My Wife Wants One
When someone who has never been impressed by pickups starts to change their mind, you might be on to something.
By J-F Wright
Mon, Sep 18, 2023 10:18 PM PST
Images by the author, edited by Erica Wright, unless noted otherwise.
OK, so what is the Hyundai Santa Cruz? Is it a pickup truck? Is it a station-wagon-sans-rear-roof? In my opinion it’s something right in the middle of those.
My wife is a modest person. Huge pickup trucks aren’t her thing - and trust me, I’ve tried to get her interested. She enjoys riding in them, but can’t see herself (us) actually owning one. After giving up on my dreams of a full-size truck I tried my luck with the mid-size segment. No bueno.
But then along came a Hyundai Santa Cruz. I took the chance and scheduled the family for a quick one-night roadtrip - more of a loop, since we didn’t go far and just looped back home.
It started great (actually, the entire week with the Santa Cruz was great), the Santa Cruz impressing with how easy it is to pack a family of five’s stuff - it can store a bunch of gear/stuff/suitcases. When it comes to storage space, the back the Santa Cruz feels bigger than a station wagon, probably comparable to a large family hauler like a GMC Yukon or Chevy Tahoe. It’s a lot easier to pack than wagons and SUVs too, since you can access your stuff from three sides rather than just from the rear.
As mentioned, there’s five of us, so the interior needs to have a good amount of space. The Hyundai Santa Cruz obviously isn’t as wide as “real pickups” (aka full-size or mid-size trucks), so the back row isn’t really meant for three adults - but three kids (10, 8, 6 years old) will do just fine. Sure, they’d be even happier in a full-size pickup, but my wallet is a lot happier with a Santa Cruz - both at purchase and whenever filling up the tank.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz is modern-looking, both inside and out. The interior is a great take on being luxurious without spending money - doing the best possible within a certain budget. Nothing stands out as posh, but everything works really nicely together.
Where the Santa Cruz really wins, at least for my wife, is in the way that it straddles the line between station wagon and pickup truck. The interior feels just like one would expect in a station wagon - which is a great thing! - except when you turn around and notice that the car interior stops just behind the rear seats. It’s really the best of both worlds.
Comfort & Drive
The Santa Cruz is powered by a 2.5L turbo 4-cylinder engine - not nearly as cool-sounding as the 5-point-something 8-cylinder engines in full-size pickups, but it surely has enough power to get the Santa Cruz going, and then some. Cruising around the mountains we really got to test this, and never did I feel that I needed more power. I was, however, more than pleased to note that we weren’t slurping up fuel like uncle Bobby at Thanksgiving (19 city-mpg and 27 hwy-mpg).
The twisty mountain roads also gave the Santa Cruz a run for its money when it comes to handling. Not that I’m whipping around cliff-side highways - which the Santa Cruz is not made for anyway - but this little pickup always felt stable through any and all corners and turns. Actually, the driving characteristics is more comparable to that of a station wagon, not that of a pickup - and this is a good thing. Pickups aren’t really known for great handling, so having a truck bed behind me but still feeling like I’m driving a car is kinda nice.
Technology & Features
The Hyundai Santa Cruz comes with all sorts of interesting technology and gadgetry. Obviously there’s a Smart Cruise Control - often referred to as an “adaptive cruise control” - that’s become a fairly standard feature on new cars. But the Santa Cruz doesn’t stop there, we also see a Safe Exit Warning-system that checks if it’s safe to open the door, warning you if it isn’t.
Remote Engine Start comes in handy both during cold mornings and hot days, for pre-heating and pre-cooling, respectively.
Is the Hyundai Santa Cruz a tech-heavy vehicle? No, but that’s not really the point of this car either. It’s a station-wagon-pickup cross, which in itself will prove to be a very compelling reason for the prospective purchaser.
I realize that this article is focused mainly on the fact that I’m loving the wagon-pickup concept (and so is my wife) … and it’s not going to get any better/different. The exterior is, you guessed it, a mix between a station wagon and a pickup. Looking at the Hyundai Santa Cruz from the front it’ll look like a station wagon with a bit of off-road capabilities - what manufacturers in the US refer to as a crossover, but in the rest of the world it’s a beefed up station wagon. It’s really only once you swing around to the side that you’ll notice that this station wagon is missing half a roof.
The front facia of the Santa Cruz somewhat resembles the new Hyundai look. Similar to the Palisade and the Santa Fe, the grille consists of multiple horizontally placed reflecting rectangles. The Santa Cruz seems to have the largest - and therefore fewest - rectangles, but nonetheless a similar concept.
The headlights swoop around the side, thinning out as they go, leaving space for enormous fog-lights below. The front of the Santa Cruz actually seems to bulge just a little, but that’s to it’s advantage as it makes it seem larger and more rugged.
My wife - who gets to ride in a whole lot of cars each year, and has never expressed any real desire for a full-size pickup truck (or mid-sized, for that matter) - fell for the Santa Cruz. And you know what, I’m pretty happy out it. We’ve never really needed a large pickup, but we do really enjoy the fact that we can easily pack stuff in the back - and the fact that we can set all three kids on the tailgate and have them eat ice cream “in” (on?) the car, with their feet dangling over the dirt, or maybe a sandy beach. The Santa Cruz ticks a lot of the boxes when it comes to the practicality of a pickup, without the massiveness and the impracticalities that go with it.
About The Author
John-Fredrik Wright was born in Sweden, but raised on both sides of the Atlantic. His experience in the automotive industry starts with a summer-job as a host at Volkswagen’s premier showroom in Stockholm. Later, he worked as an instructor at Swedish Active Driving, teaching safe driving (among other things the renowned "elk-avoidance maneuver") and advanced driving techniques.