Wow! What happens when a company with no truck heritage makes a truck? They come up with something mould-breaking, something different from what the incumbents are pushing, something cool. This is the new Hyundai Santa Cruz and it’s all of the above. Let’s take a closer look at this “Sport Adventure Vehicle”.

The “Hyundai truck” has been in the making for years now, so the Santa Cruz is far from a surprise. It’s finally out, made in America for Americans, for now. Hyundai says that the 2022 Santa Cruz breaks new ground within the SUV, truck and crossover segments (note the naming of all three popular segments) by offering a SAV unlike anything else in the US market. More for California millennials than the Rust Belt states.

The original Honda Ridgeline is the closest in concept to the Santa Cruz, but it’s tough to be different. Honda bowed to market pressure and the second-generation Ridgeline debut in 2016 with very safe design. It has since been facelifted to look even more square and butch. That’s… every truck in the market.

The Santa Cruz is actually a faithful reproduction of the Santa Cruz Crossover Truck concept from 2015, although it doesn’t seem so at first glance because the concept wore Hyundai’s hexagonal face of that era, and the production truck has the new Tucson SUV’s bold face, where LED daytime running lights are hidden within the full-width grille. The concept had just two doors, but the overall design and proportions remain.

The Santa Cruz looks like no other truck thanks to the rake on the A- and C-pillars – the latter especially stands out because trucks typically have a vertical border between cab and bed. The faster pillars are matched with large 20-inch alloys and armour-like wheel arches (18-inch wheels with thicker tyres are available). The Tucson’s rather extreme creases on the profile aren’t here, but there’s still good side volume, which contrasts with triangular surfaces and tight radius character lines.

At the back, you’ll find horizontal “T” lighting signatures that go deep into the tailgate. The open bed area features a lockable in-bed storage, integrated corner bumper steps and a lockable tonneau cover. All of these blend rather seamlessly into the overall design.

The tail lamps are embossed with “Designed in California” as a reference to Hyundai’s California-based design team. Small, discrete design details such as this can be found throughout the exterior and interior – you can play spot the Santa Cruz icon in the gallery below.

How compact is this truck? With no visual goalpost provided, let’s bring out the tape. The Santa Cruz measures 4,971 mm long and 1,905 mm wide, which is shorter than the Toyota Tacoma, Honda Ridgeline and Nissan Frontier. Width is in the ballpark, but the Hyundai doesn’t stand as tall as those midsize pick-up trucks.

The Hyundai’s bed is intentionally shorter and less capacious than a regular truck’s, which means our ASEAN one-tonne trucks like the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux are longer. See the table below for exact figures in inches.

Click to enlarge table

However, the Santa Cruz is larger than the typical midsize SUV. Compared to the new Tucson – which is sold in the US in LWB form – the unibody truck is 341 mm longer and 41 mm wider, while its 3,005 mm wheelbase is 249 mm longer than the 2022 Tucson, which it shares a platform with. The new Tucson has a larger footprint than the third-generation TL we’re familiar with, by the way. The smallest truck in America is also the easiest to manoeuvre and park, with a curb-to-curb turning radius of only six metres.

Hyundai’s truck comes with two 2.5 litre engine options, both paired with eight-speed automatic transmissions. The standard engine is a direct-injection naturally aspirated four-pot with an estimated 190+ hp and over 245 Nm of torque. This NA engine is paired with a conventional torque converter gearbox. There’s also a turbo option (estimated 275+ hp, over 420 Nm) with a dual-clutch gearbox and steering shift paddles.

Both NA and turbo 2.5L engines offer HTRAC all-wheel drive. The AWD is a multi-mode system, providing an electronic, variable-torque-split clutch with active torque control between the front and rear axles. The Sport setting gives a more agile feel by sending more torque to the rear wheels. Towing capacity is surprisingly strong for the Santa Cruz’s size – the Turbo AWD can pull 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg), which some have pointed out is more than the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon.

As a go-anywhere SUV with a bed, of course the Santa Cruz comes with all the safety and convenience features that one expects. Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (AEB) with Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, Lane Keeping Assist and Driver Attention Warning are standard.

Top models will get the full Hyundai SmartSense suite that will add on Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist, Safe Exit Assist, Blind-spot View Monitor, Highway Drive Assist, Surround View Monitor and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist.

As for kit, the Santa Cruz comes with a standard 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with available wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Also available are a Qi wireless charger, Digital Key (lock/unlock car, panic alert, start engine with an Android app), navigation with split-screen, remote engine start with seat heating/ventilation and profile selection, and eight-speaker Bose sound system. Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car service is available too.

A note on the cabin. Strangely, Hyundai’s official images pack did not include pics of the dashboard, but we took some screenshots from the official reveal video, attached below. Looks like the Santa Cruz carries over the new Tucson’s stylish dual-cockpit design, but with the SUV’s gear selector buttons swapped for a traditional gear lever, which is fitting for a truck.

What do you think of the Santa Cruz? It’s not everyday that someone breaks the mould and goes its own way. Doing so is risky, but here’s hoping that fortune favours this brave move. I love it.