Our Take on the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz
In a vacuum, the Hyundai Santa Cruz is a nice vehicle. It looks good, drives just fine, and comes with many desirable features. But we wish it drove more like a truck.
From behind the wheel, the Santa Cruz feels extremely car-like. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it leaves us wishing the truck was better capable of handling tough environments. For most people, that's not really an issue, because many truck owners never leave pavement anyway. But a significant number of them do, and they'll be disappointed the Santa Cruz handles big bumps, potholes, and other imperfections on the road no better than the Tucson on which it's based.
The Santa Cruz's looks almost make up for that lack of sturdiness from the chassis, with a sleek front end and a rear that manages its frumpiness gracefully. The cabin is nice, too, with a clean, piano-black dashboard and easy-to-read screens. Unfortunately Hyundai decided to take the capacitive touch button route with the Santa Cruz, making button-pressing a huge, unnecessary pain. There's also no volume knob, also replaced by capacitive buttons—a huge misstep in the world of interior design.
The biggest change to the 2023 Santa Cruz is the addition of a new trim called the Night model. Sandwiched between the two upper and lower trims, it gets a slathering of dark exterior accents, including a blacked-out grille, door handles, mirror caps, side steps, and 20-inch black wheels. It also comes standard with the more powerful turbocharged engine.
Other changes for the Santa Cruz for 2023 include standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The more expensive SEL Premium trim also gets a 10.3-inch infotainment touchscreen from the top-tier Limited model.
Feels like you're driving a car, not a truck
Big fat 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty
Shallow, short bed
Touch-sensitive buttons and missing volume knob are infuriating
Ride can be surprisingly flinty on broken pavement
Performance, Engine & Horsepower
The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz comes with two powertrain options: a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated inline-four and a 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four. The base engine makes 191 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque, and while we didn't get to test this version, that doesn't sound like nearly enough for a vehicle that weighs over two tons.
Our tester came equipped with the far more suitable turbo motor, pushing out 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. The only choice of transmission for both engines is an eight-speed dual-clutch, which worked well enough to deliver unbothered shifts and brisk acceleration.
The sprint to 60 mph takes takes just 6.0 seconds for the turbocharged trims, and top speed is electronically limited to 133 mph.
Features & Specs
In addition to that bed, the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz comes packed with a handful of useful features, including wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto controlled by an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, and a suite of active safety tech.
Buyers can upgrade the base 191-hp engine to a turbocharged engine with nearly 100 more hp, and option all-wheel drive. A "Night" trim adds a bunch of blacked-out interior trim pieces, along with big 20-inch wheels.
Considering the Hyundai Santa Cruz's road-facing mannerisms and design, fuel economy is slightly disappointing. The naturally aspirated 2.5 in the base trims is good for just 22 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 23 mpg, according to the EPA.
Step up to the more desirable turbo engine, and your fuel economy drops to 19 city and 27 highway, for a combined rating of 22 mpg, as estimated by the EPA. We saw about 22 mpg during our test, which consisted of a good mix between highway and city driving.
The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz drives no more like a truck than your average Tucson, despite the bed out back. The steering and suspension are very car-like, to the point where you forget what sort of vehicle you're driving. While that's nice for most situations, I wish Hyundai tuned a bit of ruggedness into the chassis so it would absorb bumps, potholes, and broken pavement better.
Check out our full test drive of the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz right here.
The cheapest 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz, the SE, starts at $27,035 including destination. You get the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter engine paired to a front-wheel-drive powertrain, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 18-inch alloy wheels, and an eight-inch infotainment screen. Upgrade to the $29,525 SEL trim, and you get a proximity key, push-button start, and remote start.
If you want the turbocharged engine you'll have to upgrade to the $37,395 Night trim, which also includes a bunch of blacked out exterior trim and 20-inch wheels. Above that is the $38,935 SEL Premium, which gets things like dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise, leather wrapped interior touch points, and an auto-dimming rear view mirror. At the top end of the range sits the $41,905 Limited model, which adds a heated steering wheel and a handful of driver assistance features.
The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz sports a modern interior with nice styling and screens for the gauge cluster and infotainment. Our Limited-trimmed tester was packed with touch-sensitive buttons on the dash rather than traditional switches, which made adjusting things like climate and the radio more difficult than it needed to be.
The lack of a volume knob was especially disappointing, with more than one passenger voicing their distain for the two touch buttons in its place.
Because the inside of the Santa Cruz is so Tucson-esque, it's a nice place to spend time, with a high seating position and comfortable seats. The back seats offer good space for most people, with plenty of room for child seats to fit.
On the road the Santa Cruz drives far more like a car than any pickup on sale today, a product of its more street-oriented bones. For most people that'll do just fine, but if you plan to do a lot of driving on dirt roads or pothole-riddled pavement, take caution, because an F-150 this is not.
The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz is packed with modern tech, including a standard digital gauge cluster and an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen that can be upgraded to 10.3 inches depending on trim. You get wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, and on certain trims, you can charge your phone via a wireless charging pad.
On our tester used touch-capacitive buttons for most of the dashboard controls, making it far harder to adjust climate controls or media volume than it should be.
Don't expect to haul large amounts of stuff in the Santa Cruz's bed—from front to back it's roughly four feet long, and pretty shallow. The car makes up for it with a built-in roll-out, lockable bed cover to keep you stuff secure. There's also a storage area under the bed for additional space.
The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz comes stuffed with a bunch of standard safety tech, including forward collision warning, automated emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts. Adaptive cruise control is available as an option.
The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz has five trims to choose from, with standard front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive and turbocharged power are available on upper trim levels. The standard SE gets a 191-hp naturally aspirated inline-four, an eight-inch infotainment screen, and 18-inch wheels. Upgrade to the SEL, and you get things like remote start, a proximity key, and dual-zone climate.
The mid-tier Night trim gets a bunch of blacked-out exterior trim pieces, as well as a 281-hp turbocharged engine, 20-inch alloy wheels, and different interior upholstery. Jump to the SEL Premium trim and you get standard AWD, adaptive cruise control, and side steps for easy ingress and egress. The top-tier Limited model adds things like a 360-degree camera and blind-spot monitoring.
If the idea of having a pickup truck as a daily driver is appealing to you, the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz is a good choice, so long as you're willing to go without a volume knob and deal with a tiny bed. It'll handle normal commutes just fine, with enough creature comforts to satisfy most buyers at this price range. Fuel economy isn't the best, but it's hard to beat Hyundai's iconic 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. We'd say that's a fair tradeoff.
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