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The Hyundai Santa Cruz is the Korean giant’s first ute, and after years of speculation on whether the concept version first shown in 2015 would be a reality, it has finally been released.
However, it has thus far only been launched in America in 2021, which the brand considers the ute’s home market. It is even built for left-hand drive in Alabama.
It sits in a unibody pickup truck class now more popular in the US, a class smaller than popular vehicles like the Ford Ranger.
Indeed, despite Australia essentially inventing the very concept of a ute, we might never see the Santa Cruz despite it seemingly being a good fit for our dual-cab-mad populace.
Here’s what we know so far about the Santa Cruz, its specs, its estimated price should it come to Australia, and a little on its chances for our market.
It’s based on the Tucson
Yep, the Santa Cruz is a true ute - as in, it’s not a ladder chassis-based pick-up truck (if you want to get technical); it’s a monocoque-based car with a tray. The car in question is the new Tucson mid-size SUV with which it shares a face and many of its interior fittings.
A platform-share arrangement like this helps Hyundai bring costs down and actually make the Santa Cruz a reality, but it also doesn’t bode well for an Australian launch.
Although the Tucson platform doesn’t rule out both left- and right-hand drive production, it’s unusual for monocoque-based pick ups or utes to be sold in Australia since the demise of the two local players, which were beginning to wane in popularity compared to their ladder-chassis based rivals anyway.
For example, we also don’t get the passenger-car based Honda Rigeline, Fiat Strada, or soon-to-launch new-generation Ford Maverick either, all of which are exclusive to the Americas.
It’s not destined for Australia (at least, not yet)
While the Santa Cruz has just hit the American market, Hyundai has confirmed it won’t be headed Down Under, at least for now.
Hyundai’s representatives have confirmed that while the brand’s local division was “interested, for sure” and is “exploring all options”, ultimately “it looks like it would be a capable car here, but it this point it’s not available in right-hand drive”.
We wouldn’t rule it out forever, though, as Hyundai has jumped through hoops in the past to bring unusual offerings to the Australian market before, with recent examples including the otherwise-left-hand-drive only Palisade large SUV (which like the Santa Cruz, is built in the US), and the oddball Veloster hatch (which was built in Korea).
If it comes here, it won’t necessarily be cheap
Hyundai’s days of cheap and cheerful are long over, and the Santa Cruz is certainly no exception.
Currently, the base front-wheel-drive SE starts from the equivalent of A$32,652 in its US home market - that’s more expensive than a base 4x2 HiLux WorkMate. And keep in mind that price won’t include the cost of shipping, local taxes, or the potential extra cost of building it in right-hand drive.
Hyundai has also said at the launch of the new-generation Tucson that hybrid versions of the Santa Cruz’ SUV relation won’t be brought from Europe for the time being as it would be “cost prohibitive” to do so, indicating it could ultimately be supply chain and localisation costs that rule the ute out for our market.
Its specs are more SUV than ute
As it shares its underpinnings with the Tucson, the Santa Cruz is mechanically more reminiscent of a passenger car than a dual-cab ute as commonly accepted in Australia. There’s no longitudinally mounted engine, nor is there a diesel option, and only the higher-spec options are all-wheel drive, with no option for a low-range transfer case.
The lower-spec Santa Cruz variants are powered by a non-turbo 2.5-litre petrol engine (142kW/244Nm) mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, while the higher-spec turbocharged 2.5-litre variants (205kW/420Nm) drive all four wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch auto. The Santa Cruz also has independent multi-link rear suspension instead of heavy-duty leaf springs.
Theoretically, we see no reason why the Santa Cruz couldn’t have a diesel engine option in our market, as its close Tucson relation is also available with a 137kW/416Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit with all-wheel drive.
The tray size is also notably small compared to the locally accepted standard, at just 1323mm long, and towing capacity falls a bit short too rated at 2268kg in America.
It's off to a hot start in America
The Santa Cruz just beat out some big-name rivals to take the crown of America's fastest-selling vehicle, taking on average just eight days to be driven away from a dealership compared to the 26 day industry standard in the same month.
Since launching in the US on August 10, the Santa Cruz has already sold 1252 units, an impressive display for an all-new nameplate not normally associated with rugged pick-up trucks. If numbers like that are sustained, will that increase its chances for right-hand drive production? We can only hope so.