Hyundai’s first ute has hit the road in the US and we see if it would cut the mustard Down Under.
In a land of dual-cab utes, the typical tray-back buyer in Australia might not get the idea of the new Santa Cruz which Hyundai describes as a “Sport Activity Vehicle”. It’s a term that brings it closer to the likes of an SUV – a Sport Utility Vehicle – than a pick-up truck or a workhorse ute.
With that comes a different set of expectations too: crossover ride and handling, somewhat funky styling, and acceptable petrol fuel efficiency. It’s also based on the Hyundai Tucson, so no wonder it blurs lines.
In the US market where it has been launched, the Santa Cruz is certainly a compact ute. It’s closer in size to something like now-defunct Holden Commodore ute than a Toyota Hilux, albeit on stilts.
In fact, it measures 4970mm from end to end, which is 355mm shorter than the Hilux. It’s also 101mm shorter than the upcoming Ford Maverick, itself an already small ute for the US (and another model Australia seems likely to miss out on).
It is clearly set as a lifestyle ute rather than a working dog, particularly with a maximum 2268kg braked towing capacity on AWD models and just 1588kg braked on FWD models. The payload capacity is just shy of 300kg, which is enough for camping gear or moving some dirt and not much else.
The numbers suggest modest performance when hauling but we didn’t get the chance to test the Santa Cruz’s tow or payload numbers yet, which in reality is unlikely to be a key concern. Our tester was up for it though, with a 2.5-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder engine producing 207kW and 422Nm through an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic to all four wheels.
Despite being up there with the likes of the Hyundai i30 N hot hatch and ploughing on torque from 1700rpm, it doesn’t ever feel unwieldy. It is the same with the automatic transmission which is firm and solid but never looking for a lower gear to really pick up the pace. The numbers certainly tell a different story to the real performance, although it remains more than enough for cruising and urban duties.
Things are better on the handling side with a compliant ride that’s suited to beaten tarmac and gravel off roads, though a slightly firm response does occur on bigger edges which is a trade-off to the payload and towing capability. It’s also rather refined and hushed inside when cruising around 100km/h. Steering is light but accurate, not much like a ladder-frame chassis ute and more refined.
As far as practicalities are concerned, the tray is not very big measuring ‘4×4’ feet which is specifically 1230mm wide by 1370mm long. With no portal window in the rear it means long items will stock out the back. However, a neat trick is a locking tailgate which can be set at different heights, and one of those can be set at the same level as the wheel arches producing a ‘flat’ area to put sheets. There are also cutouts for fitting timber securely and the option for a power outlet. Finally, there’s a storage area underneath the bed to fit a bag or two, which is quite well though out.
Inside, the cabin carries many of the features and design of the Tucson, such as the sweeping dash and two 10.2-inch displays – one for the driver and one for the infotainment. There is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, although only the smaller entry-grade 8.0-inch infotainment has wireless connectivity for Apple CarPlay. One difference is that the gear shifter for the auto is a traditional style with selectable gears (useful for towing) rather than push buttons.
The space upfront is large, with comfortable seats that have electric adjustment and heating and ventilation (in top-spec trim). In the back, things are sized down and it’s not as spacious as the Tucson, thanks in part to shapeshifting the body around for the tray out back.
With a price starting at the equivalent of $33,000 here the Santa Cruz would be seemingly good value. Indeed, Hyundai’s first ute is not going to compete against a traditional diesel dual-cab ute but it does hit the lifestyle brief well. It has some decent capability, a 20mm raised ground clearance over the Tucson for better ‘off-roading’, and seating for four inside is doable – even if the rear pew isn’t roomy. As a comfortable daily and weekend warrior, it works.
For now, it remains off the cards for right-hand drive production in the US factory that it’s built-in. But it might also make a case in the likes of the UK – which is also RHD – so if the numbers can be convincing, things might change for Australia too.