Opinion

Let me explain: Here’s what the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is not

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is new to the company's lineup.

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz has arrived. Half a decade after the Santa Cruz concept was the belle of the ball at the North American International Auto Show, the production version of the truck has shown its face.

It's important that one thing is crystal clear. The 2022 Santa Cruz isn't designed to compete with the Ford F-150. It also isn't a Ford Ranger rival. Ford sees it as competition for its forthcoming Maverick pickup and it's not wrong. But, the Santa Cruz is also expected to compete more against the unexpected.

It's a model that likely appeals to Subaru Crosstrek and Outback owners in the same way that the Subaru Baja did back in the day. It's also one that owners of another Ford, the Bronco Sport, may have their eye on. It's adventure-ready thanks to its all-wheel drive technology and equipment, but not as off-road-ready as a Wrangler.

2021 Subaru CrosstrekThe Subaru Crosstrek grew more powerful for the 2021 model year with a fresh engine option. Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

Then there's the inevitable comparisons to the Honda Ridgeline. The two have a lot in common, but they're not necessarily for the same crowd though they both have untraditional looks, a trunk in the bed, and SUV-like interiors. That's not a bad thing. SUVs are notoriously more comfortable and tech-forward than trucks, but there's a lot of utility there as well. The Ridgeline is bigger than the Santa Cruz.

Sure, it's easy to look at the Santa Cruz and immediately think that it's just a Tucson wearing a truck suit. You'd be wrong, to an extent. The only shared components between the Tucson and the Santa Cruz are in the cabin. The platform and body of the Santa Cruz has been stretch sideways and lengthened beyond the dimensions of the SUV, and its wheelbase is longer. The grille and shoulders are designed to be more aggressive.

That length is a sweet spot in the automotive market as trucks grow in size. Have you seen a GMC Sierra HD lately? Massive presence! The Santa Cruz has dimensions more like a midsize SUV meaning that it is easy to parallel park and fits into a parking garage with aplomb, which is especially important for urban dwellers and those along the California coast.

202The GM trucks - GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Silverado - have grown substantially in the last few years, with their heavy-duty versions becoming even larger. Photo courtesy of GMC

The face of the Santa Cruz is the face of the new Tucson. That was the plan all along. The truck was never designed to be bigger or have a grille that is like the Palisade's. That plays into the whole thesis behind the truck's existence to begin with.

It's not meant for the job site, unless your job happens to be as an REI adventure guide. It's not meant to tow your 4x4s around the country, but it can take your surfboard and mountain bike on board. A tent and some luggage? Done. Easily handled.

The biggest thing that the Hyundai Santa Cruz isn't is a sacrifice. It checks many boxes, is obviously the product of a lot of customer research, and is likely to deliver a lot of bang for the buck (pricing isn't available yet).

Instead of trying to define the Santa Cruz, maybe it's time to start taking a look at redefining what it means to be a truck. The GMC Hummer EV would like a word.

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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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