Hyundai’s new unibody pickup is a spiritual successor to the Subaru Baja, Chevy El Camino, and other small car/trucks America has been missing all these years.
*Embracing a legacy of unibody pickups is the new Hyundai Santa Cruz, which will be available this summer.
*A turbocharged 2.5-liter four will be available offering more than 275 horsepower.
*The Santa Cruz shares much of its engineering and production plant, as well as its looks, with the new Tucson crossover.
Hyundai prefers the term “Sport Adventure Vehicle” over “truck” to describe the new Santa Cruz. Okay, whatever. But it sure looks truck-ish, if not strictly a truck. At its core, the Santa Cruz is—to oversimplify—the new 2022 Tucson shorn of its roof aft of the second-row seat. And that’s an idea that goes back at least to the 1957 Ford Ranchero and the 1959 Chevrolet El Camino. Maybe the idea goes even further back than that, to the first owner who cobbled together cargo bodies for their Model T. Point is, the Santa Cruz is new, but the notions behind it aren’t.
Designed primarily in Hyundai’s California studios, the Santa Cruz has an angular ruggedness that’s missing from the Tucson. It’s not merely another pickup, but it’s not strictly a traditional truck, either in looks or capability. A distinctive design element is the daytime running lights that emerge from behind the grille to make a sort of segmented cascade down each side of Santa Cruz’s face. It’s attractive, even if it’s not shy.
The Santa Cruz’s 118.3-inch wheelbase is 9.8 inches longer than that of the new Tucson, and the 195.7-inch overall length is up 12.4 inches. That wheelbase is also 14.0 inches longer than that of the 2002–2006 Subaru Baja to which the Santa Cruz seems a spiritual successor. However, the old Subaru’s 193.3-inch overall length is only 2.4 inches shorter than the new Hyundai’s. If the Subaru Baja’s rear overhang has been haunting your dreams, here’s an escape from the nightmares.
But while it’s longer, much of the Santa Cruz’s unibody structure is directly connected to the Tucson. The inner steel stampings—most of the floorpan, nose architecture, door structures and windshield surround—are common. The actual windshield glass will swap between the two vehicles. Inside the Santa Cruz, the relationship between the two is even more obvious as the open-bed machine shares almost all its innards with the crossover. That includes the flat-panel instrumentation forward of the driver and the center stack with its display. The one immediately apparent interior difference between the two is that the Tucson uses a push-button transmission selector between the front seats, while the Santa Cruz uses a more traditional shift lever.Suspension design is also in common with the Tucson. Confirming expectations, the front end is held up by a pair of MacPherson struts, while the tail rides on a multilink system. In the things-with-open-beds category, the Santa Cruz joins the Honda Ridgeline in the independent-rear-suspension club. And, like the Honda, the Santa Cruz offers a trunk behind the wheels that can be used as an ice chest.
Wheels will range between 18 and 20 inches, and the tires will mostly be all-season rated and on-road-oriented.
Where the Santa Cruz may have a clear advantage is in its powertrain. The standard powerplant will be the 2.5-liter four that Hyundai drops into plenty of products including the Sonata sedan and the Tucson. Hyundai promises it will be rated at 190-plus horsepower. The only transmission with this engine is a conventional eight-speed automatic that feeds either the front wheels or an all-wheel-drive system. More promising is a turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter engine that Hyundai promises will deliver 275-plus horsepower. The turbo engine will come attached to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission and all-wheel drive. If Hyundai has kept the curb weight reasonable, the Santa Cruz may turn out to be pretty quick.
Hyundai also plans to rate the 2.5 turbo all-wheel-drive model to tow up to 5000 pounds, which is about 1500 pounds greater than the lug rating for the naturally aspirated version.
While the Tucson shares the standard 2.5-liter four with the Santa Cruz, it’s available also as a hybrid model. Hyundai hasn’t announced a hybridized version of the Santa Cruz, and the 2.5 turbo engine won’t be available on the Tucson.
Now about that bed: Hyundai has it stretching out between 48.4 and 52.1 inches, depending on how it’s configured. That’s about a foot shorter than in vehicles such as the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, and Honda Ridgeline. And unlike conceptually similar (though not in scale) vehicles like the old Chevrolet Avalanche, there’s no way to extend the bed into the cab by folding down the second-row seat and bulkhead. The truckish nature of the Santa Cruz will only go so far.
The city of Santa Cruz is one of the odder ones in California. Located along the north central coast, it’s one of the largest in the state that’s not connected by interstate highway or major artery like the 101 freeway. It’s also home to the eccentric University of California, Santa Cruz, which doesn’t issue grades and has the Banana Slug as its sports mascot. Santa Cruz is proudly weird. And maybe the Hyundai Santa Cruz is just weird enough for the town.
Hyundai pushes the California heritage a bit by stamping the words “Designed in California” into the taillamps. You know, like Apple does with its China-assembled iPhones. But shouldn’t Alabama get some credit for building the thing, too? So, clearly, the left taillight should have “Designed in California” embossed into it while the right should proudly carry “Built in Alabama.”
As for pricing, the 2022 Santa Cruz should start short of $30,000 and range up toward $40,000 with a full load of frippery. Final pricing should be available closer to the Santa Cruz’s on-sale date this summer.