When Hyundai revealed its Santa Cruz pickup in April, many wondered what kind of fuel economy it would offer. After all, this is a small unibody truck that makes significant compromises to “truckishness” for comfort and gas mileage, so it had better put up the numbers. Sadly, it just doesn’t.
Hyundai is proud of the fact that its upcoming Santa Cruz is so small. In the brand’s press release, it included this table comparing the truck’s dimensions to those of its competitors. The Hyundai is significantly more compact:
The press release further drove home the Santa Cruz’s diminutive size by showing that a bike won’t fit in the bed:
When I saw that press release, I grew excited, writing an article that concluded with this paragraph:
A powerful, small, all-wheel drive, dual-clutch pickup truck with sharp, good looks? Add good fuel economy on top (we don’t have any figures yet), and this could be a very compelling machine, especially for outdoorspeople.
Now fuel economy figures are out, and I’m a bit disappointed (Note: I don’t know what’s up with the EPA’s misspelling of the name):
The base 190 horsepower 2.5-liter inline-four engine scores 23 mpg combined whether in all-wheel drive or two-wheel drive guise, while the 275+ horsepower 2.5-liter turbo mated to an all-wheel drive system manages 22 mpg. The highway figure of up to 27 for the two all-wheel drive models is decent, but not amazing. (Another note: It’s not clear why the front-wheel drive model scores worse highway fuel economy).
To be sure, I should not have been expecting amazing gas mileage. This little truck shares powertrains with the similarly-sized Santa Fe SUV, which scores between 24 and 26 mpg combined. Plus, look at other more “active” unibody SUVs on the market like the Ford Bronco Sport Badlands and Subaru Outback Wilderness (which score 23 mpg and 24 mpg combined, respectively), and the Santa Cruz’s figures make sense. The truck’s less aerodynamic shape means it was really never going to out-perform these SUVs (especially its less “rugged” sibling) in the category of fuel sipping.
Still, even if we should have seen the Santa Cruz’s fuel economy ratings coming, I remain disappointed solely because of the fact that it doesn’t leave significantly larger, more capable trucks in its wake. Take the Ford Ranger, for example. The truck is over a foot longer than the Hyundai, it can tow 7,500 pounds to the Santa Cruz turbo’s 5,000, it makes roughly the same power and torque at 270 hp, 310 lb-ft, and it has real off-road chops thanks to good approach and departure angles and a real low-range transfer case.
And yet, the Ranger’s combined fuel economy is the same as the Santa Cruz’s at 22 mpg for the all-wheel drive turbo model. The Ranger manages 1 mpg better in the city, but the Hyundai’s 27 mpg highway outdoes the Ranger’s 24.
What’s really surprising is the fact that the rear-wheel drive Ranger, which, like all Rangers, gets the 270 horsepower turbo engine, manages the exact same fuel economy as the 190 horsepower front-wheel drive Santa Cruz: 21 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, 23 mpg combined.
With the Ranger, you get more size, more off-road capability, more towing capability with no fuel economy sacrifice. At least, not on paper. Real-world fuel economy and EPA-rated fuel economy are often not the same thing, so it will be interesting to see how the Hyundai does in independent testing.
And of course, it’s also worth mentioning that the Hyundai will likely offer a more comfortable ride, and that its small size could be considered a positive attribute by many living in urban areas. Bigger isn’t always better, even if this is America.
Throw some full-size trucks (like the 260 horsepower Ram 1500 V6 shown above) into the mix, and you begin to see that the Hyundai, though tiny in comparison, doesn’t really leave “real” trucks in its wake.
Journalists have for years been complaining about smaller trucks not vastly outdoing full-size trucks in fuel economy. The Honda Ridgeline, the only unibody pickup truck on the market (to be joined shortly by the Ford Maverick and of course the Santa Cruz), is an example. Though it was smaller and less capable than many larger pickups, the Honda didn’t exactly put up big numbers in EPA testing:
And yet, despite this, the Ridgeline remains a favorite among car journalists thanks to its ride comfort and excellent use of space (made possible, in part, by its unibody construction). So even if the Santa Cruz isn’t outdoing big trucks in fuel economy, it could still be compelling if executed properly.
I do think that a smaller boosted engine might be worthwhile, and maybe even a hybrid. If I had to guess, those are coming. And that’s really exciting, because take a look at the fuel economy numbers for the 178 horsepower Santa Fe hybrid (which comes standard with all-wheel drive):
A small pickup that can score anywhere near those figures would be epic. Ford just announced that its upcoming Maverick hybrid pickup will do 40 mpg in the city, and we’re excited about that. Very excited. Now it’s Hyundai’s turn.