Design

How did we get here? Go behind the scenes of the development of the Hyundai Santa Cruz

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz was designed to be capable of taking owners to their next adventure.

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

The story of the Hyundai Santa Cruz goes back at least eight years. It was seven years ago this January that the Santa Cruz Concept was launched at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). At the time, a representative from Hyundai told PickupTrucks.com that it would "likely take at least three or four years" to bring the truck to market in the U.S., but that it would only happen if "gauged interest is strong and positive".

The good news is that reaction was positive. Now, nearly a decade after that debut the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is a reality. What took so long? Hyundai broke it down this week.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz as a working clay model

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz as a working clay model

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

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The Santa Cruz was always meant to be a compact truck. The Santa Cruz Concept was a little longer than a Hyundai Tucson and today the 2021 Tucson is slightly shorter than the 2022 Santa Cruz.

Hyundai noted during a Q&A session today that one of the main drivers for the truck was the public's desire to have a truck that was more fuel efficient.

The third generation of the Hyundai Tucson debuted in 2015. Its fourth generation comes to market this month as a 2021 model. In the years between, alternative fuels development went from something like, "Oh look! A Prius!" to "Audi is adding its fourth and fifth new EVs for the U.S. by the end of 2021". Today, pretty every automaker has committed to a clean emissions future, which has necessitated the innovation of new platforms and new propulsion strategies.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz design sketches

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz sketches

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

It wouldn't make good business sense to debut a new vehicle on an outdated platform. It also helps to streamline the manufacturing process if many products can share a production line using the same architecture. So, it was always going to be years down the road.

Hyundai's design team in California took the lead with the Santa Cruz design. Unlike some concepts that come into reality, the aesthetic of the Santa Cruz wasn't changed from spicy cinnamon into a bland vanilla to make it appeal to the masses. Hyundai kept it unique, if not a little weird, and completely unlike anything on the market today.

According to the design team, the Santa Cruz was never going to share a grille with the Palisade. While the look of the Palisade is brash, bold, and upright, the team didn't feel that it was right to transfer that look over to the Santa Cruz. The truck has ended up with a variation of the Tucson's grille, but given the muscular aesthetic of the truck, it plays differently on the forthcoming model.

Early in the design process, a Hyundai employee described the vehicle's target audience as the folks who park on the side of the road to go surfing, saying that they go from their home, down the highway, to the beach, and need something they can throw gear and boards in that also won't crowd the driveway at home and parallel parks easily.

It was with those design priorities that the 2022 Santa Cruz came to life.

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The Hyundai Palisade got a mild refresh for 2023.

Hyundai

Earlier this year, Hyundai announced changes to the Palisade for 2023. The list includes a new front fascia, an updated grille with new headlights and daytime running lights, a 12-inch touchscreen with navigation, and more. A new XRT trim joined the lineup as well, bringing brawny off-road styling and dar exterior trim. Today, Hyundai announced pricing for the SUV, which starts at a little more than $32,000.

2023 Hyundai PalisadeA new XRT trim adds rugged styling. Hyundai

The Palisade's powertrain carries over from 2022, which includes a 3.8-liter V6 that makes 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. Inside, the SUV got several new and updated technology features, including a more powerful wireless device charging pad, an updated digital key system, and a larger infotainment display.

As Hyundai's flagship SUV, the Palisade edges on luxury territory, with plush leather upholstery and a serene cabin that offers excellent noise cancellation and comfort. Captain's chairs and seven-passenger seating are available, but a second-row bench comes standard and brings eight-passenger capacity to the SUV.

Muscular SUVs are more popular than ever before, so Hyundai gave the posh Palisade an outdoorsy treatment with its XRT trim. The new Palisade XRT builds on the SEL trim with 20-inch wheels, a more rugged bumper and lower body cladding, a sunroof, and leatherette upholstery. To be clear, XRT is an appearance package that does not improve off-road capability to a large degree.

2023 Hyundai PalisadeTop trims border on the quality and design of some luxury brands. Hyundai

Standard safety equipment is generous, and includes forward collision warnings with avoidance, lane keep assist, lane following assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, driver attention warnings, high beam assist, and adaptive cruise control.

Pricing for the base Palisade SE starts at $36,245, which includes a $1,295 destination charge. The top Calligraphy AWD model starts at $52,095 after destination. All-wheel drive is available for all trims as an added-cost option.

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The N Line forms a midpoint between the standard Kona and the Kona N.

Hyundai

Hyundai has a lot going on, with new EVs hitting the market, but the brand has been on a surprising run with performance models lately. The Veloster N is an excellent, rowdy hot hatch, and the brand followed that act with the Kona N and Elantra N. Hyundai’s Kona N takes the hot hatch formula to the next level with an incredible powertrain and useful space, but it’s too much for many people. The mid-point is Hyundai’s N Line, which borrows styling cues from the hottest N variants but lacks the all-out grunt of those vehicles.

2022 Hyundai Kona N LineThe N Line gets aggressive styling cues from its sportier N counterpart. Hyundai

The styling works for the Kona N Line, as it does with the Kona N, but the powertrains couldn’t be more different. Where the Kona N gets a 286-horsepower four-cylinder, the N Line comes with a milder turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 195 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which adds a layer of engagement not found in the continuously variable transmission that standard Kona models get.

That modest output lends the Kona N Line modest performance, with more noise generated than expected. In motion, the powertrain feels decently responsive, but it lacks the razor sharp nerves of steel that the Kona N brings. Shifting into sport mode changes the gauge cluster to a bright red and hastens the vehicle's responses, but again, it's important to temper expectations for a milder experience here.

2022 Hyundai Kona N LineThe digital gauge cluster responds to drive mode changes. Hyundai

Styling is more aggressive than the standard SUV, with 18-inch wheels and mean-looking exhaust tips. The Kona’s front-end design is still busy and will still be polarizing, but the dark trim and sporty aero bodywork help the situation. The N Line’s all-black interior gets red stitching and accents that help break up the otherwise monotonous color scheme. The seats are supportive and comfortable, but could be deeper for better body-holding during spirited driving sessions. There’s plenty of room up front and a surprising amount of space in back, aided by the Kona’s large-ish rear door openings. Parents will find an easy time loading kids, and older children can ride in relative luxury with plenty of legroom.

A 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster is standard, which offers configurable colors and legible information. It’s paired with a standard 8-inch touchscreen, but a 102.5-inch screen with navigation is available. Hyundai’s excellent infotainment software runs flawlessly on both units, and offers an intuitive and straightforward way to interact with the vehicle. A Harman Kardon eight-speaker stereo also comes standard.

2022 Hyundai Kona N LineRed accents liven what is otherwise a dark, monotone interior.Hyundai

The Kona N Line, while not as hot as the Kona N, offers a reasonable styling upgrade for people wanting a small SUV with sporty looks. Enthusiasts should look at the full-on N model for thrills, though, because the N Line should be viewed as more of an appearance package than a performance model.

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