Recently, Ford and Hyundai came up with a similar idea for the compact pickup: trucks are popular, but the traditional body-on-frame versions have gotten big – and breathtakingly expensive. Why not offer truck versatility and cargo flexibility in a more accessible, affordable and efficient unibody (aka car-based) package?
And the fruits of their labors came right on top of each other. Both the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz debuted with much fanfare last year. However, the natural question here in 2022 is which one to buy. I tested them both for a week in my southeastern Michigan home—and in the Maverick’s case, at the Tennessee launch event—to find out.
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The Maverick feels more like a truck than the Santa Cruz
Compact pickup meant different things to Ford and Hyundai. Ford leaned into the corner of the truck; the Maverick looks like a small F-150. It gets familiar Ford truck features, like the Fx4 off-road package found on other pickups. It has a 54-inch longer bed than the Hyundai, a bed approaching the five-foot length you’d find in a mid-sized truck.
Hyundai took a different angle. It will not refer to the Santa Cruz as a truck; rather, it’s a “sports adventure vehicle” that “shatters both truck and SUV segments.” It has a longer wheelbase than Hyundai’s Tucson crossover. But it draws heavily from the Tucson’s aggressive styling and, with a shorter 48-inch bed, gives more of a Subaru Baja crossover with sort of a truck-bed vibe. My colleague Will Sabel Courtney likened the Santa Cruz to a ‘warthog in a tuxedo’.
In terms of dimensions, the trucks are shaped differently. To use an easily obvious metaphor for a young parent, the Maverick is Bert from Ernie. from Santa Cruz† The Maverick is four inches longer than the Santa Cruz — it has a longer wheelbase and longer overall length than Ford’s three-row Explorer SUV. He is also two centimeters taller. The Santa Cruz is 2.4 inches wider than the Maverick. And when we compare fully loaded AWD versions, the Santa Cruz is about 400 pounds heavier.
Both the Maverick and Santa Cruz drive very well
Both the Maverick and Santa Cruz feel almost surprisingly fast, agile and balanced, especially when you frame them as pickups. At the top level with its turbocharged engine and dual clutch transmission, the Santa Cruz achieves a level of refinement and ride quality that the Maverick doesn’t. Both Ford powertrains can sound a bit agricultural when you push them. The Santa Cruz drives well; the Maverick rides well for its price.
The counterpoint to the Maverick is that the base engine for the Santa Cruz isn’t considered as good as the top-shelf turbo, while Ford’s base hybrid was the one I chose over the more powerful turbo Maverick. And you can get into a turbocharged Maverick for a lot less money than a turbocharged Santa Cruz.
Both the Maverick and Santa Cruz have 8.6 inches of ground clearance with AWD, a hair shorter than a Subaru Outback that isn’t out in the wilderness. I only drove the Maverick off-road at the launch event, where an AWD truck with the Fx4 pack handled a trail really well. The Santa Cruz, meanwhile, acted confidently as I drove it through heavy snow on some severely worn Detroit roads while helping a friend move.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz has the nicer interior
Premium-looking interiors are a hallmark of the Hyundai Motor Group, be it a Hyundai, a Kia or a Genesis. And—but for a truck-like PRND shifter—the Santa Cruz has essentially the same plush interior as in the Tucson, with features like ventilated seats you can’t get on the Maverick.
Ford does a great job of adding useful features and textures to make a cheap interior cool and exciting – you can keep that giant water bottle of yours in the door, for example. But no one would confuse the Maverick with a luxury car.
Both Maverick and Santa Cruz are surprisingly capable trucks
Both the Maverick and Santa Cruz are crossover based, but they do offer decent trucking capabilities. The Santa Cruz is better at towing. The base model can tow up to 3,500 lbs, and the turbocharged AWD Santa Cruz increases that capacity to 5,000 lbs, the same as a Honda Ridgeline. That’s more than the Maverick; a base Ford can tow 2,000 lbs, but you can level that up to 4,000 lbs with a tow package.
Load capacity is a bit more difficult. I’ve seen several numbers — up to 1,753 pounds — for Santa Cruz’s payload. That being said, as Jalopnik points outthe door sticker lists it at 1,411 lbs which is actually over 100 lbs less than the 1,519 lb rating for the Maverick. I haven’t tested the Santa Cruz’s payload. But I drove a Maverick loaded with a full pallet of mulch — over 1,000 pounds — and it still rode well, making nearly 40 mpg.
Speaking of mpg, the Ford Maverick is much more efficient
The Santa Cruz achieves similar fuel economy as a mid-sized truck. It averages 23mpg combined with its naturally aspirated 2.5-litre base engine, and that drops to 22mpg combined if you opt for the turbo. The Maverick crushes that. The turbocharged engine gets 25 mpg with AWD and 26 mpg without. Meanwhile, the base Maverick engine is a hybrid setup that averages 37 mpg combined and 42 mpg in the city.
Those numbers felt about right for both vehicles. With the Santa Cruz, I averaged just under 20 mpg, although I transferred it with a long stretch of highway. I hit 40 mpg with the Maverick without even trying. And at the launch event, I heard stories from journalists who did try to drive efficiently and get mpg numbers well into the 1950s.
The Tucson has both a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid version. Presumably that means the Santa Cruz could get one if Hyundai feels the sales volume would be worth the spend.
The Maverick is also significantly cheaper than the Santa Cruz
The Maverick and the Santa Cruz have different missions. For Ford, the Maverick is their new entry-level car, designed to clear out at a price rife with boring sedans; the Santa Cruz should be more expensive and a nice alternative to the Tucson, or a cooler Honda Ridgeline. Their pricing reflects those missions.
Ford will start the Maverick for $19,995 for destination, making it the cheapest hybrid vehicle for sale in America. Want to level up to the EcoBoost engine with a 250 horsepower EcoBoost engine and 277 lb-ft of torque? It’s $21,080. Add four-wheel drive and you’re still under $25,000. You can load up a Lariat trim with AWD and the tow pack for under $32,000.
The Santa Cruz is a bit more expensive. Hyundai sells it with a base MSRP of $24,440. That jumps to $25,940 if you add AWD. And leveling up to the 280-horsepower turbo engine takes a jump to the SEL Premium trim, which starts at $36,130. The fully loaded version starts above $40,000.
Which compact truck should I buy? The Ford Maverick
Although it doesn’t come with AWD, the hybrid Ford Maverick is annoyingly one of the best values on the car market. And the regular gas version – while not as revolutionary – is still a lot on its own. Plus, you don’t need to load up Maverick to get a compelling truck; Ford proudly has stripped-down base model trucks in its media fleet as proof of that.
The Santa Cruz is an attractive vehicle, but it doesn’t offer the same value proposition. And if you’re in the $40,000 range, it’s not clear why you’d necessarily want your segment smashed instead of buying an excellent Tucson Hybrid or a Toyota Tacoma for about the same price.
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