Hyundai's new Santa Cruz is the first pickup in its product lineup. Based on the Tucson compact SUV, the Santa Cruz is a light-duty pickup that fits into a typical suburban garage. Hyundai sells the Santa Cruz in trim levels ranging from the base SE ($23,990) to the Limited ($39,720). The midlevel SEL ($27,190) and SEL Premium ($35,680) are expected to be the most popular models. Both front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive powertrains are available. Standard active safety technologies include forward collision assist, lane keeping assist, and driver attention warning.
An all-aluminum 2.5L inline-4 in normally-aspirated or turbocharged configuration powers the Santa Cruz. The non-turbo 2.5L cranks out 191 hp @ 6,100 RPM and 181 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 RPM. Stepping up to the turbo boosts power to 281-hp @ 5,800 RPM while torque rises to 311 lb.-ft. @ 1,700-4,000 RPM. Only the SEL Premium and Limited are equipped with the 2.5L turbo. An 8-speed torque converter automatic is mated to the non-turbo 2.5L, but the 2.5L turbo is coupled to an 8-speed DCT (dual-clutch transmission). Hyundai's available HTRAC AWD system automatically distributes torque to the front and rear axles depending on the selected mode and driving conditions. EPA fuel consumption is similar regardless of powertrain: 21/26 MPG (2.5L/FWD) to 19/27 (2.5L turbo/AWD).
Since the Santa Cruz is based on the same platform as the Tucson, it shares a MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link rear setup with coil springs and self-leveling rear dampers. Brakes are all disc: 12.8 in. dia. rotors (front and rear). Two tire options are available: 245/60R18 or 245/50R20 (SEL Premium and Limited only), both mounted on alloy wheels. The motor-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system is geared for 2.62 turns lock-to-lock. Curb weight ranges from 3,704 lbs. (SE/FWD) to 4,057 lbs. (Limited/AWD). Payload is comparable to midsize pickups: 1,521 lbs. to 1,753 lbs. Towing capacity is rated at 3,500 lbs. (FWD) or 5,000 lbs. (AWD) when equipped with the trailer package and trailer brakes.
During the press preview we had the option of driving to Lansing, MI through backroads or taking a more direct route via I-96. We opted to take the highway to evaluate the Santa Cruz as a road trip vehicle. Hyundai's chassis engineers tuned the suspension to deliver a compliant, controlled ride on the interstate; cruising at 80 MPH, minimal steering corrections are needed to maintain course. Around town, patched roads occasionally overwhelm the dampers (shock absorbers), resulting in a bouncy ride. On winding roads, the soft spring tuning results in moderate body roll and mild understeer. Torque steer in essentially non-existent as the HTRAC AWD system automatically directs torque to the rear wheels under acceleration.
Hyundai's 2.5L turbo delivers throttle response comparable to a normally-aspirated V-6 above 2,000 RPM, but even off-boost torque is acceptable. At highway cruising speeds, the transmission programming is optimized for maximum fuel efficiency, but the DCT can execute quick shifts via the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
The Santa Cruz is the first entrant in a resurgent compact truck segment. Competition from the new Ford Maverick and others are sure to follow. From a value perspective, the base Santa Cruz SE and the midlevel SEL are appealing for hardware store hauling and outdoor activities. At nearly $40K, the Limited is difficult to recommend against more capable midsize pickups from American and Japanese brands.