We spotted a camouflaged 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz crossover-based pickup on a trailer in the middle of the SoCal desert, possibly en route to Death Valley for some real life testing in hotter-than-hot conditions. After all, we saw a temperature of 110 degrees at the location we saw the truck, suitable to give any vehicle a healthy workout.
Hyundai, recognizing the need to increase its presence in the truck and SUV market, hopes the compact unibody pickup will do the trick. Is it even a truck? To the disappointment of diehard body-on-frame truck enthusiasts, the 2022 Santa Cruz is going to be a unibody, crossover-type truck reportedly built on the compact SUV Hyundai Tucson’s platform. It’ll most resemble the Honda Ridgeline, but smaller, perhaps making it better suited for city duty. Its traditional pickup-truck competition—if you could even manage to put the Santa Cruz in the smallest of current truck categories, the midsize—would be the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, GMC Canyon, Chevy Colorado, Nissan Frontier, Jeep Gladiator, and aforementioned Ridgeline. A more direct competitor is on the way in the form of Ford’s Maverick, and Ram plans to enter one of the two segments with its reborn Dakota.
However, the Hyundai Santa Cruz is not targeting truck people. It’s hoping to appeal to the young, active lifestyle crowd and urban adventurers who need a vehicle with a bed to haul gear and stuff that’s too dirty, stinky, and/or big for inside the cab. These buyers won’t need or want the expense, capability, max towing, payload, ground clearance, physical presence, and truck-like ride quality of a regular pickup. In that sense, it will be a relatively economical, compact runabout that combines the utility of a small bed with carlike ride quality.
And unlike a traditional truck, it’ll be front-wheel drive, with all-wheel-drive probably optional. It would be cool to see a diesel option, but more likely power will come from some sort of turbocharged four-cylinder gas powerplant.
The clandestine four-door Hyundai Santa Cruz that we spotted seems spot-on with the naked body revealed in a leaked image a few months ago. Although much of the body was clad so that the body lines couldn’t be seen, all of the glass was exposed—and the shape of the side-window glass and trim all line up with the leaked image. The windshield has an aggressive carlike rake, creating a sleeker, narrower, more rectangular cab in line with those of today’s pickup trucks as opposed to the more upright windshield and squarer, taller cabs of yesterday’s trucks. Although we can’t tell much because of all the coverings, the silhouette of the front end seemingly reveals an SUV-like front end with a flat hood. The hood looks to have a small cant at the front that leads to a blunt fascia; it presumably can’t be more polarizing than the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado, however.
Instead of having more traditional, clearly delineated “cab” and “bed” sections (think new Honda Ridgeline), the Santa Cruz has an angled, chunky C-pillar with paneling that connects the roof to the bed, more resembling an SUV with the back part of the roof removed (think of the first-generation Ridgeline). The camo completely concealed the bed and tailgate area, keeping us from really examining the one area—the bed—that gives the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz any excuse to remotely be considered a truck. We don’t yet know for sure if the short bed will be equipped with a standard or optional extender, although such an accessory, as well as items like tonneau covers, will surely be available to allow lifestyle types to customize the small pickup.
At one time, word was Hyundai planned to sell 50,000 to 70,000 Santa Cruzes a year. It remains to be seen if those targets hold, or if they’re even attainable, but with a reasonable price point, potentially attractive fuel economy, modern convenience and safety tech, a good warranty, and truckish utility in a car-based package, it just may have a shot. As for now, we wait for the Santa Cruz to shed the camouflage and show us what it’s made of.