Here’s Why I Waited 23 Years to Buy My 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz and How the Buying Experience Went!

This is my brand new 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz SEL AWD. (Images: TFLtruck)

It’s been 23 years since the last time I bought myself a new car, and this 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz SEL AWD is it!

As many of you know, I ordered a 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz SEL back in early July 2022. It’s taken about four months for the exact model I wanted to arrive. It was assembled at the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA). The Montgomery, Alabama facility was working at full steam to fill orders, as the Santa Cruz is mighty popular. My pickup (I’m avoiding the word “truck,” for the faint of heart) was equipped with only two options.

Given my budget was under $35,000 for whatever I chose, I wanted to keep it simple. While you can get an all-wheel drive (AWD) Santa Cruz for under 30K, I wanted heated seats. Thus, the SEL option was a must, along with a tow package and rubber floor mats. All in, with destination, my pickup came out to about $32,500 and change.

What’s it like to order a new Santa Cruz?

The ordering part was fairly easy. I went online to Hyundai’s website and setup my pickup exactly the way I wanted it. That includes the $400 Sage Gray (greenish) paint. At the time, which was early July, no local dealerships had anything similar to what I ordered. There were a few who had the more powerful turbo, or one with tons of extras, but they were above my budget. One dealership in California had my model, but wanted an additional $1,500 for their “protection package.” I refused.

I had no help from Hyundai, despite my status as an automotive journalist. In some cases, automakers provide some company discounts as it’s a boon for them to have a journalist willingly own one of theirs. With Hyundai – no dice. Despite that, I set up my financing, got a respectable quote and hit the button. A local dealership, Schomp Hyundai, said they will move forward with the order for me. On top of that, there was no price bump. I got the vehicle for MSRP.

Then, the wait.

I was well aware of the parts shortage, and knew it would take time. Unfortunately, four months is a long time to wait for a new vehicle. Especially when I knew I would most likely be out of town when it arrived. Fortunately the sales person I dealt with kept me in the loop about my Hyundai’s status. Sure enough, as I was boarding a plane for SEMA – I got a text that it arrived. I sent my wife to pick it up. Fortunately, she was pretty happy about the whole affair and brought my new pickup home.

I immediately loaded up the little pickup to haul junk away. The bed is small, but it can haul over 1,400 lbs.

Why did I choose a 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz?

I started off wanting a Honda Ridgeline or a Nissan Frontier, but they were too far out of reach. The most logical contender was the Ford Maverick. I lined up the exact package I wanted, and even added the Tremor package, which came out to about $100 more than the Hyundai. It seemed like a no-brainer as the Maverick was faster, towed more and was more off-road capable.

In my line of work, I am able to (occasionally) bring vehicles home for extended evaluation. That’s what I did with a few Mavericks, Santa Cruzs, Ridgelines and Frontiers. Despite the small size, and being the least powerful, my spouse and kids seemed to prefer the Santa Cruz. The interior of the Ford was not as comfortable, or car-like as the Santa Cruz – according to the boss-lady.

This was a vehicle that she would drive often as well, so the conclusion seemed logical. I was pretty pleased with the beefy warranty Hyundai provides as well. For me, it was the small details and overall utility I liked. Frankly, I like the looks of it too.

Why did I wait 23 years?

I don’t like buying new cars – ever. Depreciation and financing are taboo (usually), so I like certified pre-owned cars (CPO), or simply used cars. I’ve owned dozens, and I did bite the bullet and buy a few new ones for my boss-lady, but not me. Then I started to travel – a lot. On more than one occasion, my used vehicles left my family stranded. Even with extended warranties, some of the experiences were downright negative. Finally: right now, used car prices (which are improving), are still ridiculous.

I wanted something frugal, inexpensive, utilitarian, safe and family-friendly.

Okay, but why not the sporty turbo!?

Two reasons here: it was too expensive, and I dislike the dual-clutch, eight speed transmission. Sure, the turbo is a kick to drive, our studio has a long-term one that’s popular with the crew. I like the idea of the more basic, tried-and-true, eight speed automatic transmission. Sure, it hunts gears, and the 191 horsepower engine isn’t a rocket, but it’s just fine for my needs.

My only regrets might be addressed in time. I didn’t order the $3,250 activity package. This package gave you the rollup bed cover, sun roof, leather wrapped steering wheel and roof-rails – among other things. What I wanted, and what isn’t offered as an option/accessory were the roof-rails and leather wrapped steering wheel. I was told that the roof-rails may become an accessory, but the steering wheel is tough luck.

Despite those disappointments, the overall pickup has me smiling from ear to ear. I know that I’ll keep it for a while, and that my family will be covered for a long time, if there’s an issue.

Now, I need to hunt for a 2,000-lbs-ish travel trailer to pull behind. We’ll see how that goes.