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One of These Things Is Not Like the Other: The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz front 3/4 view

Doesn't seem possible, but it's been two years already since the Hyundai Santa Cruz and the Ford Maverick hit the market, sparking speculation that the decades-long drought of small pickups would result in boffo sales for both---nudging other manufacturers into the fray.

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz rear 3/4 view

And while there are rumors that Toyota is considering a small pickup based on the Corolla Cross, that may be more a reaction to the Maverick than to the Santa Cruz.

This year so far, Ford dealers have found 66,430 buyers for their small truck---while Hyundai has only found 29,083 paying customers for the Santa Cruz.

How come? Well, the Maverick's baby F-150 styling probably helps. The Santa Cruz, despite being very attractive, has that same pre-facelift angularity the Honda Ridgeline had---and that's a taste American truck buyers, even American small truck buyers, don't seem to have acquired.

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz hood up

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz engine

Equipped, as our tester was, with the 2.5-liter turbo four-cylinder, the Santa Cruz is no slowpoke. 281 horsepower in a light(ish) small truck with power going to all four wheels results in 0-60 times of six seconds flat. EPA fuel economy estimate: 19 city/27 highway/22 combined.

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz tailgate down

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz rear seat

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz front seats

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz front seat detail

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz instrument panel

Especially in Limited trim, the Santa Cruz' cockpit is nicer and more carlike than the Maverick's---but again, being less "trucky" hasn't been a recipe for sales success since Chevy El Caminos and Ford Rancheros roamed the earth. The Santa Cruz feels more like it's following in the footsteps of the Subaru Baja---which only lasted four model years (2003-2006).

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block for the Santa Cruz is price. In top-of-the-line Limited trim, the base price is $41,615---a good five grand more than the starting price of the most expensive Maverick. The good news is that Hyundai makes virtually everything standard on the Limited---a complete suite of active safety features, 20-inch wheels, a power sunroof, LED bed lighting, rear sliding glass, an integrated tonneau cover, proximity key with pushbutton start, rain-sensing wipers, dual automatic climate control, leather-trimmed seats, and wireless charging.

2023 Hyundai Santa Fe steering wheel and digital instrument cluster

2023 Hyundai Santa Fe center console

2023 Hyundai Santa Fe center stack

In fact, the only extra-cost option on our tester was carpeted floor mats ($195). So, the bottom line on the window sticker reads $41,810.

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz front view

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz side view

2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz rear view

Trouble is, even if you load a top-of-the line Maverick with every factory option, you come in about three grand under the Santa Cruz.

Is the Santa Cruz a nicer truck? I have to say yes. But the price difference and its less truck-like image may be holding it back.


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