The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz projects a familiar kind of different. The compact pickup truck is less like the 2022 Ford Maverick and more like a modern interpretation of the Subaru Baja from 20 years ago. Its daring design and impressive execution earn it a finalist spot for our Best Car To Buy 2022, alongside the Maverick. 

Based on the Hyundai Tucson compact crossover, the Santa Cruz combines the utility of a pickup truck with the quality of a crossover. The first Hyundai vehicle designed solely for the North American market, the Santa Cruz shares a face with the redesigned Tucson, yet the black cladding running down the body and over the wheel arches evoke a Subaru Outback. At the rear, hatchet-shaped taillights frame a pronounced tailgate that sits over integrated bumper steps, like those in a Chevy Colorado. Yet it’s much smaller. 

It’s 4.0 inches shorter, rides 2.0 inches lower, and is nearly 3.0 inches narrower than the Ford Maverick, which itself is smaller than the Ford Ranger. Inside, the Santa Cruz fits four adults in comfort, with plenty of head and shoulder room, as well as a crossover-like 36.5 inches of rear leg room. The 60/40-split rear seats lean back so they’re as comfy as a crossover, or they flip up for storage.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Most of the short(er)coming is in the bed, which measures out to 48.4 inches at the top, and wider at the bottom. Sure, sheets of plywood will fit over the wheel wells with straps. But the Santa Cruz is made more for the weekend adventurer than the workaday class of pickups. Four mountain bikes can fit in back with the front axles draped over the tailgate, which can hold 400 lb when folded down. A built-in tonneau cover and hidden bed storage with a drain plug offer a different level of security and utility than a crossover. With short overhangs and a Subaru-like 8.6 inches of ground clearance, the Santa Cruz can handle the rutted access trail and other modest off-roading. 

All-wheel drive is available with either the base 190-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 or the recommended 2.5-liter turbo-4. It makes 275 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, and the turbo surges effortlessly through traffic and tackles corners flat, with smooth shifts from the 8-speed automatic. When cruising on the highway, torque goes to the front wheels for efficiency and the MacPherson front struts and multilink rear suspension soak up the road and make for lean handling despite its crossover height. The only sense of its pickup truck elements is looking through rear-sliding window to the bed. The turbo-4 only gets 22 mpg combined, but it can tow up to 5,000 lb with AWD.  

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz earned a TCC Rating of 6.7 out of 10 not just because it’s different, but because it’s good. Find out if it’s good enough to win our Best Car To Buy award on January 3, 2022.  

Follow along as we crown The Car Connection Best Car To Buy 2022 on Jan. 3, and reveal the best vehicles in 15 categories to help you choose the best cars, trucks, and SUVs. Vote for our annual Driver’s Choice awards and tell us what you think is best in every category. We’ll also announce the winners from our sister sites, Motor Authority and Green Car Reports. 

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