Two new light trucks reignite a once vacant segment. The Ford Maverick versus the Hyundai Santa Cruz makes for a hard choice.
When the Ford Ranger made its return back in 2019, there was some disappointment that Ford had decided to make it a mid-size rather than a light pickup. It turns out Ford was hard at work on the Maverick, their new entry-level light truck. And in that capacity, the Maverick impresses as a well-executed balance between quality and affordability. But Ford wasn’t the only company making forays into the long neglected light truck segment. Hyundai’s new Santa Cruz, what they call a Sport Adventure Vehicle, is the company’s first truck and an eye-catching spin on the light truck.
In such a small (but hopefully growing) segment, naturally these two new trucks will need to be compared side-by-side. Will the more refined Santa Cruz deserve the nod or will the more economical Maverick win the day?
The Ford Maverick’s base powertrain is a hybrid system featuring a 2.5L inline four-cylinder paired with two electric motors for 191 horsepower and 155 lb.-ft. of torque plus and additional 173 lb.-ft. from the battery pack. This system is paired with a CVT transmission and comes in front-wheel drive only. Fuel economy is impressive at 43 city and 33 highway mpg. The upgraded EcoBoost 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder makes 250 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque and comes with an eight-speed automatic. Equipped with front-wheel drive the 2.0L version gets 23 city and 30 highway mpg while the all-wheel drive gets 22 city and 29 highway mpg. The Maverick has a maximum tow rating of 4,000-lbs.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz also comes with two choices of powertrain. First up is the 2.5L inline-four with 191 horsepower and 181 lb.-ft. of torque and comes paired with an eight-speed automatic. With front wheel drive it gets 21 city and 26 highway mpg and 22 city and 29 highway when equipped with all-wheel drive. The upgraded 2.5L turbocharged four-cylinder makes 281 horsepower and 311 lb.-ft. of torque and comes with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. It comes in all-wheel drive only and gets 19 city and 27 highway mpg. The Santa Cruz, when properly equipped, as a maximum tow rating of 5,000-lbs.
The Ford Maverick benefits from its unibody construction and softly tuned suspension for a ride that more resembles a crossover than it does a truck. Steering is well balanced and evenly weighted, and the cabin is well insulated for a quiet highway ride. The hybrid 2.5L powertrain offers very impressive fuel economy at 43 city mpg while still providing a decent kick under hard throttle application. The CVT isn’t of the belt driven variety (it has planetary gearing instead), and therefore absent is the typical “rubber band” feel so may decry. The 2.0L EcoBoost engine offers more pep and pairs well with the eight-speed automatic, which is smooth and precise (unlike Ford’s current ten-speed, which is often caught hunting for the right gear). Turbo lag is present but not egregious. Overall, the Maverick offers a comfortable and car-like ride.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz is also a unibody and also drives more like the crossover it is underneath. It too possesses a soft and compliant ride complimented by light, accurate steering and well-controlled body roll. The eight-speed dual clutch that comes with the turbocharged engine is a nice touch, though it does allow the truck to roll slightly when shifting between drive and reverse. As impressive as the Maverick’s driving is, the Santa Cruz is incrementally better while offering a bit more pep in its turbo option.
The Ford Maverick continues to surprise once you’re inside the cabin. Materials like the reground carbon fiber for paneling that might smack of marketing spin and cost savings if the design and functionality weren’t so well executed. Space is ample for fore and aft, with the rear seats folding up to proved additional storage options. The Maverick’s bed is four-and-a-half feet in length and comes with options for spray-in bedliner, a tri-folding tonneau cover, and bed lighting. Ford included a scannable QR code of additional suggestions for DIY storage solutions. Ford SNYC infotainment software is responsive and the digital gauge cluster pops with impressive resolution. The Maverick is a good blend of originality, functionality, and affordability.
It’s inside the Hyundai Santa Cruz that the price difference between these two light trucks becomes clear. Materials are of a good quality, fit and finish are also good, and the design, while not as unique as the Maverick’s, is well done. The seats are quite comfortable even in the rear. But backseat passenger space is more limited than in the Maverick. The center stack does come with a lot of gloss black plastic, which tends to accumulate fingerprints and dust. The Santa Cruz’s four-foot bed reduces its utility slightly and is made worse by the built-in, lockable tonneau cover (which is otherwise a great feature). Still, the Santa Cruz is plenty capable for the typical Home Depot run.
The Ford Maverick comes in three trims: XL, XLT, and Lariat. The base XL trim ($19,995) starts things off with an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth, two USB ports, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a Wi-Fi hotspot, keyless entry, a six-speaker stereo, LED headlights, and cloth upholstery. A moonroof and the 2.0L turbocharged engine with AWD ($3,305) are additional options. Standard safety features include pedestrian detection, a rearview camera, forward automatic emergency braking, and forward collision warning. Additional safety options include lane keep assist, rear cross-traffic alerts, blind spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, and adaptive cruise control.
The XLT trim ($22,280/$23,365 with AWD) adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a power-locking tailgate, an in-bed cargo box, and cruise control. The Luxury Package ($2,345) adds a hitch receiver, heated front seats and steering wheel, a power driver’s seat, remote start, spray-in bed liner, bed lighting, and two additional USB ports. The Lariat trim ($25,490/$26,575 with AWD) adds dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, two more USB ports, push-button start, power front seats, and its own Luxury Package ($3,304) with heated front seats, an eight-speaker stereo, wireless charging, as well as all of the optional safety features and all of the XLT Luxury Package items.
The FX4 Off-Road Package (XLT and Lariat trims at $800) adds skid plates, hill decent control, multiple drive modes (mud, ruts, and sand), front tow hooks, and a trailer hitch receiver. Additional options include a bed-mounted toolbox, bed lighting, tonneau cover, bed extender, and spray-in bed liner.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz comes in four trims: SE, SEL, SEL Premium, Limited. The base SE trim ($23,990/$25,490 with AWD) gets an eight-inch touchscreen, HD radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, two USB ports, keyless entry, Bluetooth, 18-inch alloy wheels, cloth upholstery, and load-leveling rear shocks. Standard safety features include lane keep assist, pedestrian and cyclist detection, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, rearview camera, automatic high beams, rear seat alerts, and a driver attention monitor. Safety options include blind spot monitoring with camera display (when signaling), 360° parking camera, rear cross-traffic alerts, and adaptive cruise with lane centering.
The SEL trim ($27,190/$28,690 with AWD) adds a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, all the optional safety features, and the Activity Package ($3,270) gets you a 120-volt bed outlet, 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster, roof rails, sunroof, wireless charging, built-in tonneau cover, and LED headlights. The SEL Premium ($35,680) gets the turbocharged engine, AWD, dual-zone climate control, digital key, leather upholstery, LED headlights, and the Activity pack items. The Limited ($39,720) gets a 10.2-inch infotainment touchscreen, wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, navigation, ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, an eight-speaker Bose stereo, rear seat USB ports, heated steering wheel, 20-inch wheels, ambient lighting, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control.
Though these two light pickups will compete in the same segment, they’re clearly aimed at two different demographics. The Maverick caters to fleet buyers looking for an efficient and functional pickup that doesn’t come with the astronomical sticker price of today’s full-size trucks. The Maverick is also Ford’s least expensive vehicle (yes, the starting price of $19,995 is less than that of the EcoSport) and will inevitably attract buyers who are being honest with themselves about how much “truck” they really need.
As we mentioned above, the Hyundai Santa Cruz is being marked as a “Sport Adventure Vehicle”. Pickup utility comes second to the “fun” crossover ethos that drives sales for the Patagonia-sporting Millennial set. With an impressive driving experience, good looks, and marginally more utility than the average CUV, the Santa Cruz looks to be well positioned upmarket from the Maverick.
Though they’re both impressive in their own way, it’s the Maverick’s sticker price that breaks the deal in its favor. The current car market is crazy, and the value proposition Ford has been able to strike with the Maverick is truly something to marvel at. There’s a reason why this light truck is currently sold out. Orders for the Maverick will resume sometime in the second quarter of 2022, and we think it’s worth the wait.