|40||Fuel Economy (mpg city est)||23|
|4.5||Bed Length (ft)||4.3|
|Available||FX4 Off-Road (package)||Not Available|
A new wave of highly practical compact trucks has just arrived, with the standouts being the Ford Maverick and the Hyundai Santa Cruz. These compact pickup trucks are in many ways the antithesis of the continuing trend of bigger and more expensive full-size, full-frame trucks. The new machines are instead marketed on their compactness, maneuverability in the city, and jaw-droppingly low cost. When it comes to the newest and best of this segment, one has to compare the 2022 Ford Maverick vs 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz.
Interestingly, the same tradeoffs between the full-size and midsize pickups that dominate the market play out between their smaller unibody compact cousins, the Maverick and Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz is bigger, heavier, and at least on paper, has more capability in some areas. But the Maverick ticks all the same boxes for being able to haul payloads and tow small to medium loads, all while being significantly cheaper and dramatically more efficient. In general, for those looking to get the most out of a compact truck, instead of a poor imitation of a midsize truck, the Maverick is the way to go.
From the start, the defining feature of the Maverick, at least when compared to others in its segment, is that it comes with a ridiculously efficient hybrid powertrain standard. By comparison, the Hyundai's standard engine is an adequately torquey but somewhat basic 2.5-liter naturally aspirated inline-four. The standard 2.5-liter hybrid setup in the Maverick is all about saving money at the pump and lowering running costs, with a truly eye-popping estimated 40 miles per gallon fuel economy. This is nearly double the mileage achieved by the Santa Cruz, depending on the engine option selected.
The base model Maverick is not just several thousand dollars cheaper to buy than the cheapest Santa Cruz, but also far cheaper to run year after year. The Maverick's standard hybrid powertrain pummels the Santa Cruz's in terms of city-bound efficiency, but even out on the open highway, the Maverick can go much further on less fuel. If you are shopping for a compact truck because you don't want to deal with the high fuel costs associated with a larger truck, the Maverick is the way to go.
Both the Santa Cruz and the Maverick come with a higher performance turbocharged inline-four engine as an option, with both offering plenty of torque and horsepower to go around. These modern turbo engines are the perfect match for the use case and specifications of these compact trucks and actually offer more power than most would ever want in a truck designed to bounce around town. That extra power does make both the turbo Santa Cruz and the EcoBoost Maverick more fun to drive while still managing more than acceptable levels of gas mileage and efficiency for trucks that were designed with those stats at the forefront. In another life, these are the kinds of engines that would be placed in hot hatch performance cars or hot-rodded into compact cars to create sport compacts.
In terms of transmissions, the Maverick and Santa Cruz once again have some similarities and differences. Both vehicles have advanced eight-speed automatic transmissions available, along with less conventional transmission choices. The less conventional choices are an optional eight-speed dual-clutch for the Santa Cruz and a continuously variable transmission that comes standard on the Maverick.
The Maverick's CVT does not actually have conventional gear sets at all, but rather a set of paired cones that can infinitely vary the gearing of the transmission instantly and on the fly, without any interruption in power delivery. Originally found in a Formula One car decades ago that was banned from the circuit for being too fast, this technology offers a rather unconventional driving experience but is absolutely perfect for always keeping an engine at a certain RPM, whether that be keeping it in the powerband for maximum performance or in an efficiency sweet spot for maximum miles per gallon.
The Santa Cruz's dual-clutch unit is another formerly race-derived piece of technology, and while it has a more normal driving experience, a dual-clutch is generally heavier and more mechanically complex than a continuously variable transmission system. A dual-clutch transmission, or DCT, essentially pre-loads the next gear, allowing shifts to be made almost instantaneously. The first generation of lower-cost dry DCT systems in cars that cost less than six figures was terrible across the board, with significant reliability issues. For the Santa Cruz, Hyundai has instead gone with a mass-market version of the wet DCT systems that were made famous on supercars. These can actually handle the power of a normal passenger car reliably but are an entirely unproven choice for a pickup truck.
On the inside, both the Santa Cruz and Maverick are anything but cramped. The Maverick even has over a hundred cubic feet of interior passenger volume, and both it and the Santa Cruz can comfortably seat five adults. They are as easy to get into and operate as the crossovers that the future owners of either pickup likely drive now. However, the overall look of the two compact truck's interiors is actually quite different from one another. The Santa Cruz's interior is made to look car-like, soft, and sleek. The Maverick's interior is more utilitarian in aesthetic, with a certain hard-won regalness to it. The Santa Cruz's interior evokes a well-designed car or crossover, while the Maverick is more along the lines of a noticeably up-market pickup truck.
While they look different, both interiors are just as comfortable and functional as a standard crossover or car. They are both highly connected as well, with the latest versions of each manufacturer's infotainment system. These systems are capable of syncing up with your smartphone to make streaming audio completely seamless and so easy you don't even need to think about it.
The Maverick's interior is definitely more thought out, thanks to numerous utilities and practical considerations like under-seat storage, among a long list of other innovations. The Santa Cruz, by comparison, is simply normal, with what you would expect in terms of practicality and storage space in an average crossover.
The Santa Cruz does compete with the Maverick in the battery of safety and driver assistance features included on both vehicles. Active systems include lane keep assistance, automatic emergency braking, advanced airbags, and adaptive cruise control. All of these features combined make driving safer and easier than ever before, especially out on the open road.
Overall, the Maverick and Santa Cruz have differing looks in terms of interiors. When it comes to utility and practicality, we have to give it to America's top truck manufacturer - Ford knows what it is doing, and the Maverick is the standout winner.
A hallmark of the current crop of compact pickups is unibody construction. Compared to standard pickup trucks, including vehicles like the F-150, Ram, and Silverado, this type of architecture allows for much more efficient construction. That means a lighter vehicle in general, but at the same time being more rigid in many cases. There are tradeoffs to car-like and crossover-defining unibody construction, though. Mainly that "full frame" vehicles like the full-size pickups mentioned earlier, which have their cab and bed modules mounted on a separate frame structure, can carry far more weight.
A Different Type of Truck
But for a compact pickup truck, many automakers have correctly determined that the use case demands something different. Big trucks are great for big loads, but most owners never actually use even a fraction of that overwhelming capability while still incurring the very literal costs of having a heavier vehicle. The Maverick and Santa Cruz, like crossovers, are made for carrying smaller loads in tighter spaces while at the same time offering enormous advantages in terms of purchase and operating costs.
In the end, these small pickups are the product of new ways of thinking about trucks and utility, where practicality is put before ego. Between the two trucks being compared here, the Ford Maverick is lighter and more efficient than the generally bigger and heavier Santa Cruz, making the Ford better optimized for the needs of compact pickup customers.