Let's Do A Quick Dive Into The Design Of The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz, A Small Pickup That's Actually Small

Illustration for article titled Let's Do A Quick Dive Into The Design Of The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz, A Small Pickup That's Actually Small
Image: Hyundai

Holy crap, there’s actually a new pickup truck available for sale in America that doesn’t need its size described with architectural terms. This is a truck that’s been teased and talked about since 2015, when the much more Subaru Brat-like concept was shown at the Los Angeles auto show. The production version is more Subaru Baja than Brat, but it still fills a hole in the American market that desperately needs filling.

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It’s the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz, and there’s a lot of interesting design going on here. Let’s talk about it.

It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t Hyundai’s first car-based pickup, either, though it is the first to be sold in America. Long before Hyundai was naming everything after cities of the Southwest, it was making a pickup version of the Pony, the company’s first really successful car.

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Photo: Hyundai

Like the old Pony before it, the Santa Cruz is a unibody pickup, and as such feels more carlike, with no division between the cab and cargo bed. There’s also that C-pillar “sail” that helps keep the structure stiff with an open bed.

We’ve certainly seen trucks like this before; Honda Ridgelines are more conventionally trucklike, but are also unibody, and there’s a number out-of-production models, like Subaru’s Baja and Brat, the Chevy Avalanche and a number of Australian utes from companies like Holden. And even though they were body-on-frame, car-based trucks like El Caminos and Rancheros are certainly in the same general category.

Unlike the concepts, Hyundai has decided to go with a four-door design, which I suppose is smart considering that four doors seems to be what the market demands right now.

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The tradeoff with a full double cab, though, is a short bed, in this case quite short, only four feet long. While I think that’s still very usable for lots of hauling needs, sooner or later you’re going to want to carry some plywood sheets or your Changli. Or your baby hippo has grown enough that she needs more than four feet to comfortably lie down.

In those cases, you can leave the tailgate down for an extra, what, maybe foot-and-a-half, two feet? I am a bit disappointed there weren’t any attempts made to integrate a midgate like the Avalanche or at least a pass-through into the cab like a Baja.

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Even the original concept vehicle had an interesting extending-bed feature:

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Photo: Hyundai
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I think this is a bit of a shame, as I feel there’s a place for longer-bed, utility-focused small pickups in the U.S. market as well, not just the more recreational market that Hyundai seems to be targeting.

A two-door version with a long bed, stripped of the expensive lights and amenities, could sell better than most people would guess, I think. It’d replace all of the aging Toyotas and Nissans and Isuzus in use by gardeners and handymen and fleets all over the country.

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I even mocked up a quick two-door variant, just to see:

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Illustration: Jason Torchinsky
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I think that could work great! Also, it needs more tie-downs.

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Photo: Hyundai
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Oh! It looks like there are tie-downs in those bed rails, so ignore my gripes in the chart. But I still think the sail area could use some, too. Also, I get why it has the integrated tonneau cover, and the roll-back approach works well for that, certainly better than some big hinged lid.

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Photo: Hyundai
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Bumper steps and no-skid texturing are always welcome on a truck, too.

Before I get too far into all these details, let me just put all of my thoughts in one place for you:

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Photo: Hyundai
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There we go. There’s a lot of really strong design here, but I think the lighting treatment may be the most worthy of attention.

Hyundai may have managed to replicate much of the effect of hidden or pop-up headlights in the Santa Cruz by designing a grille that sort of camouflages the light units when off. Look at this:

Photo: Hyundai
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See how the grille elements and the light units blend together when the lights are off, effectively hiding the lights? That’s a brilliant solution, and one I don’t think I’ve seen before.

Plus, when the lights are on the lighting signature is highly distinctive, looking like a pair of wings, perhaps as a sort of subtle reminder that the same company owns the Genesis brand:

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Photo: Hyundai
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I’m guessing that the outermost lights turn amber to act as the turn signals, too? Shockingly, Hyundai didn’t provide any information about that.

I also get a little bit of a spider-face vibe here, and I’d like to think that’s a subtle shout-out to the old Hyundai Tiburon.

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It’s a great look, and an approach I’ve not seen on anything else recently, which is an achievement.

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Photo: Hyundai
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The interior is fairly conventional, but has a few notable details. The under-seat storage, for example, is helpful for things you don’t want to leave exposed in the bed, though I would have traded this for a pass-through, especially since the Santa Cruz already has that under-bed trunk.

Instrument-wise, it’s interesting to note that Hyundai is really leaning into the skeuomorphic approach, rendering realistic mechanical gauges on their LCD screens. It may be time to let go of that trend. 

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Photo: Hyundai

Hyundai’s design team also seems to have a bit of a (very understandable) fetish for Nixie tubes, since we see Nixie-like numerical displays on the center stack:

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Photo: Hyundai
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...and we also saw these on their EV-converted Pony earlier this week:

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Photo: Hyundai
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There are far worse fetishes to have.

Illustration for article titled Let's Do A Quick Dive Into The Design Of The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz, A Small Pickup That's Actually Small
Photo: Hyundai
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There’s been a need for a usable and fun new small truck on the market for so long, and I think Hyundai has done a great job with this one. I’m eager to give it a try, to see how useful it can be, and most important, to know how much it’ll cost.

If the price is low enough, I think Hyundai would have a winner here.

Also, I hope this headlight concept gets copied and adapted and experimented with by everyone. There’s lots of potential there.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

DISCUSSION

shanemorris
Shane Morris

It fits into that “Subaru Crosstrek” lane, I think? It’s not super-trucky, but it’s also not meant to be. I think this is more of the outdoorsy ride. If I had to venture a guess, buyers are going to be Asheville, Boulder, Portland, and Austin types.

Now, here’s my rub: I still think that most people who have a “truck need” are really just people like me, who need a mid 90s Ford F-150 for weekend Home Depot projects. I couldn’t see myself dedicating a car payment to a... “not a truck.” Just spend $4,000 on a no-frills white work truck.

But if you’re the outdoorsy type, I can see this fitting your needs. I won’t knock it. I could see my sister (the rock climbing enthusiast of the family) loving something like this.