2022 Ford Maverick vs. Hyundai Santa Cruz Comparison Test Review: The Biggest Little Things

2022 Ford Maverick vs. Hyundai Santa Cruz Comparison Test Review: The Biggest Little Things

11/18/2021

The auto industry can be so strange. The U.S. truck market soldiered on for a solid decade without even a hint of a compact model, and now, here we are comparing two of the things in the same debut model year. In one corner, we have the all-new 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz, South Korea’s first-ever pickup truck for the American market. In the other corner, Ford’s new 2022 Maverick, which is decidedly not the Blue Oval’s first truck in America; heck, this isn’t even its first Maverick. We’re excited, you’re excited, and the buying public is very excited. Let’s see what we’re working with.

Let’s clear the air filter before we continue. Yes, we consider both of these unibody, crossover-based pickups to be “trucks.” They got a bed, don’t they? Sure, they can’t tow as much as a body-on-frame pickup, they’re not as tough off-road, and in the case of the Hyundai, they don’t look like your average truck, either. That’s alright; they ride better, steer better, drive better, and are a whole heck of a lot easier on your wallet than even something like the midsize Toyota Tacoma or Ford’s own Ranger. And they do truck things.

That said, these are not trucks for traditional truck buyers. The Maverick and Santa Cruz are aimed at city-dwelling active-lifestyle types who want a truck bed not for crushed boulders, discarded cinder blocks, skid-steer loaders, and spent whiskey barrels—which is what we assume all “true” truckers are hauling—but for muddy mountain bikes, dripping wetsuits, smokey camping gear, and vintage furniture they just found down at the local flea market.

Truck Body, Crossover Soul

We weren’t being facetious about those crossover roots. The Santa Cruz is very much a mildly restyled 2022 Tucson with a bed. Well, at least the exterior is redone; the Santa Cruz interior is a complete copy-paste job of its SUV alter ego’s. Don’t mistake this for slander, as the new Tucson is a solid compact crossover. Still, against the Honda Ridgeline’s 2021 macho makeover and the Maverick’s bouquet of butchness, the Santa Cruz claims the inauspicious title of the least truck-looking truck on the market. Hey, dare to be different.

The Maverick is born from the bloodline of two crossovers, its most direct progenitor being the new Ford Bronco Sport. Of course, take a prybar to the body panels of the Baby Bronc, and you’ll find the dressed-up skeleton of the Ford Escape. You likely wouldn’t have known that from just looking at the Maverick, as the automaker did a bang-up job making a front-wheel drive, unibody ute look very much like a scaled-down F-150. It’s upright and tough-looking, and from some angles, it looks more truckish than even current-gen Ford Ranger.

In contrast to the Hyundai’s interior, the Maverick’s cockpit is a complete departure from those of its closed-cabin cousins. This is a wickedly clever little truck; to keep costs down and open with an MSRP around $20,000, Ford got creative with materials, packaging, and presentation. Both the Maverick and Santa Cruz in this comparison are loaded-out, max-frill examples, so your mileage may vary with the more plebeian trims. We did, however, have the opportunity to drive and experience the mid-range XLT volume trim on a separate Maverick, but since the same cannot be said for Santa Cruz, we’ll simply confirm that even lower trims of the Ford have a smart and excellently packaged interior.

Clever, Clever Maverick

Right off the bat, there are battle lines to be drawn between each trucklet’s targeted buyer type. Each of the three trim levels of Maverick offer a distinct two-tone color palette based on standard dark blue plastic trim on the dash and center console, the former ranging from darker blue (XL), speckled white w/ orange-red accents (XLT), and chocolate brown (Lariat). Ford’s choice of plastic variety is inspiring; the untextured, unfinished trim presents itself as a material found on outdoorsy gear you might pick up at REI.

The Ford’s door panels are molded with integrated slots for large water bottles, offset by a 3D geometric texture motif on the upper portion. Cost-effective exposed fasteners were apparently a real uphill battle for internal approval at Ford, with the compromise being special Ford-engraved bolts that look great sticking from the half-handle door pulls and textured trim insert on the passenger side of the dash. Ahead of the rotary shifter, a removable molded rubber tray offers multiple compartments for phones and daily accoutrement. Of course, the bulkier stuff goes in the rear under-seat storage area that offers both battery access and slots for 3D-printed accessories.

It’s just a really clever coalescence of cost-effective design meets workhorse chic. Some might find it a bit juvenile, but we reckon most prospective buyers will fall head over heels. If you’re in search of something far more traditional and mature, the Santa Cruz is your best bet, considering it’s the same no-nonsense interior guts you would get on a 2022 Tucson. On this loaded Limited example, this means a dark environment cut with leather, glossy piano black trim, and soft-touch plastic surfaces, with large 10.3-inch digital displays for both the driver’s gauges and the center infotainment console. Sorry Maverick maniacs—the best you can spec for the moment is the optional 8.0-inch center screen and a small digital readout between traditional physical gauges.

Dimensional Debate

Interior-wise, the major differences between the two stop at the aesthetics and structural packaging. Your passengers—front and rear—will experience no dramatic spike in comfort in one truck over the other; The Santa Cruz’s 40.7 inches of front headroom and 40.1 inches of rear headroom best the Maverick by 2.7 and 0.6 inch, respectively (with the sunroof closed), but the Ford stretches out with 42.8/36.9 inches of front/rear legroom to the Hyundai’s 41.4/36.5. South Korea’s ute claims passenger shoulder room superiority with 57.6 inches front and 56.1 inches rear to the Maverick’s 57.3/55.6 figures.

There’s quite a significant difference in bed size and amenities. The Santa Cruz shuttles landscape bricks and firewood with a 4.3-foot bed, the base of which is made from sheet molded composite rather than traditional steel or aluminum, much like the Honda Ridgeline. How apropos, as the Hyundai bed also includes a small trunk-like compartment under its rear section, just like the Honda. There are drain plugs to allow it to serve as a drink or perishables cooler, but it’s pretty shallow, so be wary of potentially smushed items. The Hyundai also offers an integrated retractable metal tonneau that locks for precious or weather-sensitive cargo, integrated bumper steps, and LED bed lights to help you find your stuff.

The Ford’s bed is a bit more traditional, though there are a few tricks to be found. A 4.5-foot steel bed with optional spray-in or drop-in lining serves as the sole configuration. No lift-up storage or steps here, but Ford’s hyped FlexBed layout allows for two storage compartments on either side near the tailgate exit. Optional modules like a 400W/120V inverter plug on the side allow the Maverick to serve as a bit of a basecamp generator when roughing it in the wilderness. Oh, and there are bottle openers on the sides of the tailgate, so pop those tops.

Engine Explanation

For the sake of this comparison, we’re sticking solely to the range-topping turbocharged powertrains featured in our star cars, ignoring the Maverick’s exceptional base hybrid drivetrain and the Santa Cruz’s naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder that will be made available for front-wheel-drive applications.

So, this means our test Santa Cruz buzzed around with the 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, good for a stout 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft, sent through an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission and all-wheel drive. A dual-clutch in something rated for towing is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, but it’s interesting to note this configuration is not offered on the Tucson, instead only on the larger Santa Fe. In our testing, this combo was good for a more than adequate 6.2-second 0-60 mph run, right on up to a 14.7-second quarter mile finish.

Pony to pony, the Santa Cruz has the Maverick beat, with the Ford’s 2.0-liter turbo-four tailing with a still-healthy 250 horsepower and 277 lb-ft routed through a traditional eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Still, despite the 4,187-pound Hyundai lugging an extra 282 pounds, the Ford scooted to a 7.0-second 0-60 mph result and 15.4-second quarter-mile.

How Do They Drive?

Surprise, surprise—both drove exactly as you might expect a pair of be-bedded crossovers would, though the Hyundai was the biggest surprise. It feels more like a Sonata with a bed than a crossover from the driver’s throne, particularly when city streets give way to that curvy mountain pass. It feels planted and predictable, with plenty of power; there’s also plenty of grip to get around rough-surfaced curves.

As advertised, it drives like an anti-truck. Acceleration is thick and smoother than you would expect of a dual-clutch, a notably more cohesive experience than what you get with the turbo’d Ford. There’s good responsiveness, instant torque, and not much lag, making it a better, smoother implementation than the Maverick’s turbocharged drivetrain.

The Maverick is hardly a snoozer, however. As it does in the Bronco Sport, the 2.0-liter doesn’t quite feel like it actually puts down the figures it claims, or perhaps some power gets siphoned off by the all-wheel-drive system and/or traction control in the transition from rod to road, but power is still solidly in the “punchy” category. It has a fairly broad powerband, and we like the quick-shifting automatic transmission, which features smartly chosen gear ratios.

Yes, They Can Both Go Off-Road

Our Maverick arrived with the nitty-gritty FX4 off-road package that ostensibly ups the trucklet’s capacity for mud and dirt, adding an off-road-tuned suspension, skid plates, and a handful of terrain drive modes that should make the drive to the winter cottage that much less nerve-wracking. This made our Cyber Orange Maverick FX4 feel distinctly more “truckish” than the Hyundai, with slightly vague steering and a bouncier ride. That’s all compared to the sedan-steady Hyundai, however; compared to even the nicest Ranger or F-150, the Maverick might as well be a Lincoln Continental.

Neither truck should be your first choice on even a moderate off-road expedition, but some time in the dirt with each showed you’d need to stray far, far into the wilderness to get yourself stuck. Both share the same decent 8.6-inch ground clearance, though the Ford charges ahead with a 21.6-degree approach angle versus the Hyundai’s 17.5 degrees. Both are nearly equal on departure and breakover angles, though the Santa Cruz bests the American in both categories.

Terrain modes are noticeably absent from the Hyundai’s menu, with only Comfort, Eco, Sport, and Smart available. So, other than its fake, brake-based faux diff-lock functionality, you’re on your own to figure out the best method of attack. We shouldn’t have been so worried; it never ran into any issues through deeply rutted sand paths as long as speed was maintained. Only on a deep-sand-covered hill did it bog down and require some semi-careful planning to avoid stalling. Those already planning on that remote Hipcamp locale shouldn’t have any problem making the trek.

If you’d like some capability cushion without resorting to a true 4×4 midsize truck, pick the Maverick FX4. Two extra modes—Sand and Mud/Ruts—are added, alongside traditional hill-descent control if you’re really roughing it. Off-road, it feels very playful on account of its light weight, and its all-terrain tires have a lot of grip.

Towing Tricks

Towing isn’t the strong suit of either truck, but maximums of 4,000 pounds for the 2.0T Maverick and 5,000 pounds for the Santa Cruz are more than enough for small camper trailers and small-scale powersports stuff like dirt bikes and wave runners. The Santa Cruz tows a load easily and confidently; you can barely tell a trailer is behind it save for a whiff of sway. The dual-clutch transmission had no issue with the extra weight.

The Ford was less confident pulling the same 3,000 pound load, but it still managed fairly well. The trailer seemed to boss the truck around a little bit, but an aftermarket trailer brake controller might help prevent some of that sensation. We wouldn’t hesitate to tow with the Ford again, although we might keep to smaller loads without a controller.

Wait, They Cost How Much?

Wait until you hear how much you’re gonna pay for each truck. Unfortunately, the Santa Cruz is a bit pricey, with the cheapest example equipped with both the turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive starting just under $36,000, since that combination is tethered to the top two trims. Our test truck stuck a $41,990 lump in our throat, pushing it entirely too close to the larger, more capable Honda Ridgeline, not to mention a veritable fleet of decently equipped midsize trucks. Sticking with the 191-hp naturally aspirated engine nets you all-wheel drive at around $26,000, but expect to pay a bit more for all the optional extras like the bed accessories and interior niceties—as well as take quite a bit more time to get where you’re going.

The headlines weren’t exaggerating as regards the Maverick’s price: You can get a front-wheel-drive hybrid for a smidge over $20,000. Our orange truck wasn’t that cheap, being significantly pricier at $38,895, but if you’re on a budget, there’s quite a bit of fat to trim in needless infotainment upgrades, leather trim, driver assists, and the sunroof. Most buyers will find the sweet spot for an all-wheel-drive Maverick falling somewhere in the high $20,000 or low $30,000 range.

We’re Just So Excited

Golly, we sure missed small trucks. We’d like to extend a hearty “thank you” to both Hyundai and Ford for revitalizing a dormant segment, and we desperately hope sales are strong enough to convince other automakers to hop in the fray. Until then, what a great duo to kick things off. But, if we’re picking which one takes the crown here, it’s the 2022 Ford Maverick, hands down.

We really do like the Santa Cruz, but the Maverick offers everything the Hyundai does, only at a substantially lower price. That, and it fizzes with enough character to brim the hold of an oil tanker. The Maverick is more fun, more truckish, more thoroughly conceived, and truly a revelation in packaging. We all want one. No, not another loaner—we want one to own. There’s a Maverick for everyone, and if there isn’t the perfect configuration available yet, stick around—there’s no doubt a whole heap of variants headed down the pipe. Maverick Mania is here, and we couldn’t be happier about it.

Second Place: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Pros:

  • Refined, high-quality interior and attractive exterior
  • Smooth, robust turbocharged engine
  • Sturdy and lockable roll-up tonneau cover

Cons:

  • Stepping up to the turbo is quite expensive
  • Doesn’t truck as well as it lifestyles
  • Capacitive controls can frustrate

First Place: 2022 Ford Maverick Lariat FX4

Pros:

  • Exceptional value for money
  • Interior is wildly creative and clever
  • Looks the part of a pickup

Cons:

  • Engine feels a bit weaker than its rating
  • Upper trims can get fairly expensive
  • Lariat interior isn’t a substantial upgrade

 

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