The all-new 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz sport pickup truck appears to be a hit of the biggest kind. It nabbed the #1 spot for the fastest-selling vehicle, and that's a huge deal since everything is selling off dealer lots like hotcakes after a famine due to the fact that the microchip shortage is still very real. We were fortunate enough to get some seat time in this new sporty pickup.
This is clear evidence that unibody (car-like) pickup trucks sell, and they can eclipse even the tried and true body-on-frame pickup trucks that are more rugged than their unibody counterparts. Has Hyundai found some magic formula here, something that the much slower selling (and also unibody) Honda Ridgeline has failed to do? Our experience in the Santa Cruz Limited provided all the proof we needed as to why.
What Makes the Santa Cruz so appealing?
So, why does the Santa Cruz take only an average of 8 days to sell from dealer lots? That means they only sit there for a week or so after being delivered. That's lightning-fast, and inventory can't keep up with demand (impressive, especially in light of the fact that the next fastest-selling vehicle is the exotic Chevrolet Corvette Stingray). We believe the Santa Cruz is really the kind of pickup truck most people should buy given the fact that it's stylish, makes owners look properly sporty and outdoorsy (yes, this is a thing), and it gets good fuel economy compared to bigger trucks.
We loved its angles and creases, and we think it actually looks better than the bulkier and less sporty looking concept. In Limited trim, it gets a fancy blackened and mirror-finish grille and grille trim, upsized wheels, and black roof rails. The darkened treatment give it a premium (and more aggressive look) that turns heads wherever it goes.
It has an interior like no other truck we've seen. It comes straight over from the new Hyundai Tucson crossover, and that's a good thing. The dash is lean and vents are linear and streamlined. The unique steering wheel hub shape has great thumb cutouts you're used to seeing on sporty cars. It's more like a fancy sedan than a truck on the inside, but it retains key ergonomics like a traditional shift knob and good center console storage. The steering wheel buttons are also excellent.
Both the digital instrument cluster on the Limited trim and the large center touchscreen give it a more upscale look, too. The clean layout makes it look more like a sports car inside than a truck. We can almost forgive the touch audio and climate control buttons because the center stack is so clean and unobtrusive. We think the physical buttons found in the 7-passenger Hyundai Palisade would've worked better here, but we're kind of old school in that regard. We're just not big fans of the touch controls beneath the screen.
Important Features That Set It Apart
We mentioned the digital instrument cluster, which might not seem like an important feature, but it sets the Santa Cruz apart from other trucks at this price, even the body-on-frame light-duty trucks like the Chevy Colorado and the Ford Ranger. Not only does it look great, but it also changes based on the driving mode, and all the relevant information is in one place. The screen doesn't even have a shroud to protect it from bright sunlight, and it didn't even need it. Visibility was excellent.
It doesn't seem to matter that the Santa Cruz's bed is short (4 feet, compared to the Ridgeline's 5.4 feet). Most buyers probably won't use it to haul a lot of stuff. The good thing is that you can use it like a really large trunk since it comes standard with a retractable and locking bed cover. This is another great way the Santa Cruz sets itself apart from its competitors. There's a great pull strap and an easy actuating handle for the bed cover. The corner bed steps make loading and unloading much easier, too.
Finally, the Santa Cruz with the more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine is quite good to drive. There's ample power from the 281-horsepower, 2.5-liter turbo engine. The standard H-TRAC all-wheel drive system comes with the Limited trim, and it provides sure-footedness when you need it. Even the way the Santa Cruz steers provides plenty of driving enjoyment you don't typically find on pickup trucks.
We think Hyundai has a hit on its hands, and it's obvious from the sales figures. Who says a pickup truck has to be body-on-frame to be truly great. Sure, it's unlikely you'll see construction workers or contractors driving it to the job site, but outdoorsy city dwellers will flock to it. It's a great member of a niche segment, and we're guessing the Santa Cruz will only grow in popularity.