by Karl Furlong
Days before the official unveiling, Hyundai clarified that its new Santa Cruz is not a traditional pickup truck. Rather, it's known as a Sport Adventure Vehicle that will perform well in urban environments yet offer added versatility thanks to the open bed at the back. Marketing speak aside, the average motorist will still view this as Hyundai's first truck and, therefore, a bold step into unknown territory for the Korean marque that has found great success with its SUV range.
With its dramatic styling yet more compact size than midsize trucks like the Honda Ridgeline and Nissan Frontier, the Santa Cruz certainly carves out a unique niche for itself in the market. Is this the perfect blend of SUV and truck or is it too much of a gamble from Hyundai? Let's find out.
Hyundai's claim that this isn't a traditional truck gains some credibility when you look at the Santa Cruz for the first time. Yes, there's an open bed at the back, but the rest of it is more fashionable SUV than rugged pickup. The front is dominated by a massive grille with the daytime running lamps dramatically integrated into it in individual sections; when the lights are off, you wouldn't even know they're there. Along the side, there are large alloy wheels and a C-pillar that is slanted forward. Visually, it's clear that the bed isn't as large as in other trucks. At the back, there are smart taillights and a huge Santa Cruz name on the tailgate.
Dimensionally, the Santa Cruz is 195.7 inches long, 75 inches wide, and 66.7 inches in height. This makes it smaller in every direction than the Honda Ridgeline. At its lower point, the bed length measures just 52.1 inches, more than 10 inches less than the Ridgeline. Our first impression is that, somehow, the Santa Cruz's disparate elements merge together cohesively.
The sporty look continues inside. A standard 8-inch touchscreen and an available 10-inch digital cluster give the cabin a high-tech look and feel. Like some other trucks, there is useful storage beneath the rear seats. From behind the wheel, nothing about it reminds one of a truck until you glance in the rearview mirror and see that the rear window is a lot closer to rear passengers' heads than it would be in an SUV. Some of the highlights include remote engine start, driver attention warning, lane-keeping assist, and an available Bose sound system.
As standard, the Santa Cruz is fitted with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 190 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. That immediately seems meek alongside the Ridgeline's V6 or the Ford Ranger's turbocharged engine, both of which make almost 100 hp more. Then again, the Hyundai was not meant to compete with these vehicles directly. The 2.5-liter is paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and an HTRAC all-wheel-drive system.
Those craving more power from their Sport Adventure Vehicle will prefer the 2.5-liter turbo-four with a much stronger 275 hp and 310 lb-ft. This engine is mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters. Whereas the base engine can tow 3,500 pounds, the turbocharged model is rated to tow up to 5,000 lbs. The AWD system has a variable-torque-split clutch, allowing the vehicle to alter torque distribution between the front and rear axle depending on the conditions.
No approach/departure angles or even ground clearance figures have been disclosed by Hyundai yet - that should tell you everything you need to know about the Santa Cruz's positioning.
Hyundai hasn't yet shared pricing for the Santa Cruz so it's a tough one to call right now. In terms of rivals, there's pretty much nothing else on the market to directly compare it with. Other small trucks like the Ford Ranger and Jeep Gladiator are more rugged and capable but less modern inside and likely to use more gas.
Then again, Ford is putting the final touches on its Maverick and, together with the Santa Cruz, we expect these models to spearhead the revival of the compact truck in North America. For now, our feeling is that the Santa Cruz looks fantastic. It will prove more efficient and easier to drive than other trucks, and is capable enough for the needs of a typical family.
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Check out some informative Hyundai Santa Cruz video reviews below.