The ute that has been in the back of Hyundai’s design mind for many years has been unveiled for the first time at this year’s Detroit motor show. The surprise concept (above and below) is called the Santa Cruz, a naming step to go along with the Santa Fe, New Zealand’s best selling SUV. I queried Hyundai executives in Seoul in the late 1990s about a ute that would rival workhorses like the Toyota Hilux, Nissan Navara, and Mitsubishi Triton. Back then they said such a model didn’t make much sense because it would be too small for the all-important US market, where the bigger Ford F-Series and Dodge Rams ruled. They have been saying pretty much the same thing ever since. Until now, of course. The Santa Cruz concept is significantly smaller than the all-American Fords and Dodges. It is powered a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel that sends its 140kW/400Nm to all four wheels via Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel-drive system. The concept includes a hard tonneau cover to protect equipment in the tray, along with a tailgate extension device that can temporarily lengthen the ute’s bed to accommodate large objects. The Santa Cruz has seating for five in a body that features tie-down points on the roof, bed and wheel arches. Oversized wheels and a cascading front grille give the machine a unique look. Hyundai’s US director of corporate planning,
Mark Dipko, told reporters at Detroit that the Santa Cruz has been designed with “urban adventurers” in mind, not just tradespeople. “This new crossover allows them all the expandable utility they need throughout their active week, from work-life professionalism, to social interests, to a whole variety of outdoor pursuits, without the typical compromises they have come to expect from the industry’s current product offerings,” he said. It is clear that Hyundai has been watching the growth of models like the Hilux, Navara and Volkswagen Amarok, among others, as work/family vehicles.