Our Rides: The Newest Pickup Trucks Are Now Much Smaller

Photo by Randy Stern
Photo by Randy Stern

Now that pickup trucks have grown larger, perhaps it’s time for some of these workhorses to shrink down to size. 

It has been a very long time since we’ve seen pickup trucks small enough to live in the city. While they can still carry the load, they can also park on the streets of Minneapolis’ North Loop or along Grand Avenue in St. Paul. They can also work the fields in our rural communities and bring them to market, too! 

Photo by Randy Stern

For 2022, two new small pickup trucks are now available to us: The Ford Maverick and the Hyundai Santa Cruz. 

There are a few twists to these two new small pickups. One, both vehicles were developed from SUVs and crossovers. The Santa Cruz started out as a Hyundai Tucson, while the Maverick was born from the Ford Bronco Sport, which in turn was developed from the Escape. Unlike most pickup trucks sold in this country, both the Ford and Hyundai are produced on unibody platforms.

The next twist comes from the marketing departments of these two brands. Ford has no qualms calling their Maverick a pickup truck. Some campaigns align the Maverick with its larger brand mates, the Ranger and the F-Series. 

Photo by Randy Stern

On the other hand, Hyundai calls their Santa Cruz a “sports adventure vehicle,” claiming to have created an all-new segment. On occasion, you can hear a Hyundai person refer to the Santa Cruz as a pickup truck. 

Lastly, Ford and Hyundai approached their vehicles differently beyond just marketing and construction. For Hyundai, they’re encouraging more retail customers to enjoy their Santa Cruz as more of a leisure and recreational vehicle to fit their active lifestyles. However, there are many at Ford who see the Maverick as a great in-town light duty truck for fleet use, such as utilities, municipal governments, delivery services, and small businesses that need a truck of that size. 

Photo by Randy Stern

Ford offers two drivelines for their Maverick. The base engine is a gas-electric hybrid starting out with the corporate 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. A continuously variable transmission sends power only to the front wheels putting out a total horsepower rating of 191. You can opt for a 250-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission and available all-wheel drive. The Maverick comes in a four-door SuperCrew cab with three trim levels to choose from: XL, XLT and Lariat. 

The same goes for Hyundai, except there is not a hybrid version available. In the SE and SEL trims, power comes from a 191-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine attached to an eight-speed automatic transmission. In the SEL Premium and Limited trims, a turbocharged version of the same engine puts out 281 horsepower through a dual-clutch transmission. All-wheel drive is available across all models. The Santa Cruz is only available with a four-door cab. 

Photo by Randy Stern

One similarity we found interesting is that the Ford and Hyundai offer the same bed length for their vehicles at around 54 inches. That’s where the similarities stop. The Ford’s bed offers no gimmicks, while the Hyundai adds a locking tonneau cover and an in-bed trunk similar to the larger Honda Ridgeline. 

Photo by Randy Stern

Recently, we drove both of these new small pickup trucks and found even more differences between the two; although, we actually drove the hybrid driveline in the Maverick and the turbocharged one in the Santa Cruz. We wanted more of a taste of each of these vehicles than to just perform a complete comparison. 

Neither the Ford nor Hyundai have a truck-like ride. Both vehicles certainly feel more SUV-like intentionally, though you will find they have a purpose to fulfill. The Maverick is more useful as a pickup truck, while the Santa Fe offers more practicality and security in the open bed. 

We favored the Santa Cruz’s interior over the Maverick’s. There is more cabin space, wider opening rear doors, more comfortable seats and a more advanced instrument panel in the Hyundai. 

Photo by Randy Stern

Again, we found the Ford ready for work and the Hyundai ready to play. Which one would you take to a Pride picnic? The Santa Cruz’s in-bed compartment has a drain plug so you can load up on beverages and cold food. 

Photo by Randy Stern

As far as using on a trail to the cabin or campground, we think that both vehicles will do well. Though, if you’re looking at the Maverick, we suggest getting one with the turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. That way, you’ll have better traction on gravel and dirt roads. However, our experience tells us that the all-wheel drive and turbocharged Santa Cruz did a wonderful job on these surfaces. 

As for pricing, the Ford Maverick starts at under $20,000. The Hyundai Santa Cruz’s starting price is about $4,000 more. A loaded Maverick Lariat with every option available will set you back $36,360, while the top Santa Cruz Limited specification is priced at $41,100. 

Still can’t decide. With inventories low and availability taking weeks—if not months—to get one in, it may be tough to get a test drive in either the Ford Maverick or the Hyundai Santa Cruz. 

Still, we’re witnessing the rebirth of the small pickup truck. With two different approaches to the same type of vehicle, you can’t lose with something that’s fun to drive anywhere—with the utility of a pickup truck, to boot!

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