PALO ALTO, Calif. – It is a uncommon day when a brand new car comes alongside that has no current phase or opponents already available on the market. It might be the subsequent massive factor that spawns copycats, an evolutionary useless finish or one thing that appropriately identifies a goal however misses the bullseye. Nicely, that is what we now have with the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz. On the very least, it is not some Chevy SSR, an oddball creation for terribly area of interest tastes. It is each a pickup and a compact crossover, two issues People love. It has options and energy aplenty. It is surprisingly enjoyable to drive and impressively refined. On the one hand, judging by these attributes, it might be wildly profitable.

However, it would not appear to be a standard truck, which hasn’t gone nicely previously (see Honda Ridgeline). The Ford Maverick does. Sure, there finally will be a competitor, however even earlier than we have pushed that, it is apparent Ford and Hyundai went in very totally different instructions in making an attempt to nail the bullseye on a goal labeled “compact crossover pickup.” That applies to their powertrains, pricing and interiors, however for starters, let’s discuss concerning the styling.

The Santa Cruz you see right here is predicated on the Santa Cruz Idea from 2015, however a lot was carried out to adapt it to new-generation underpinnings and Hyundai’s newest design language. That is most evident with the slender, T-shaped back lights and Tucson-like LED accent lighting that uniquely blends into the grille, however there are refined, necessary variations with the in any other case broadly related silhouette.

Notice the C-pillar. In line with Design Supervisor Brad Arnold, his staff toyed with boxier mattress/C-pillar silhouettes to make it extra standard (not not like the second-generation Ridgeline), however then they figured this wasn’t to be a standard truck. Additionally they toyed with one thing just like the Tesla Cybertruck (lengthy earlier than it was revealed) the place the roofline extends all the best way to the tailgate, however there was concern that may be complicated and too radical (not not like the first-generation Ridgeline and, nicely, the Cybertruck). The top consequence, as you may see, is someplace within the center however a bit nearer to standard than the unique idea.

It is also a key cause that the Santa Cruz seems to be so sensational in individual. Its proportions are spot-on, and its physique particulars are simply fascinating sufficient with out venturing into the overwrought (and pointy) territory of the Tucson and Elantra. Arnold says the objective was to realize a car that seems muscular and robust for its basic outside adventurer vibe, but additionally sporty for the city, on-road setting the place it’s going to largely dwell. Seems that final bit was particularly necessary.

“Really, as a result of it regarded sporty, we made it sporty,” car growth engineer Chahe Apelian admitted after listening to Arnold describe what his staff was going for visually. 

And certainly it’s sporty. The Santa Cruz is without doubt one of the most responsive and agile compact crossovers … no matter what is going on on behind the C pillar. There may be completely nothing truck-like about it, which is maybe a foul factor in case you need a bouncy journey, tippy dealing with and gradual steering. In any other case, it proves to be shockingly sharp and able to flicking a few twisting mountain street. We truly drove the Santa Cruz after a stint within the new Hyundai Kona N and have been a bit nervous our perceptions of the truck could be unfairly clouded by the pseudo sizzling hatch. To not fear. They play in numerous leagues to make certain, however the sport is identical. 

Nudge the drive mode toggle into Sport and the steering loses its preliminary little bit of off-center numbness in favor of simply the correct quantity of additional effort. The suspension, with its impartial multi-link setup on the rear, stays resolutely planted and composed. On the identical time, the journey is on the agency finish of the spectrum, however not in a truckish approach. Extra in a Mazda CX-5, firm-but-well-damped approach. 

Then there’s the powertrain. We didn’t drive the 191-horsepower naturally aspirated 2.5-liter base engine, and judging by our time with that powerplant within the Tucson, it is most likely finest we did not, even when it makes barely extra energy and torque. As a substitute, solely the two.5-liter turbocharged engine was available, boasting 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. That compares with 250 hp and 277 lb-ft within the barely lighter Maverick, and heck, it is higher than the 270 hp and 310 lb-ft within the heavier Ford Ranger. It is also significantly greater than the standard compact crossover engine improve. The Tucson would not supply it.

It feels each bit as fast as these figures and comparisons would counsel. The eight-speed dual-clutch automated guide is outstanding as nicely. It would not draw consideration to itself in mundane driving with delayed responses or odd low-speed conduct, but fires off shifts extra quickly than an automated can. It will get even spicier in Sport mode, and when utilizing the chunky paddle shifters, it’s going to stay in guide mode quite than robotically reverting again to completely automated sooner or later. That is as a lot a profit for engine braking on lengthy downhill stretches as it’s when towing.

Talking of which, the turbocharged Santa Cruz has a 5,000-pound tow ranking versus the turbo Maverick’s 4,000 kilos. Its payload of 1,748 kilos additionally bests the Ford’s 1,500, whereas benefiting from self-leveling rear dampers that’ll stop that droopy butt look when loaded.      

Gasoline economic system is estimated to be 19 mpg metropolis, 27 mpg freeway and 22 mpg mixed with the turbo and its necessary all-wheel-drive pairing. That is principally the identical as the bottom engine (21/26/23 with FWD and 21/27/23 with AWD), and given its bigger displacement, it would not be shocking if this 2.5-liter manages to raised replicate its EPA estimates than the two.0-liter discovered within the Maverick and different equally engined autos. After all, if we’re speaking gasoline economic system, the Santa Cruz doesn’t supply a hybrid powertrain and, because of this, the Maverick and its hybrid’s 37-mpg-combined estimate blow it away. That would show to be an insurmountable benefit for Ford. Hyundai not surprisingly would solely remark concerning the Santa Cruz as-is, however contemplating the Tucson is obtainable as each a hybrid and plug-in hybrid … there are prospects.

So it would not drive like a truck, however what about its truck mattress? At 52.1 inches (or 4.34 toes), it is 2.3 inches shorter than even the Maverick’s toddler-sized mattress. Hyundai packed in some bikes with their tires dangling over the tailgate and a few awfully quick surfboards poking out the again, however there isn’t any denying the constraints relative the beds of standard vehicles. As such, it is best to consider the Santa Cruz as extra of a substitute for compact crossovers, and particularly, its mattress as a substitute gear-carrying resolution than a compact crossover’s enclosed cargo space. 

To that finish, it has some modern options to make it greater than only a massive open field. There’s a trunk-like underfloor storage bin that is large enough for 2 small backpacks and drainable to double as a cooler (or let or not it’s hosed out). It is perhaps 40% the scale of the Honda Ridgeline’s and would not profit from that crossover pickup’s swing-out tailgate, making the bin much less helpful and a bit tough to succeed in inside. Nonetheless, it is higher than no sealed storage, and there is truly extra. Two smaller cubbies reside on both sides of the mattress (one can have a 115-volt energy outlet), and an modern, factory-installed cargo cowl rolls out over the mattress to maintain all of your stuff locked away and dry. There are additionally roof rails, that are uncommon for any pickup, and you possibly can at all times plug one thing into the trailer hitch like Yakima’s Exo system. For reference, the Maverick has its personal mattress of tips. 

There is no pass-through from the mattress into the cabin as within the outdated Chevy Avalanche or Subaru Baja, however that could be for the perfect, as a result of the Santa Cruz inside is nearly too good for a pickup. True, we examined a loaded Restricted trim with its heated/ventilated leather-based seats and myriad different luxuries, however the baseline plastics and different supplies ought to be constant all through the lineup. It is a a lot richer setting than what you may discover within the Maverick (we have sat in that, however not pushed it), and is just about similar in high quality and design because the Hyundai Tucson.

That features the touch-capacitive controls for the infotainment and local weather controls, which present up on higher trim ranges (the decrease trims have HVAC buttons and knobs, plus odd barrel-like controls for quantity and tuning). Although they really do a great job of responding to your contact, it takes an excessive amount of focus to seek out them together with your finger amidst the shiny black expanse. At the very least Hyundai’s distinctive touchscreen infotainment techniques, together with the ten.25-inch widescreen improve proven right here, works simply in addition to it does within the Tucson, Palisade, Sonata, and so forth.   

Do not depend on Tucson-like backseat consolation, although. The seat again is a tad upright and the seat backside quite low. The specs say there’s extra head- and legroom again there than within the Maverick, however we would want to sit down within the again seats of each to see if that basically shakes out in individual.

And certainly, we’re desirous to drive each of the brand new compact pickups again to again to see which is the higher execution of a standard idea. To my eyes, the Santa Cruz seems to be significantly better and has a a lot nicer inside, and if the Maverick’s mechanically associated Bronco Sport sibling is any indication, the Hyundai ought to be higher to drive, too. That mentioned, Ford has two massive benefits: gasoline economic system and a cheaper price.

The bottom, front-wheel-drive, 2.5-liter Santa Cruz SE begins at $25,175 versus the Maverick at $21,490 (all costs included vacation spot). You may as well get the Ford’s turbo engine on the bottom mannequin, whereas it would not arrive on Santa Cruz till the $36,865 SEL Premium trim. A loaded Maverick additionally is available in about $4,500 south of our loaded $41,100 Santa Cruz take a look at car. Perhaps all these greater costs are justified given its additional/enhanced tools, higher guarantee and different aforementioned benefits, however it does appear a bit too steep.

It certain appears bizarre to come back to the conclusion {that a} Hyundai could be too costly, however it’s arduous to not finish there. The Santa Cruz is definitely compelling and would-be patrons of Subarus and different outside adventurey crossovers would possibly discover it to be an interesting different for his or her specific outside adventurey wants. It is also totally different sufficient from the Maverick and freed from some other opponents that the value may not even be a problem. Then once more, it could be deemed too bizarre and too costly. Who is aware of? Solely time and the shopping for public will inform.  

Associated video: