2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Consumer Reviews
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2022
The Car Connection
2022
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz Senior Editor
July 8, 2022

Buying tip

The Santa Cruz works best with the available turbo engine, especially if you’re planning to add all-wheel drive anyway.

The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz is a well thought-out small pickup for those on the fence about just how much utility they really need.

What kind of vehicle is the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz? What does it compare to?

Somewhere between pickup-truck utility and family SUV comfort, the Hyundai Santa Cruz does its best to fill lots of needs. It squares off against the Ford Maverick and Honda Ridgeline, and some shoppers might compare it to smaller pickups such as the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. 

Is the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz a good SUV?

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While neither particularly practical nor particularly comfortable, the Santa Cruz occupies an appealing middle ground. It scores a 6.3 out of 10 on the TCC scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What's new for the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz?

After debuting last year, the Santa Cruz carries over into 2023 unchanged. 

The Santa Cruz wears front-end and interior styling similar to the Hyundai Tucson, but it’s much longer and it features a four-foot-long open bed behind a five-seat passenger compartment. 

Base models use a 2.5-liter inline-4 rated at 191 hp, while a 2.5-liter turbo-4 that puts out a heftier 281 hp is optional. Depending on the trim and drive wheels, the Santa Cruz can lug as much as 5,000 lb. All models use automatic transmissions, and unlike the cheaper Ford Maverick, there’s no ultra-frugal hybrid version. As a result, fuel economy is so-so at 22 to 23 mpg combined depending on what’s underhood. 

Inside, the Santa Cruz has a reasonably spacious cabin with good room for four or even five adults. Its modern design includes a big touchscreen with standard wireless smartphone mirroring.

Standard safety tech includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and active lane control, while blind-spot monitors and cameras, as well as a surround-view camera system are optional.

How much does the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz cost?

The Santa Cruz lineup starts a little over $25,000 but can top out at around $41,000 with every option box ticked.

That’s a broad range, so we suggest sticking with one of the mid-level SEL versions. With all-wheel drive and the turbo engine, the SEL Premium is fairly lavish for around $37,500. 

Where is the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz made?

In Montgomery, Alabama. 

7

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Styling

Though busy in its details, the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz is a striking small pickup.

Is the Hyundai Santa Cruz a good-looking car?

If a pickup can be sexy, the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz nails it. Its ruggedized Tucson face and ute-style bed may seem at odds with one another, but overall the package works well enough for a 7 out of 10 on our scale. 

The 2023 Santa Cruz stretches a huge 196 inches long, making it not that much smaller than truck-based mid-size pickups in crew-cab form. Compared to the likes of the Nissan Frontier and Ford Ranger, though, the Santa Cruz looks positively muscular and sporty with its low stance and flared fenders. Standard 18-inch alloy wheels can grow to 20-inchers in higher trims. 

Inside, the Santa Cruz plucks even more Tucson bits including a choice between 8.0- and 10.3-inch touchscreens that integrate with capacitive climate controls. There’s too much smudge-ready black plastic for us, but overall the look is tasteful and upscale enough to seem in line with Hyundai’s hefty price tags. 

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2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Performance

The 2023 Hyundai Tucson drives more like a crossover than a pickup, but it’s best with the turbocharged engine.

Is the Hyundai Santa Cruz 4WD?

Base models come standard with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional with the 191-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 and it’s standard with the 281-hp turbo-4. 

Either way, the Santa Cruz offers decent ground clearance of 8.6 inches but somewhat long overhangs and no low-range options that dent its off-road ability. It’s fine for dirt trails, but those big wheels hint at its city-friendly positioning. 

How fast is the Hyundai Santa Cruz?

It’s peppy with the turbocharged engine, which unfortunately pairs with a less-than-decisive 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. At low speeds, the gearbox can hesitate and it can be particularly tricky to accelerate smoothly from a stop.

We haven’t sampled the base engine in the Santa Cruz, but prior experience with it—and its conventional 8-speed automatic gearbox—suggest smooth operation but no excess of power to overcome more than 4,100 lb of vehicle. 

With the turbocharged engine, the Santa Cruz can tow 5,000 lb—1,500 more than the base engine. 

Ride-wise, the long wheelbase provides good control, though those big wheels wrapped in low-profile tires can make their presence known on rough terrain. A standard load-leveling rear suspension takes the edge off for heavier hauling. 

We rate the 2023 Santa Cruz at 6 out of 10 for its good ride and handling. 

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2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Comfort & Quality

The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz is all crossover for passengers, but it’s a less-than-utilitarian pickup.

Passengers have good room and the four-foot bed offers endless height.  The Santa Cruz earns 7 out of 10 for comfort and quality. 

Standard cloth seats can be upgraded to leather, but only on the pricey Limited trim. The base model’s manual adjustments offer limited range, something corrected by the power seat that comes on SEL and higher versions. Even on the Limited, though, the passenger has few adjustments. 

Rear-seat space is OK, with just under 37 inches of leg room, though the seatback has a more comfortable rake than other small pickups. The Santa Cruz is a lot smaller inside than the Tucson for back-seat passengers, though. 

The star here is the bed, so long as you don’t need huge utility. It’s slightly shorter than the Ford Mavericks bin, but the folding tailgate can accommodate 4x8 sheets of plywood. Fold the tailgate upright and a quartet of mountain bikes can go for a ride—so long as their front wheels hang over the tailgate. (Buy a tailgate protector.)

A tonneau cover comes on some trims, but it’s not waterproof. Plenty of tie-downs and adjustable cleats can keep smaller items in place, and an underbed storage box with a drain plug can keep beverages or snacks cold. 

Total payload capacity tops out at 1,900 or so pounds, but higher-end models with more equipment sink to below 1,600 lb. 

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2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Safety

We’re still awaiting full crash-test ratings for the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz

How safe is the Hyundai Santa Cruz?

In what testing has been conducted so far, the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz has earned high marks. It scores an 8 out of 10 on the TCC scale, and it could add another point if the NHTSA rates it highly.

The IIHS says it’s a Top Safety Pick—but only when fitted with LED projector headlights on higher trim levels. Its standard automatic emergency braking system rates “Superior” according to the IIHS.

Optional adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitors are worth the upsell, and the available surround-view camera system can help compensate for beefy roof pillars. A blind-spot camera that projects a live view into the instrument cluster may be worth a look for some drivers, too. 

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2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Features

The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz delivers a lot of features—for a lot of money, that is.

Value pricing is not a 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz virtue, but it comes well-equipped to start. We rate it at 8 out of 10 thanks to its good standard touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, its 5-year/60,000-mile warranty (including three years of oil changes and tire rotations), and its decent standard feature set. The base SE includes all that for $25,000 or so, which is a lot more than the cheapest Ford Maverick. The Santa Cruz counters with standard alloy wheels, a much nicer touchscreen, and classier interior materials, however. 

Which Hyundai Santa Cruz should I buy?

We’d spend more for one of the SEL trims. The base Santa Cruz SEL runs $3,000 more but adds blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alerts, keyless start, and a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and it’s the gateway to the $3,300 Activity Package that adds a sunroof, a tonneau cover, roof rails, and a digital instrument cluster. 

All-wheel drive costs $1,500 more on SE and SEL trims.

The SEL Premium costs a hefty $37,500, though it comes with the turbo engine and a 10.3-inch touchscreen—which, unfortunately, loses wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in favor of a wired setup. 

How much is a fully loaded Hyundai Santa Cruz?

The only way into a leather-upholstered Santa Cruz is the Limited, which comes in at an eye-opening $42,000 or so when painted in extra-cost hues. 

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2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Fuel Economy

Where’s the Hyundai Santa Cruz Hybrid?

Is the Hyundai Santa Cruz good on gas?

It’s not great. Base versions are rated at 21 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined with all-wheel drive, or just 1 mpg higher on the highway in base front-drive form.

That earns the Santa Cruz a middling 2 out of 10, based on our revised scoring this year.

Turbo versions come with all-wheel drive and rate 19/27/22 mpg.

Those aren’t bad numbers by pickup standards, but the Ford Maverick can crest 40 mpg in town. If Hyundai would slip the Tucson Hybrid’s powertrain into the Santa Cruz, it would almost certainly improve things. 

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6.3
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 8
Features 8
Fuel Economy 2
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