It was back in 2015 when Hyundai first showcased the Santa Cruz concept at the Detroit Auto Show in America. Although we have had to wait quite a while - six years to be precise - the production version is finally here in flesh as the 2022 Santa Cruz pickup. In these six years' time, Hyundai's design philosophy has changed massively and so has the styling of the Santa Cruz from concept to production. At the time of the concept's debut, project lead John Krsteski, Manager at Hyundai Design America, said that a production version "could be based on something like a Tucson." That, perhaps, is the only bit that has remained true.
The original Hyundai Santa Cruz concept's design adhered to the brand's then design philosophy and had a pretty generic SUV-ish face that was not lifted from any existing Hyundai model. With split LED headlamp design not being a trend back then, the headlamps on the concept looked quite generic and the fog lamps were positioned in the bumper below. The grille boasted of Hyundai's then signature hexagonal grille design. Fast forward to 2021, the productions-spec Hyundai Santa Cruz is heavily inspired by the new-gen Tucson, complete with the neat integration of the LED lights and the cascading grille design, with the main headlamp cluster housed within the front bumper.
It is in profile where the production-spec Santa Cruz perhaps bears the maximum resemblance with the original concept. Several styling elements such as the C-Pillar treatment, the kick-up at the rear of the window line, the lower body styling, extent of the overhangs and even the plain round wheel arches have striking resemblance with the concept. That said, there's one key difference. While the concept featured long front doors with half-sized, rear-hinged rear doors, Hyundai has adopted a traditional four-door crew-cab design for the production version. The former was obviously trendy back then but has fallen out of fashion lately. The latter is also much more practical.
At the rear, the styling of the production-spec Santa Cruz is again a huge departure from the concept. The former adopts conventional truck aesthetics with a less-rounded design and squared-off edges. The integrated exhaust outlets from the concept has been swapped for chunky steps built into the ends of the bumper. The central Hyundai logo is also gone, replaced by the brand name stamped into the tailgate handle and in typical pickup convention, there's 'SANTA CRUZ' embossed in big, bold lettering on the tail gate. The tail gate surfacing is much flatter and the LED tail lamps have been completely redesigned as well.
Although Hyundai never revealed the dimensions of the concept's cargo bed, it appears no bigger than that of the production truck, which is just over 4 feet long. The concept even floated the idea of a drawer-like bed extension but the production-spec Santa Cruz settles for a conventional drop-down tailgate. That said, the Santa Cruz has evolved significantly from concept to production in these six years but the changes that have been made did not fundamentally alter the look and feel of the vehicle. It is quite commendable that Hyundai's designers have been able to retain the spirit of the concept even after six years, and yet, it looks like a thoroughly modern Hyundai.