Hyundai’s compact Santa Cruz has been spied during testing in the USA, revealing how the Korean brand will adapt its aggressive new design language to a pickup.

    Pictures of the American-market-focused Santa Cruz show how the brand’s latest design language, debuted on the new Sonata and featured on the i30 Sedan and Santa Fe SUV, could be applied to a ute in Australia.

    There’s a prominent grille and integrated daytime running lights, below which sits the indicators and main beam headlamps.

    The front bumper very car-like compared to the crop of dual-cab utes offered in Australia, while the tray looks to be integrated with the body through a sloping sail panel.

    The Santa Cruz is thought to be based on the Santa Fe’s platform, and will be built in the USA for North America.

    It’s expected to be powered by a range of four-cylinder petrol engines, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.

    Its most logical competitor in the USA is the unibody Honda Ridgeline, however the Santa Cruz is expected to be smaller than the slow-selling Honda.

    Despite lagging behind the likes of Chevrolet and Ford in sales, the Ridgeline has a passionate following among satisfied owners who love its car-like driving experience and cabin.

    The ute destined for Australia in 2023 won’t be a small, road-focused pickup like the Santa Cruz. Instead, it’s expected to be a dual-cab workhorse with the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux in its sights.

    Speaking in 2019, then-Hyundai Australia boss J.W Lee told media the company has sent researchers to Australia and other south-east Asian markets to research what’s required of a dual-cab ute.

    The vehicle’s exact capabilities haven’t yet been confirmed, but expect a payload of around a tonne and a braked towing capacity of around 3500kg – any less would put the new ute at a disadvantage compared to its rivals

    Hyundai is targeting 15,000 annual sales for the dual-cab ute, which would help bump it above Mazda in the Australian sales race.

    When it arrives, the Hyundai ute will face up against a tougher-than-ever crowd of dual-cab rivals in Australia.

    Mazda has the new BT-50, and a new Isuzu D-Max is imminent. A new Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok are slated to arrive in 2023, the former of which will feature a more upmarket cabin and hybrid power.

    The Toyota HiLux is being constantly refined, and a raft of Chinese competitors is chasing the established crowd.

    Scott Collie

    Scott Collie is an automotive journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Scott studied journalism at RMIT University and, after a lifelong obsession with everything automotive, started covering the car industry shortly afterwards. He has a passion for travel, and is an avid Melbourne Demons supporter.

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