Remember the compact trucks that were popular in the 1980s and 1990s? Well, they’ve made a comeback for the 2022 model year via the all-new Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz.
Built on crossover platforms, the Maverick and Santa Cruz promise better fuel economy and ride comfort than traditional midsize or full-size body-on-frame pickups such as the Toyota Tacoma or Ford F-150. They can’t tow or haul as much as those trucks, but still have enough utility to suit many buyers. So which compact truck is the better purchase?
Styling + Comfort
The Ford Maverick closely resembles its F-150 sibling in miniature. A rectangular grille, oversized headlights, and slab sides make for a utilitarian aesthetic that’s sure to put traditional truck buyers at ease. Hyundai’s Santa Cruz counters with design daring inspired by the concept. A dynamic grille, swept forward rear roof pillars and available 20-inch wheels create curb appeal the Maverick can’t match.
While the Maverick shares its platform with the Escape crossover SUV, it rides like a conventional truck — that is to say, firm. Stiff seats and hard interior plastics can’t cushion the Ford’s bumpy ride, either. Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz leverages its Tucson crossover SUV underpinnings for a smooth ride over almost any road surface. Supple, supportive front seats further enhance driving comfort. Hyundai’s Santa Cruz is off to a strong start with striking style and ride refinement.
Winner: Santa Cruz
Engines + Fuel Economy
Ford offers the Maverick pickup with two engine choices: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid producing 191 horsepower or a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 250 hp. The peppier motor hustles the Maverick to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds and returns a respectable 25 mpg in the EPA’s combined estimate for city/highway driving. Going hybrid rewards buyers with an incredible 37 mpg combined.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz also has a pair of powertrains: a base 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 191 hp or an available turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder with a stout 281 hp. The base engine only manages an EPA-estimated 23 combined while the turbo engine trails the Maverick’s sprint to 60 mph by a tenth of a second. With neither a performance nor efficiency edge, the Hyundai Santa Cruz falls behind the Ford Maverick in this category.
Towing + Versatility
Unlike conventional body-on-frame trucks, unibody platforms lack the structural integrity to tow heavy loads. But what the Maverick and Santa Cruz lose in pulling power they make up for in flexibility.
The Santa Cruz is rated to tow 3,500 pounds with its base engine and 5,000 pounds with the turbo powertrain. It’s worth noting that the Santa Cruz doesn’t come with a factory-installed trailer brake controller, which is a feature you can use to adjust the trailer’s brakes from within the cabin. For heavier trailers, it’s a near-must.
With ratings of 2,000 and 4,000 pounds for its hybrid and turbocharged engines, respectively, the Maverick can’t tow as much as the Santa Cruz. However, an available trailer brake controller should give drivers more confidence. The Maverick also optimizes in-cabin storage with clever cubbies.
At four-feet long, the Santa Cruz’s bed is shorter than the Maverick’s by half a foot, but is just as configurable and features a versatile under-bed storage bin. Payload ratings for the Santa Cruz and Maverick are comparable for hauling materials. Given that each truck has towing and storage perks, these two are on equal footing.
Features + Value
The Ford Maverick flaunts a sub-$22,000 starting figure, including destination, for its fuel-sipping hybrid version (sold out for the 2022 model year), though standard equipment is thin. The more potent turbocharged four-cylinder can be added independent of trim for $1,085 and the all-wheel drive system for $3,305. A well-equipped Maverick nestles within the low to mid-$30K territory, still thousands less than an SEL Premium Santa Cruz.
Hyundai prices the Santa Cruz at a loftier $25,215, including destination, but provides features such as lane keep assist, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and 18-inch alloy wheels as standard. Unfortunately, to access the bigger engine and premium features, shoppers will need to set aside around $37,000 for the SEL Premium trim.
We’re glad to see the return of compact pickups, satisfying the needs of DIY-ers and adventurers. The Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz may share this segment, but each is targeting a slightly different audience. Of the two trucks, we finds the more frugal and versatile Maverick to be the better buy.