Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Wed, 01/19/2022 - 4:30pm

Hyundai has done something clever here, and it makes me wonder why these things are still so rare—namely, SUV-based pickups. This is a Tucson, a Hyundai two-row crossover sport-ute, with the rear portion of its roof cut away to expose a 52-inch truck bed with a sliding cover, a tailgate and steps molded into the bumper. Presto, the 2022 Santa Cruz!

We older folks say, “Oh, like the El Camino!” and our kids say, “Oh, like the Honda Ridgeline!” Not wishing to be lumped in with its competitors’ SUVs and SAVs, Hyundai calls the Santa Cruz an SAT, a Sport Adventure Truck. We may now have run out of nomenclature.

Whatever we call them, the hard-core will scoff and point out that none of them has an underbody frame for a snowplow or a heavy-duty trailer hitch, so it can’t be a real truck. The rest of us don’t care — we get space for tall or outdoorsy cargo, without the hard ride and compromised handling of a “real” truck.

However, the Santa Cruz can still tow a respectable load — up to 5,000 pounds, at least with the upgrade engine, a 2.5-liter turbo Four rated at 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet. (The standard engine makes only 191 horses and 181 torques.) The Santa Cruz also has downhill braking control and self-leveling rear shock absorbers, and the turbo Four models get a genuine dual-clutch, 8-speed automatic gearbox with shift paddles and selectable drive modes.

Santa Cruz buyers also get four bona-fide seats in the cabin and all the amenities and comforts we’re now used to in mid-range SUVs, including all of today’s interactive safety features. I’m no fan of lane-departure alerts and lane-keeping assistance, but rear cross-traffic alerts and blind-spot monitors (and emergency braking) are worth their weight in gold, or at least crumpled sheet metal. The Santa Cruz also has an extra safety feature that’s especially useful: click the turn indicators and the view along that side of the vehicle appears in the driver’s instrument panel.

Hyundai offers four Santa Cruz trim levels — SE, SEL, Premium and Limited—at starting prices from $24,140 to $39,870. The SE and SEL are available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive and have conventional 8-speed automatic transmissions; the two top levels are AWD-only and get the more powerful engine and the dual-clutch gearboxes. How long before Kia — or Toyota or Audi — offers something similar?

Silvio Calabi has been reviewing cars since Ronald Reagan removed the solar panels from the White House. He lives in Camden.