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As a unibody pickup, some folks have classified the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz as not a real truck. But this small truck that shares its platform with the Hyundai Tucson is not simply an SUV with a bed. The Santa Cruz can do legitimate truck stuff, despite not looking like a traditional pickup. 

While not as popular as the Ford Maverick, the Santa Cruz truck is proving itself to be a hot item. Although it does have a pickup bed, the driving characteristics feel more like a car than a truck. And for folks that want something comfortable and practical, the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz makes for a good mix. 

Additionally, there is the price of the 2023 Santa Cruz. For less than $30,000, you can get a vehicle with a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds and a usable interior. Those two things have likely led to the popularity of Hyundai’s small truck. 

The Santa Cruz is a real truck

With the introduction of the Hyundai Santa Cruz and Ford Maverick, the truck market has seen quite a bit of change in recent years. Finally, compact pickups have made a comeback, and it turns out that Americans are willing to put money down on them. In fact, buying a Maverick almost feels impossible right now. 

The 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz shows off its capability as a real truck.
Hyundai Santa Cruz | Hyundai

The standard engine for the Santa Cruz is a four-cylinder that makes 191 horsepower. But, it might be worth upgrading to the 281-hp turbocharged variant. Both engines offer the ability to come equipped with all-wheel drive, and that is a perk over Ford’s small truck. If you want a Maverick with AWD, you can’t get that with the hybrid engine. 

2023 Ford Maverick Tremor in front of a house with a moving truck
2023 Ford Maverick Tremor | Joe Santos, MotorBiscuit

Another thing worth noting is the 5,000-lb towing capacity of this compact pickup. That number also gives the Santa Cruz an edge. Although, I have not had a chance to see how this Hyundai actually handles towing. 

Is Hyundai’s small truck worth it?

According to Car and Driver, the SEL Premium trim of the 2023 Santa Cruz makes for a good value. Now, that package will put this small truck closer to $40k in terms of cost, but it does bring quite a bit to the table. 

You get standard AWD and the turbocharged engine through the Santa Cruz SEL Premium. Plus, comfort features like dual-zone climate control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel are likely to impress. 

Hyundai's small truck, the 2023 Santa Cruz drives on a dirt road.
2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz | Hyundai

Perhaps the lack of an off-road trim is where Hyundai’s small truck falls short. With the 2023 Ford Maverick, you can get the FX4 package or the new Tremor option. On the Santa Cruz, there isn’t really any off-road equipment offered. 

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. I think the Santa Cruz lends itself to being a city truck. With that in mind, some kind of performance package could be cool to see in the future. Hyundai has not shied away from using “N” badging on other vehicles, including the Kona. Picture how cool a Santa Cruz N or N-Line would be. You’d get the utility of a truck, plus some upgrades to make on-road performance better.

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2023 Ford Maverick vs. Hyundai Santa Cruz: A Real-World Tiny Truck Comparison