup to a 10.25-inch touchscreen - which is also standard on all the other trims. This system gains navigation, dynamic voice recognition, SiriusXM, traffic information, the Bluelink+ Connected Car service, and a wireless charging pad, but you now have to connect your smartphone via USB, as the wireless connectivity is strangely not offered on the upgraded infotainment system, as is the case in many of Hyundai's current cars. Only the Limited gets dual rear USB ports and an eight-speaker Bose audio system.
|Power driver's seat, heated front seats|
|Leather upholstery, ventilated front seats|
|Apple CarPlay, Android Auto|
|Dual 10.25-inch displays with navigation|
|Eight-speaker Bose audio system|
The car-like driving experience sells the Santa Cruz, and it makes the transition from a passenger car to a truck totally painless.
The engine in the Hyundai Santa Cruz SE and SEL is a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder that's good for 191 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque. It comes with a torque-converter eight-speed automatic transmission and your choice of FWD or AWD. It feels perky at town speeds, but outright performance is lacking, and it won't get the Santa Cruz to 60 mph in under 9.5 seconds - significantly slower than the Maverick. The engine gains a turbocharger on all the other trims - and healthy outputs of 281 hp and 311 lb-ft; in this configuration, you get all-wheel drive only, and the gearbox is upgraded to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. This powerful engine makes the car far quicker and is the one to have, giving the Hyundai Santa Cruz a 0-60 time of around 6.5 seconds and always having sufficient power on hand, whether overtaking, merging, or trailering. It's limited to a top speed of around 130 mph due to its all-season tires. Towing is right at the top of the class, and you can tow a maximum of 5,000 lbs with the turbocharged engine - the same as the larger Honda Ridgeline and more than the Maverick, which tops out at 4,000 pounds. With the base engine, you can tow 3,500 lbs, but it's not an effortless affair.
If you want a vehicle that can do some occasional light-duty truck work for you, but you want a car-like driving experience the rest of the time, the Santa Cruz will be perfect for you. It drives and handles like the Tucson it's based on, which is to say, with dexterity and none of the shudders and imprecision you get from ladder-frame trucks. The steering is accurate, the ride is well-controlled and comfortable, and it's easy to forget that it's a truck in everyday driving. Its handling is sharp and responsive, and it's fun to pilot, even on twisty roads where most trucks are out of their depth. That said, the base powertrain is adequate around town but sluggish when asked to perform or work hard. The turbocharged engine and its quick-shifting dual-clutch auto make for a much better package, with effortless performance and enough reserve power in hand, even when you make maximum use of the 5,000-pound towing capacity. The Santa Cruz is not an off-road truck despite a handy 8.6-inch ground clearance because it lacks wheel articulation and a dual-range transmission, but it will dispatch with rough and slippery roads with ease.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz's mpg figures are decent and certainly far more car-like than truck-like, but it's comprehensively beaten by the Maverick. The base naturally aspirated 191-hp engine with FWD returns the best gas mileage, with EPA estimates of 22/26/23 mpg for the city/highway/combined cycles. With AWD, it's only a smidge behind with figures of 21/25/23 mpg. One of the reasons we prefer the turbocharged engine is because the extra performance comes with hardly any fuel-consumption penalty - the AWD turbo returns 19/27/22 mpg.
Good as these figures are, the Maverick's combined figures are better with its smaller 2.0-liter turbocharged engine (24-25 mpg), while the Santa Cruz has no answer to the excellent hybrid Maverick (37 mpg). With a 17.7-gallon fuel capacity, the Santa Cruz will achieve a range of around 407 miles with the standard engine and 389 miles with the turbocharged engine.
|2.5L Inline-4 Gas|
|2.5L Inline-4 Gas|
|2.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas |
|191 hp||191 hp||281 hp|
|22/26/23 mpg||21/25/23 mpg||19/27/22 mpg|
|Est. 9.5 sec.||Est. 9.5 sec.||6.5 sec.|
|3,500 lbs||3,500 lbs||5,000 lbs|
Even the base car has many standard safety assists, and more are added on the top trims, but parking sensors aren’t even available as an option.
The NHTSA has so far conducted only a partial safety review of the 2024 Hyundai Santa Cruz, giving it a full five stars for the frontal crash and four for the rollover test. These results mirror last year's, when the Santa Cruz received a five-star overall rating and full marks for the side crash, too - results we expect it to match this year. The IIHS hasn't evaluated the 2024 Santa Cruz yet, but gave last year's model predominantly Good scores except for its headlights, which were rated Poor and precluded it from qualifying for a Top Safety Pick award. All 2024 Santa Cruz trims now come with new Bi-LED projector headlights, so maybe it has a shot at the prize this year.
The Santa Cruz has six airbags, and ABS, stability control, a backup camera, and tire-pressure monitoring. Hyundai SmartSense driver assists fitted to the SE, SEL, and Night trims comprise forward-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection and automatic braking, blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, lane-following assist, automatic Bi-LED projector headlights with auto high beams, safe-exit warning, driver-alertness monitoring, and rear-occupant alert. The lane-keep and blind-spot systems provide haptic feedback through the steering wheel. The XRT's forward-collision system gains cyclist and junction-turning detection, and other additional features also fitted from here on an up the trim ladder include adaptive cruise control with stop & go, intelligent speed-limit assist, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Limited is the only trim equipped with blind-spot-view and surround-view monitors, rain-sensing wipers, navigation-linked adaptive cruise control with Curve Control, and Highway Driving Assist.
|Forward-collision alert with braking|
|Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert|
|Lane-keep and -following assist|
|Adaptive cruise control with stop and go|
|Blind-spot and surround-view monitors|
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
Even though it's still a rather new car, the Hyundai Santa Cruz's reliability is excellent from the outset, with a great JD Power score of 84 out of 100 for the agency's Quality & Reliability assessment. The 2022 Santa Cruz was recalled four times in its launch year for detaching roof moldings, a tow-hitch harness that may short-circuit and start a fire while parked, a loss of drive power due to a malfunctioning transmission oil pump, and a leaking turbocharger oil-supply pipe - the latter two issues relevant to the turbocharged trims only. By 2023, only the tow-hitch and roof-molding issues remained, and so far, there have been no recalls for the 2024 model at all.
The warranty of the 2024 Hyundai Santa Cruz is way better than that of the Maverick. The limited warranty is valid for five years/60,000 miles, the powertrain warranty for a full ten years/100,000 miles, the corrosion warranty for seven years/unlimited miles, and the roadside assistance for five years/unlimited miles. Hyundai even throws in complimentary servicing for three years/36,000 miles.
The Santa Cruz is a catwalk model with its modern LED-studded visage, organic curves, rearward-sloping C-pillar, and car-like styling cues and details. It doesn't subscribe to the boxy truck school of thought and looks like a car-based crossover SUV with a load bed stylishly integrated into the rear end - which is exactly what it is. It looks smart right from the base level, and even the SE and SEL ride on 18-inch alloys and get Bi-LED projector headlights, LED DRLs, body-color mirrors, a sharkfin antenna, a composite load bed with lockable under-bed storage, integrated bumper steps, a remote-release tailgate with open/close assist, and rear privacy glass.
The SEL gets LED turn signals in its side mirrors, and adding the Activity package to the SEL equips LED bed lights, roof rails, a tonneau cover, bed rails, and a rear sliding window. The Night gets the Activity package as standard and also blacks out all the exterior trim and mirrors, as well as its (20-inch) alloy wheels, while adding premium DRLs, and side steps. The XRT gets most of the dark exterior details, but in matte black, and reverts to the base trims' 18-inch alloys, but with orange center caps. It gets wider fender flares. The Limited runs on its own set of 20-inch alloys, does not get the Activity package and its features, and gets dark-chrome bumper trim front and rear.
In many ways, the Santa Cruz is a better compact truck than the Ford Maverick. It looks appreciably more modern and dynamic, can tow more, and is more upscale inside. However, sales figures suggest that buyers prefer the Maverick's more traditional boxy truck looks. The cracks begin to show in the powertrains, and while the turbocharged trims are swift and acceptably efficient, the Santa Cruz has a weak base engine that lags behind the Maverick Hybrid both in terms of performance and fuel economy - and offers no hybrid alternative at all. It doesn't help that the Hyundai's starting price is uncomfortably close to the mid-size trucks - and around $3k more than the Maverick. The Santa Cruz fights back with its car-like dynamics and market-leading warranty, but it might not be enough to topple the Maverick off of its throne.
The most popular competitors of 2024 Hyundai Santa Cruz: