2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz
2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz Rearward Vision
2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz Dashboard

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz Review: Hustle-And-Bustle Truck

by Nikesh Kooverjee

The Hyundai Santa Cruz caused a storm in the compact-truck market when it arrived in the USA last year. Sourcing its platform from the Tuscon's N3 architecture, it's a road-biased utility vehicle in the mold of the Ford Maverick. It's more compact than the Honda Ridgeline, and operated without competitors in the segment until the Maverick arrived. While it looks like a compact pickup, it's essentially an SUV with a truck bed. Granted, the Santa Cruz isn't a proper, hard-working pickup truck, but it's been equipped to deal with light trails so that you can enjoy the outdoors in it within its off-road limits. More likely, you'll appreciate it for its car-like driving dynamics, its striking appearance, and the street cred that goes with owning a pickup - but without any of the traditional pickup drawbacks such as bad fuel economy and handling. It might not take you rock-crawling, but it will still get you to that camping spot at the end of a dirt road.

Read in this review:

  • Exterior Design 9 /10
  • Performance 8 /10
  • Fuel Economy 7 /10
  • Interior & Cargo 8 /10
  • Infotainment & Features 7 /10
  • Reliability 7 /10
  • Safety 8 /10
  • Value For Money 8 /10
What is BuzzScore?

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz Changes: What’s The Difference vs The 2022 Santa Cruz?

The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz has its base SE trim reconfigured so that it comes equipped with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and vehicle-exit warning. The SEL Premium gets a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation and voice recognition, as well as adaptive cruise control with stop & go, Curve Control, and Intelligent Speed Limit Assist, but loses its HomeLink garage-door opener. The Night trim is added to the range as somewhat of a sporty model with black 20-inch wheels, a blacked-out grille, and a black finish for the door handles, mirror covers, and side steps. Atlas White and California Sand paint options are introduced as replacements for Ice White and Mojave Sand. To reflect its higher feature count, the base Hyundai Santa Cruz SE costs around $1,000 more than last year.

Pros and Cons

  • Good safety spec on all trims
  • Powerful turbo engine
  • Cabin filled with features
  • Very good ride and handling
  • Trendy design
  • Not a real truck, with accompanying low towing capacity
  • Restricted rear visibility
  • Rear legroom compromised
  • Higher trims are quite expensive

What's the Price of the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz?

One of the benefits of building a small truck is that the price of the Hyundai Santa Cruz is remarkably low. The base SE has an MSRP of $25,450, while the SEL model retails for $27,790. These prices are for FWD models, with AWD adding another $1,500 to your invoice. A Night AWD costs $35,810, an SEL Premium AWD $3,350, and the top-spec Limited AWD retails for $40,320. All of these prices exclude the destination charge of $1,295.

The Santa Cruz is more expensive than the Ford Maverick. The Maverick's pricing starts at $22,195 and ends at $30,175 for the top-spec Lariat. That's a significant price gap, but it's worth noting that the Santa Cruz has more standard features and a lot more power.

Best Deals on 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
2.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
SEL Premium
2.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
2.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive
See All 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz Trims and Specs

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz Handling And Driving Impressions

The new Santa Cruz truck is only available with a 2.5-liter in-line four-cylinder engine with 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. FWD is standard and HTRAC AWD optional. Turbocharging is available on higher trims, upping the outputs to 281 hp and 331 lb-ft with AWD only. Naturally aspirated models feature an eight-speed automatic transmission while the turbos get an eight-speed dual-clutch. Because Santa Cruz sits on a unibody chassis, it feels like an SUV from behind the wheel, with pleasingly alert handling and a reasonably plush ride, particularly when running on some of the smaller wheel choices. Sharp power steering adds confidence when going around corners, which it does without the lean and wander characteristic of a body-on-frame truck. The naturally aspirated engine and eight-speed automatic make for a great basic commuter with enough power for urban use, but the turbocharged engine with its dual-clutch transmission is quite exciting to drive, with strong performance and snappy shifts. While it's no thoroughbred off-roader, we recommend opting for the AWD system because it confers a lot of confidence and stability on dirt tracks, making this a truly versatile light truck.

Verdict: Is The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz A Good Truck?

A review of the Hyundai Santa Cruz's competitors reveals that the truck to beat in this segment at the moment is without a doubt the Ford Maverick, and we'd say that the 2023 Santa Cruz is a pretty good contender. It's ideal for those wanting the street cred and some of the utility value of a truck without the downsides of a ladder-frame truck - and this segment is becoming increasingly popular. We won't be surprised if even more of these trucks are fielded soon by competing manufacturers. Bear in mind that while it is reasonably priced, the higher turbocharged trims can get quite costly. Thankfully, all trims get a reasonable number of standard features, so you won't be seeing a drastic increase in price by ticking boxes in the configurator unless you wish to add functional accessories - especially now that the 2023 SE gets a useful bump in standard spec. That said, the Maverick offers you most of what you could conceivably want from a compact SUV-based truck for less money - and its superior value for money might sway many buyers.

What 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz Model Should I Buy?

With an entry price of $25,450 and an impressive list of standard safety and infotainment systems, including forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto, the Santa Cruz is an attractive deal for anyone looking for a useful daily driver and weekend lifestyle vehicle, even in base form. But we can't help but feel it's a little expensive in this guise compared to a Maverick without any true USP. That's why the turbo engine is a must, and why we'd spring for the SEL Premium. It currently only comes with AWD, but as an adventure vehicle, that's a boon. If you can't stretch the budget for a $37,350 truck, then the SEL with the Activity Package is a great buy in FWD guise at just over $31,000.

Frankly, we expect the most sales of the Santa Cruz to be specced in SEL trim with the Activity Package.

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