Feast your eyes on this incredibly cool not-quite-SUV, not-quite-pickup truck. What you’re looking at is a barely shrouded image of the new 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz ahead of its April 15 debut, and Hyundai is adamant its new car-based small-to-midsize truck will be a bold, segment-shattering automobile.
The unibody Santa Cruz might be more segment-bending, as going along with Hyundai’s hyperbole requires forgetting the Honda Ridgeline, which has owned the unibody truck segment for the last 15 years now, as well as the Subaru BRAT that kicked off the car-pickup format here in the U.S. decades ago. But Hyundai is so certain the Santa Cruz is one-of-a-kind that the company has literally said it creates an entirely new category of car. Translated, we take that to mean it’s basically a Ridgeline, only slightly smaller, and one that might beat the programatically similar (also car-based) Ford Maverick compact pickup to market.
Setting aside any wisps of unoriginality, Hyundai’s trucklet looks like an interesting proposition to new car shoppers who have perhaps want a truck—instead of the SUVs they see littering American roads and parking lots—but can’t swing a larger, pricier mid-to-full-size pickup. These would-be SUV buyers may be lured away by the Santa Cruz’s more adventurous appearance as much as its more utilitarian cargo bed and cargo hauling capabilities.
But because the Santa Cruz will be based on a modified version of the unibody chassis that underpins the new Hyundai Tucson—and based on the teaser image above, will look something like its uniquely styled SUV counterpart—it shouldn’t come with the normal pickup-truck compromises in ride and handling. Loaded or not, the Santa Cruz should ride more comfortably than a typical body-on-frame, live-rear-axle truck, as does the Ridgeline, thanks to what we expect will be a fully independent suspension. Of course, this setup shifts the compromises elsewhere: Don’t expect the Hyundai’s towing and payload capacities to come anywhere near those of a regular mid-size pickup.
Power will likely come from the new Sonata sedan’s 2.5-liter turbocharged I-4 engine. The Sonata can be had with up to 290 horsepower (in N-Line guise), but we think the Santa Cruz will make do with a power output that’s slightly less than that. A non-turbo engine may be installed on lower-spec models.
We’re also starting to get hints of just what Hyundai might bring to the Santa Cruz. One such hint mentions a “multi-utility … flexible open bed for gear.” We won’t know what exactly that entails until Hyundai pulls the silk on the unibody truck, but we do think these teasers give us a great idea of what to expect, at least, on the outside.