Hyundai has a been on a steady roll of presenting pretty desirable cars lately, but this one has been rumoured for years - largely with constant prodding by the pick-up loving Australians - since it emerged as a concept at the 2015 Detroit Motor Show. Here is it, Hyundai Santa Cruz.
The Ozzies have been pretty much banging on Hyundai’s door to put it into production, and finally they’ve relented, knowing that the Americans would probably eat up a new lifestyle-focused ‘truck’ just as ravenously.
The Santa Cruz is a pick-up with a difference, however, as the it doesn’t utilise a body-on-frame construction. Rather, and in case you couldn’t tell from that distinctive fascia, it’s built using the more commonly found unibody chassis due to its close relation to the new 4th-generation Hyundai Tuscon (NX4), though the wheelbase has been considerably lengthened to 3,005mm and an overall length of 4,971mm.
But this is not a pushover, or so it desperately wants you to think with its broad overfenders, angular exterior cues, pronounced skid plate, and chunky looking 20-inch wheels (18-inch alloys also available).
This does also mean a transverse engine layout and a predominantly front-bias drive split despite its HTRAC all-wheel drive system. Also, due to that monocoque body, towing capacity is inherently lacking behind other pick-ups, though it is rated for about 2.2 tonnes with its top-end engine, which is identical to another unibody truck, the Honda Ridgeline.
While that wouldn’t bother most people, that does draw a deep line in the sand with regard to where this new model’s priorities lie. In fact, the automaker officially markets it as a Sport Adventure Vehicle, à la BMW. It can do some off-road rough-and-tumble stuff, just not as much.
The upshot is that, since it is based on the new Tuscon, the Santa Cruz should be much more refined, even plush on machine paved roads, able to provide nearly all the practicality plusses that you’d find in a Ford Ranger with a large interior (or, in truck terms, a cab) and very decent 1,270mm long rear bed with lockable tonneau cover.
Unlike the usual variety of pick-ups, we’re used to seeing here, the other point of difference here is the lack of any diesel engine, though it’s possible Hyundai will add their staple 2.2-litre CRDi unit in next year’s model revision.
As it stands, though, the 2021 Santa Cruz is available with their 2.5-litre Smartstream naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine identical to the one fitted in the Hyundai Sonata. This produces 194PS and 245Nm and is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Above that base spec sits the powertrain package you really want; essentially a turbocharged version of that same 2.5-litre Smartstream, but now producing a much heartier 285PS and 422Nm, paired to an 8-speed dual-clutch, though both gearboxes allow for manual override via paddle shifters.
At the expense of some off-road capability, this is about as sleek and curvaceous as it gets for any pick-up truck and a stark departure from the more ruggedly (often overly so) styled alternatives that are actively leaning into that macho persona - the Nissan Navara Pro-4X and Toyota Hilux Rogue being the most recent examples.
Inside, the Santa Cruz is equally posh, basically inheriting the unaltered crossover-centric cabin from the Tuscon. Leather seats, a digital instrument cluster, and high quality finishings litter the surroundings. Hyundai even throws in most of their SmartSense active safety features including Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA) with Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, Lane Keep Assist, and Driver Attention Warning.
There’s no word yet if the South Korean automaker is even interested in lobbing this new model to Southeast Asia. Even more cruelly, they’re even denying the Santa Cruz to Australian buyers. We imagine they won’t be quiet about that slight.
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