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Hyundai Santa Cruz Pickup Concept Revealed in Detroit

Small trucklet is essentially a compact crossover with a pickup bed.

Take a compact crossover, add a small pickup bed and some wild, concept-car visuals and you get this: the Hyundai Santa Cruz concept that just debuted at the 2015 Detroit auto show. This new creation focuses on providing pickup-truck practicality without pickup-truck compromises like high price, large size, and poor fuel economy.

Hyundai won't yet confirm whether the Santa Cruz is headed for production or not, but Hyundai product planning chief Mike O'Brian did suggest that producing the Santa Cruz would be as simple as adapting a future Hyundai compact crossover (possibly the next-generation Hyundai Tucson?) into this extended-cab-like, five-seater body with a short bed in the back that extends in various configurations to provide space for stuff like surfboards and bicycles. Hyundai says extensive market research proves many buyers are interested in vehicles like this.

Since the Hyundai Santa Cruz concept sits on a car-based crossover platform, it's in a completely different size class from midsize pickups like the Chevrolet Colorado and the Toyota Tacoma. It's much shorter in length and height as well as much narrower overall, and is intended to target buyers who wouldn't otherwise consider a truck. Hyundai cited the high average price of today's pickups (around $38,000) and the large size of even current midsize pickups as obstacles that prevent many buyers from even considering a pickup in the first place. O'Brian said that a production Santa Cruz would hypothetically cost only a bit more than an equivalent compact crossover—for reference, the current Hyundai Tucson's price sits between $22,000-$30,000, depending on trim.

Efficiency is another key aspect of the Hyundai Santa Cruz concept's appeal. Fuel economy is estimated in the high 30-mpg range thanks to the Santa Cruz's 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine with 190 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque that mates with Hyundai's HTRAC all-wheel-drive system. An eventual production Santa Cruz would likely make use of standard gasoline four-cylinder engines as well, and O'Brian told us that the hypothetical production pickup would be offered in a front-wheel drive version as well, if it comes to fruition.

Automakers in the past have attempted similar concepts with mixed results, most notably the Subaru Brat from the 1980s and the Subaru Baja of the early 2000s. It would definitely be interesting to see Hyundai try to break into the market again with the rugged-looking Santa Cruz, especially at a time when the compact crossover class is the fastest-growing segment in the U.S. market.

Stay tuned for more information about the cool Hyundai Santa Cruz concept to see if this practical trucklet might make it into production anytime soon.