Hyundai's new Santa Cruz reinvents the compact pickup truck

Ford and Nissan also eyeing small-pickup market

Dave Kunz Image
Friday, August 20, 2021
Hyundai's Santa Cruz reinvents the compact pickup
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Hyundai is jumping into the pickup market with the compact Santa Cruz.

Possibly one of the highly anticipated pickup debuts is a new one from Hyundai. The maker of cars and crossover SUVs has jumped into the pickup truck market, sort of.

It's called the Santa Cruz and it's bringing in, or rather bringing back, the category of compact pickup trucks.

A small, lockable bed in the back and a four-door cab for people. It's just enough pickup, mixed with just enough car.

A vehicle that's possible because it shares its platform and other components with the Hyundai Tucson sport utility vehicle. The Santa Cruz removes the SUV cargo area of the Tucson and replaces it with an open bed creating a perfect mini truck.

You won't be hauling anything too big with the small truck bed, but for weekend runs to the big box store or garden center, it's likely just enough. The Santa Cruz offers you the comfort of a passenger car in the front half with a smooth ride and reasonable fuel economy from the four-cylinder engine. Base price for the new SE model is $23,990.

One of the unique features is the sliding, lockable cover over the bed which is made of steel. The cover works like a commercial security shutter, laid flat. It keeps cargo safe when you need to, but fully retracts to carry larger items.

The Santa Cruz is classified as a pickup truck, but then again, it isn't really one. The compact design of the Santa Cruz is intentional and perhaps for people who like the idea of having a truck all while keeping the compact feel of a car.

And that's also the thought behind Ford's upcoming compact pickup.

"The all-new Maverick is for truck customers who don't know that they need a truck," said Mike Levine, a spokesperson for Ford Motor Company.

But Ford's betting that you might want their mini truck later this year. The name is old and recycled from a bare-bones economy car Ford sold in the 1970s. But the technology is pure 2020s and hybrid power will be standard.

"For $19,995 starting MSRP, you get a hybrid powertrain, with a targeted 40 mpg in the city," said Levine.

There's also word that Nissan might be jumping into this new category of small trucks. They may be working on their own compact pickup, below the size of their Frontier and possibly electric powered. Nissan was a leader in small trucks back when the brand was known as Datsun in the 1970s.

In the meantime, Hyundai could have a huge hit on its hands with the new Santa Cruz. It's a vehicle for people who never thought they could live with a pickup truck, but could soon discover they can't live without.