Pickup Review: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Ultimate AWD
Is it a truck? Is it a crossover? Perhaps it’s (more than) a bit of both
The spectre of a unibody pickup cuts deep into the psyche of most truck fans. After all, if there’s any segment of customer whose base is resistant to even a shred of change, it’s pickup owners. Witness the weeping and gnashing of teeth at even the most minor changes, like when Ram moved to an electronic dial for its gear selector. Coil springs? The lack of a body-on-frame design? Make no wonder Uncle Walt is reaching for the smelling salts.
But here’s the reality: a significant chunk of truck-shoppers are no longer what some might consider to be so-called “traditional” pickup buyers. Instead, they’re family units looking for something just a little bit different than the SUVs and crossovers that clog the school pickup lane and their condo’s underground parking lot. If there just so happens to be a versatile open bed in the aft section instead of an enclosed cargo area, that’s simply a bonus for some.
This assertion is backed up by the proliferation of crew cab trucks with four full doors, a phenomenon that’s relatively recent – roughly a couple of decades – in the grand scheme of things.
Americans can select a non-turbo front-driver which carries a base price well over $10,000 cheaper than the entry-level rig in our country. This decision by corporate suits places the least-expensive Santa Cruz at a heady $38,499 on this side of the border, which admittedly is a sum in line with a similarly-equipped (but hybrid-powered) Tucson.
That’s price and power, then — but what about practicality? One of the main knocks your truck-loving author ( and podcast host ) has against the Cruz’s Ridgeline rival isn’t its bed size – most people haul air, after all – nor its unibody construction, which serves to provide a comfy driving experience. No, it is Honda’s bloody single-minded approach to the spare tire, a unit which is stored in the truck’s in-bed covered cargo area.
Picture, if you will, a person using a truck like a truck (yes, that will take some mental calisthenics, but it does actually happen) with a load of furniture or gravel loaded into the open bed. Should the spare tire be needed, accessing this critical piece of equipment will be impossible, striking a blow against practicality. This may seem to be a trivial matter, but it speaks to the design considerations (or lack thereof) put into the vehicle and nullifies a good dose of the pickup’s practicality.
Fortunately, the Hyundai team was much wiser, managing to incorporate a large and expansive covered cargo area in the bed while also slinging the spare up in under the vehicle. In another improvement over the Honda, this Santa Cruz uses a pair of stout gas-charged struts to raise and lower the lid, eliminating a fussy latching system that has been giving some Ridgeline owners fits.
Going a step further, the tonneau cover of our test unit is integrated into Santa Cruz at the factory (in fact, the cover’s Dutch manufacturer set up a 7,000-sq-ft shop next door to the Hyundai plant for this express purpose), providing a neat and tidy roll-top cover that locks in place with the key fob and keeps your valuables from prying eyes. While this does put a knee squarely in the groin of aftermarket shops, it puts an exclamation point on the fact that many owners use their truck beds as a sedan-style trunk 99-and-a-bunch-more-9s per cent of the time.