Driving by the local Hyundai dealer’s empty lot this afternoon I spied an unfamiliar shape parked out front, ooh, one of the new Santa Cruz pickups! This highly anticipated small pickup is finally starting to roll out to the public and apparently has beaten the Ford Maverick to market. While Maverick was pretty cool in Top Gun, I have to say Val Kilmer as Iceman came across as a bit tougher there so let’s see what this coincidentally Ice White example in the SEL trim level has to offer on the surface and roughly compare it to the Maverick.
The front view is pretty much that of the Hyundai Tucson, which the Santa Cruz borrows heavily from mechanically as well. Assembly is at the same factory in Alabama whereas the Ford is built in Mexico on a joint line with the Escape and Bronco Sport. Hyundai has been doing some innovative things with their front ends as regards lighting lately and I rather like the look, it’s different enough to stand out without being completely over the top. It’ll also provide a significant contrast to the more traditional front end and overall styling of the Maverick.
The DRLs and the turn signals are integrated into the grille. Having seen a Tucson at dusk, it is very distinctive and modern. I believe the actual headlights are the ones lower nearer the corners, at least they shouldn’t blind oncomers from there. The big advantage for other road users of these smaller trucks is that they are unibody and as such the suspension doesn’t really allow for full Bro-truck lifts and the resulting blinding headlight heights.
The Santa Cruz is available in four trim levels – SE, SEL, SEL Premium, and Limited. This one can be identified as a regular SEL without a lot of options due to having turn signal repeaters in the side mirrors but still having unpainted door handles. The base price of the SE is $23,990 plus a mandatory $1,185 destination fee for a total of $25,175. The pictured SEL with the addition of the $1,500 AWD option would be $29,875 including destination.
In contrast, Ford has made a huge deal about the under $20k starting price of the Maverick. Of course the required destination charge is $1,495 for a real starting total of $21,490. Still impressive but the scuttlebutt is that Ford will apparently make very few of these entry level hybrid engined value leaders available and is apparently concentrating on higher spec 4×4 turbocharged models with commensurately higher price points. Seeing this relatively lower spec Santa Cruz made me happy, Hyundai doesn’t seem to be just concentrating on higher profit models. Even this particular one at just under $30k will have automatic headlights, auto highbeams, heated mirrors, tinted windows, remote release tailgate, proximity key with push button start, storage compartments in the bed sides as well as a large lockable under bed trunk, power driver seat with power lumbar, the 8″ touchscreen, wireless AndroidAuto and Apple CarPlay, Satellite radio, Hyundai’s BlueLink, remote start, and a plethora of other stuff standard with a few other things as options. $30k is not a lot of money anymore, but it can still go a long way in the new car market if making measured choices.
This Santa Cruz features H-Trac, Hyundai’s optional AWD system. Otherwise FWD as in the regular Tucson, it’s basically a slip and grip type of system and likely just fine for inclement weather, snow, and light off-roading. It’d probably do just fine crossing the western deserts from Tonopah, NV, to Alvord Lake, OR should one of us so desire one day. The additional cost for this system as mentioned is $1,500, likely well worth it. Engine-wise there are two engines available on the Tucson, this one has the standard 2.5liter 4cylinder producing 191hp and 181lb-ft of torque. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic.
The other engine that is available on the two upper trim levels is much more powerful at 281hp and 311lb-ft paired with a dual clutch 8-speed setup (different than the other 8-speed). Note that the Tucson is available as a hybrid so there is no reason that the SC couldn’t be so as well in the future, likely Hyundai will be watching Ford closely in this regard. 21mpg City, 27Highway, and 23Average are the published EPA fuel economy numbers for this particular AWD SEL version, well below that of a hybrid engine but better than most other pickup trucks. Then again, the Ford will for whatever reasons not be available with the hybrid and AWD in the same truck so if a customer feels they need AWD, then the hybrid is out of the running anyway and the absolute base price for the cheapest Maverick with AWD and Destination would be $24,795 compared to the cheapest Santa Fe AWD and Destination at $26,675. The killer app would seem to be for Hyundai to offer the AWD Hybrid setup from the Tucson which there starts at right around $30k.
But check out that back end! I think the lights on the tailgate are a mistake, they seem very vulnerable there. I tried to open it but it’s tied in to the the regular door locks. The bumper has many areas to step on and the whole thing is not particularly high off the ground, at least not as compared to most other trucks these days.
Hyundai has no compunctions about seeing a great idea on other trucks (GMs in this case) and using it themselves, namely the corner step cutout. I’ve long found this a great solution but since it wasn’t invented at the two other Detroit truck maker’s offices, it’s not available on their trucks. But the bumper also has two other height levels of step areas, both above and below this one. If you can’t get up there, there’s no hope for you. It’s rated to tow 3,500 pounds with the standard engine, and 5,000 with the higher spec one. That’s plenty of mulch.
For all the hubbub about how the Maverick is supposedly a “small” truck”, it’s only 10.8″ shorter than the current Ranger, i.e. not really small at all. The Santa Cruz is actually smaller, with a length that is four inches shorter than the Ford. It doesn’t come across as any kind of “mini”-truck though. A Hyundai Tucson isn’t Hyundai’s smallest CUV either anymore and the SC is 14″ longer than it. It fits in well with normal sized vehicles. Parked to the left from this view of it is a Hyundai Kona and to the right a previous generation Tucson, the current one is half a foot longer.
However the Maverick’s bed is a couple of inches longer, the Hyundai’s is about 4.3 feet long, measured at the base. Note how the top of the bed at the front angles back a bit, that takes a few inches out of it at that level. Supposedly a motorcycle will fit if the tailgate is lowered. Bicycles should fit if the wheel is draped over the tailgate as one does these days. Many other things will fit. Some things will not. No matter the truck, there’s always a bigger load available somewhere to dwarf it.
This is a fairly basic truck, there are various bed accessories sold and or equipped in other trim levels such as lighting, hard tonneau covers, tie-downs and all the other stuff. It’s made of a sheet-molded compound similar to the Honda Ridgeline’s, rust and wear should be non-issues. And the bed isn’t long enough for some moron foreman at the jobsite to drop a pallet of cinderblocks in it from eight feet in the air so there’s an advantage!
Standard 18″alloys come equipped with very highway oriented rubber. That’s likely a wise choice as most of these will never see any real off-road action. The payoff however will be noticed by the driver with the Santa Cruz likely driving and handling much like a Tucson, i.e. more like a regular car or CUV than any of the body on frame mid-size trucks.
Even at this fairly low-spec trim level it still seems to have cloth seats that are heated (buttons just ahead of the armrest) and a large touch screen. All trims except the top get a couple of knobs (actually thumbwheels) for volume and tuning. The HVAC is manual here. Hyundai’s interior design and plastic/material quality has become quite good in the last few years and this seems to continue in that vein. Take note that the front seat looks quite far back here, someone with a much larger inseam than me seems to have been in it.
Which might be why the back seat legroom looks meager. I think with a more normal sized person in front (such as me at 6’1″ and 32″inseam) this would be much better. But it’ll never be full-size crew cab sized.
The view through the back window gives a better idea of the center console. Pockets in the front seatbacks are handy, but air vents in the back of the console would be more welcome if given a choice. This one doesn’t have a sunroof but that’s available as well.
That California magic likely still helps sell stuff. Hyundai should really push both that and the fact that it’s actually built in the United States. Combined with the warranty that is being offered it’s pretty clear that Hyundai is an industry leader these days.
While I myself constantly debate trading my older truck in for a new one, I actually make very frequent use of the 6.5″ long bed on mine. So for now this and the Maverick would likely frustrate me. However if I ever stopped fixing up houses and/or moved to a house with less yardage to deal with I’d be extremely interested in something of this size. One trick they missed is the removable mid-gate that the Subaru Baja had (along with the larger Avalanche) in the bulkhead, in the Subaru it really made it convenient/possible to load longer items. The Santa Cruz offers an optional opening rear window (not on this truck) so perhaps that’s the way to get longer (and skinny) items in.
In fact, I can easily see Toyota, Honda, and anyone else with a CUV that’s built in North America simply adding an open bed version to the mix and joining the fray. It wouldn’t take much to add it to the assembly line, and a RAV4 Ute or CR-VU or Equin-Ute or even a new Cherokee based Comanche would possibly add volume without stealing much if any of the mid-size or full-size thunder. If nothing else, a CUV based truck has to be considered more macho than a CUV full stop if that’s what’s possibly keeping some of the gents out of the showrooms.
I’ve heard opinions that the Maverick will end up being the bargain and the Santa Cruz will be positioned more premium, however I don’t really see it that way. My opinion so far is that the Maverick will end up being a fairly pricey proposition when equipped as people tend to want vehicles (most people don’t want to emulate the NAPA delivery driver or the Orkin man) and the Hyundai seems very well equipped even at its lower trim levels, I think there will be far more cross-shopping going on than perhaps anticipated. But even if I’m wrong, it is always exciting to see a new segment develop, both will likely sell quite well.
While I initially thought that the Santa Cruz would remind me more of the Subaru Baja, it really didn’t although the size is somewhat similar. It doesn’t look as odd as the Baja did and kind of still does, and far more of a piece. How will it compare to the Maverick? We shall see, as of yet I have not seen one of those in the flesh.