Hyundai Santa Cruz Review 2023 | Top Gear
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Saturday 2nd December
Great to drive and plenty functional, the Santa Cruz makes a solid case for downsizing your pickup truck needs

Good stuff

Slick looks, punchy turbo engine, endlessly functional

Bad stuff

No hybrid option, base engine is pokey, gets expensive quick


What is it?

The Hyundai Santa Cruz is a genre-bending little trucklet, combining the efficient and easy-driving attributes of a compact crossover with the usefulness of a pickup. Just because you want a full-size truck doesn’t mean you need a full-size truck, and for a huge number of pickup buyers, the Santa Cruz is a right-sized and way more affordable solution.

Why does it look like a Hyundai Tucson?

Because it pretty much is a Hyundai Tucson. From the B-pillar forward, the Santa Cruz shares the majority of its design with Hyundai’s compact crossover, and the bulk of the interior is shared between these two platform-mates, as well. Love the way the triangle-tastic Tucson looks? Cool, you’ll dig the Santa Cruz. Besides, what other pickup truck has this kind of front-end LED square footage?

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What are the engine options?

The base powertrain is a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated inline-4 with 191hp and 181lb ft of torque. This engine is, in a word, anemic. It’s slow and stodgy, and you really have to rev the bejesus out of it – especially when accelerating onto the freeway. At least the accompanying eight-speed automatic transmission is buttery smooth.

On the other hand, the uplevel 2.5-liter turbo I4 is much better suited to the Santa Cruz. With 281hp and 311lb ft, there’s way more usable power – both off the line and while punching it at speed – and the 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox offers swift, smooth shifts. This setup is really lovely, and will be appreciated should you be hauling a load or utilizing the truck’s 5,000-pound max tow rating.

Wait, no hybrid?

Nope, nada. Which is weird, since Hyundai offers the Tucson with both regular hybrid and plug-in hybrid options. Could these powertrains fit in the Santa Cruz? Probably. But until Santa Cruzes start flying off of dealer lots like hotcakes, it doesn’t make sense for Hyundai to increase build complexity. Then again, Ford can barely keep up with demand for the hybrid engine in its similarly sized Maverick pickup. Hmm.

Can the Santa Cruz do tough guy truck stuff?

Yeah, sort of. Keep in mind, this isn’t a traditional truck with body-on-frame construction, so if serious towing and hauling are your priorities, you’ll need something much more robust.

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That’s not to say the Santa Cruz can’t handle some big jobs, though. The truck can transport 1,411 pounds of payload in its bed, and with the turbo engine and all-wheel drive, the Santa Cruz can pull 5,000 pounds. What’s more, the bed has a sliding tonneau cover making it easier to cover and carry items without the risk of them getting damaged (or stolen), and you can option all sorts of bed organizers. Versatility for the win.

Will the Santa Cruz off-road?

Again, sort of. All Santa Cruz variants have 8.6 inches of ground clearance, which isn’t bad, but you can’t spec all-terrain tires or any sort of adaptive off-road drive modes. Even the midrange XRT trim, which looks all butch and rugged, is all show and no go. You get side steps, wider wheel arches, and some extra door trim, but that’s it. If you really want to take a Santa Cruz off-roading, you’d better spend some bucks at a proper upfitter first.

How much does this lil' guy cost?

You’ll need at least $27,985 to get into a base Santa Cruz, including a $1,335 destination charge. Going for all-wheel drive costs $29,485, and if you want the turbo engine (you do), that costs a whole lot more: $39,545. The most expensive Santa Cruz Limited comes in at $42,405. Not horrible, all things considered.

Does the Santa Cruz have any competitors?

Just one, really: the Ford Maverick. The Maverick’s biggest advantage is that it’s a lot less expensive to start, priced below $25,000. It also offers a super efficient and super smooth hybrid engine option, though this can only be paired with front-wheel drive. The Maverick doesn’t have as many fancy flourishes or interior technologies, but fully loaded, it doesn’t even come close to touching $40,000. Just saying.

What's the verdict?

Great to drive and plenty functional, the Santa Cruz makes a solid case for downsizing your pickup truck needs

The Hyundai Santa Cruz is the perfect pickup for people who don’t need the immense capabilities of a lumbering, cumbersome full-size truck. The Santa Cruz is great to drive, wonderfully appointed, plenty functional, and looks great, too.

Plus, it’s priced to compete, undercutting the bottom ends of more traditional midsize trucks. Starting below $30,000, the Santa Cruz is extremely affordable. However, the best versions of this truck cost a lot more, so if you can afford to spend big, you’ll get a much nicer pickup – one you’d love to live with over the long haul.

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