What the Hyundai Santa Cruz Pickup Truck Prototype Reveals

The upcoming Hyundai Santa Cruz comes at the front of a mid-size and compact pickup truck resurgence. But information on the ‘compact utility vehicle’, as Hyundai calls it, has been fairly scarce. We know it’s coming in 2021, and that it’ll be produced at Hyundai’s Montgomery, Alabama factory. But beyond conflicting platform rumors, that’s about all we knew for sure. Until now, that is. A working prototype of the Hyundai Santa Cruz truck has been spotted.

What the Hyundai truck prototype reveals

A user on The Korean Car Blog spotted the camouflaged truck in a parking garage. Although the cladding hides a lot of the truck’s lines, they were able to discover several things.

2020 Hyundai Palisade
2020 Hyundai Palisade | Hyundai

Overall, the prototype looks similar to the concept shown several years ago. Both The Drive and Motor1, providing their own analysis, believe the Santa Cruz’s front design will be similar to the Palisade’s. The Drive posits that the cutouts shown may indicate the potential for extra fog lights or even brake cooling vents.

Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept Side
Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept Side | Hyundai

However, there is one big difference between the concept and prototype. The Santa Cruz Concept had rear-hinged ‘suicide’ doors in the rear of its cab. However, the prototype appears to have more-traditional front-hinged doors and a double cab. This was most likely done to simplify the design and lower costs and add room in the rear.

But the prototype wasn’t the only thing KCB had to reveal about the Santa Cruz.

What we’ve learned about the Santa Cruz platform

2019 Hyundai Tucson
2019 Hyundai Tucson | Tucson

The site stated that the Santa Cruz truck is internally code-named similarly to the Tucson. Hyundai calls the Tucson “NX4”, and the Santa Cruz is apparently called “NX4 OB”. This may imply that the Santa Cruz will use a version of the Tucson’s platform. Meaning that the Hyundai truck will, in fact, be unibody, like the Honda Ridgeline, not body-on-frame.

Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept Rear
Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept Rear | Hyundai

As we and The Drive have mused before, this may be why Hyundai calls the Santa Cruz a CUV, not a truck, for fear of alienating traditional truck buyers. Although considering how Hyundai describes Santa Cruz, it may also be a deliberate attempt to attract people who would normally never consider a pickup truck.

What we’ve learned about the Santa Cruz’s drivetrain

2020 Hyundai Sonata
2020 Hyundai Sonata | Hyundai

The Korean Car Blog also claims that the Santa Cruz will have a 2.5-liter engine, and a hybrid version will be available. The former is quite plausible: the Sonata is also made in Montgomery, and it comes standard with a 2.5-liter engine. Sharing engines, no doubt cuts down on engineering time and cost.

Having a hybrid truck would actually be quite advantageous for Hyundai. Until a Jeep Gladiator plug-in hybrid is confirmed, Hyundai would be the only automaker with a true hybrid pickup. Ram and Jeep do offer mild-hybrid versions of the 1500 and Wrangler. However, unlike a true hybrid, the eTorque system can’t run the vehicle on its own. And with the Honda Ridgeline hybrid rumor confirmed false, a hybrid Santa Cruz would be the only unibody hybrid truck available.

What we still don’t know about the Hyundai Santa Cruz truck

Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept
Hyundai Santa Cruz Concept | Hyundai

Hyundai has not officially commented on the prototype photos, or the engine and powertrain rumors. We also haven’t heard any details about the Santa Cruz’s potential towing or payload capacities. Considering the prototype, it’s possible Hyundai is testing, fine-tuning and finalizing this information at this moment.

Hyundai has also not released any pricing details for the truck. While the Santa Cruz may feature Palisade-inspired styling, it most likely won’t be priced like the SUV. The base Palisade may start at $31,550, but it can be priced up to $48,000. That’s not a lot for a luxury SUV, but quite bit a for a compact pickup. The mid-size Ford Ranger starts at just over $24,000—the Santa Cruz will probably cost somewhere around there.