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2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Review By Larry Nutson

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Breaking new ground

By Larry Nutson
Executive Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

As things would have it my expected drive of the all-new 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz went awry. On the invite of Hyundai I was to travel to San Francisco and then on to Palo Alto. Well, my direct airline flight got canceled. Then on my rescheduled new route involving a connection one of those flights got canceled.

Needless to say, instead of me driving the new Santa Cruz in and around Santa Cruz, California I waited a week to have my first drive experience in the Chicago suburbs.

Hyundai first hinted at its aspirations for a pickup-like vehicle with its HCD-15 Concept introduced at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Now here in 2021 we have “in the flesh” the all-new 2022 Santa Cruz. The world’s first “sport adventure vehicle.”

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The 5-passenger Santa Cruz with its open cargo bed is designed to appeal to utility vehicle owners. That was the priority in the design. The Santa Cruz is not intended to appeal to the traditional pickup truck buyer.

A utility vehicle has a balance of attributes to provide for transporting people and things over sometimes varying road conditions. The Santa Cruz extends that balance to still transport people as well as things with its open bed and underfloor storage---a trunk in the bed. The in-bed trunk has a drain plug that allows for cleaning and draining.

The cargo bed is secure. A sliding lockable bed cover that is strong and durable secures cargo. The urban adventurer who wants the versatility of a truck with the footprint of a small SUV will appreciate the Santa Cruz.

The unibody Santa Cruz shares its architecture with the Hyundai Tucson but rides on a longer 118.3 inch wheelbase. Overall length is 195.7 inches. There’s 8.6 inches of ground clearance.

Santa Cruz is front-wheel drive with available all-wheel drive. It uses a multi-link rear suspension which is self-leveling.

Available trim levels are SE, SEL, SEL Activity, SEL Premium and Limited.

SE, SEL and SEL Activity trim levels have a 191-hp 2.5-L engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and are available in either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. EPA fuel economy ratings are 23 mpg combined with 21 city mpg and 27 highway mpg. Tow rating is 3,500 lb. for a braked trailer. 

SEL Premium and Limited trims come with a 281-hp turbocharged 2.5-L paired with an 8-speed wet dual-clutch transmission and are equipped only with AWD. EPA fuel economy ratings are 22 mpg combined with 19 city mpg and 27 highway mpg. Tow rating is 5,000 lb. for a braked trailer.

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The cargo bed is 52.1 inches long and 53.9 inches wide. With the tailgate open you have 74.8 inches of length. Total payload ranges from 1,520 to 1,753 lbs. depending on model. The bed has attachment points to secure cargo and a couple storage bins.

Santa Cruz offers excellent safety and convenience features, with an array of Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) safety technologies as part of the Hyundai SmartSense feature suite.

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The interior is rugged and yet refined. Ingress and egress is easy and the layout of switches and controls is ergonomically comfortable. The center stack display features an edgeless 10-inch infotainment screen. An optional center digital cluster display also measures 10 inches. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity as well as wireless device charging are provided. The 60/40 split rear seat flips up for convenient, in-cabin storage. An available Bose audio system delivers premium sound for music listening.

Santa Cruz pricing starts with the SE at $23,990. SEL is $27,190, SEL with Activity Package is $30,460, SEL Premium is $35,680, and Limited is $39,720. All-wheel drive is an additional $1,500 on SE, SEL, and SEL Activity models. In addition there’s the $1,185 destination charge.

My Chicago-suburbs drive came about through the Midwest Automotive Media Association Summer Drive program. I’m a member of MAMA, as it’s known, and I drove a Santa Cruz with the 281-hp engine and all-wheel drive. This powertrain combination delivers plenty of satisfying performance. The DCT combined with the turbo engine is nicely responsive. 

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I didn’t drive the lower output engine. If shopping for a Santa Cruz, drive both engines to be sure you get what is really needed to suit the load you would usually be carrying and the terrain in which you routinely drive.

The interior is well appointed and finished very much like Hyundai’s other utility vehicle in their lineup. The Santa Cruz is quiet, has good road manners and provides a comfortable ride. It drives very much like a compact utility vehicle.

The Santa Cruz is arriving at dealers now. More information and details on the new Santa Cruz can be found at 

Hyundai describes the typical Santa Cruz buyer as a tech-savvy single male in the age range of 35 to 45 years. I think we’ll see younger buyers, males and females alike, liken the Santa Cruz. The new Santa Cruz could just be the ute to have for those high school upperclass years.

Happy motoring, or should I say adventuring.

© 2021 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy