Ask Nathan: Future Off-Road Crossovers and Thinking About Buying a Turbo Hyundai Santa Cruz?

Image: Ford

In this week’s post:

  • Future off-road crossovers may me exceptional?
  • Thinking about buying a Hyundai Santa Cruz?

The first question comes from a viewer who is thinking about future off-road crossovers.

Q ( RE: Future off-road crossovers, like the GMC Acadia AT4 you drove.

How do you do Mr. Nathan?

My name is Nevel and I live in Hong Kong most of the year. I have family in the USA and visit them every year and my uncle loves watching your videos. He says that you guys don’t mind testing crossovers for real and he appreciates your honest work. The other day I saw your Acadia video and I was thinking that future off-road crossovers might be better than some SUVs.

I think they are lighter and more efficient and more comfortable too. Now, the off-road systems are getting better too. I think that if you go off-road all the time, the SUV is the way to go like a Wrangler or Bronco. But if you don’t it seems that there are better choices out there.

It makes little sense to drive something as heavy and inefficient as a truck SUV on a daily basis. Do you think that I am correct?


– Nevel

A: Good question.

You are right about a few things, for sure. The all-wheel drive systems that are beginning to hit the market are far more sophisticated, and capable. We’ve come a long way from basic brake/torque management, and the systems that are out there are impressive. Personally, I like the ones that mix gearing (mechanical) AWD/4×4 with electronic assistance.

I want to stress: these systems are still not as capable in the rough as a proper low-range 4×4 setup. Even the super high-end 4x4s out there (Land Rover, Mercedes, Jeep and Inious – among others) still use a low-range transfer case. Fancy AWD systems can get you through a lot, but a proper 4×4 setup is capable of taking real punishment.

More complexity is cool, and it can suck.

As we’ve seen at our ranch’s off-road course, in Moab, the Rocky Mountains and around the world, modern AWD systems can be a bit fragile. Some are better than others, and there are a few that are NOT meant for off-roading. We’ve had vehicles faulter on our roller test, mid-way over an obstacle and even in the snow.

On the other hand, many of these newer systems have blown us away. Everything from our older Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX series, the previous generation Subaru Forester and yes – even that new GMC Acadia AT4 surprised us.

In the future, we will be seeing many more EVs, PHEVs and hybrids hit the market. As of right now, we are still trying to figure out what type of setup works best for each type of vehicle. Jeep has experimented with using an old-school 4×4 system with an EV powertrain, and we loved the insane torque. On the other hand, it wasn’t efficient, nor was it practical.

In time, we’ll see even better AWD and 4×4 systems hit the market. As long as consumers are willing to spend more on these complex systems, the automakers will build them.

— N

The last question comes from a fan who’s considering a Hyundai Santa Cruz.

Q: (Via: RE: Considering a Hyundai Santa Cruz 2.5 Turbo, but…

First let me say I very much enjoy your YouTube videos. I have found them extremely helpful in my investigation of a small truck purchase. I’m considering purchasing a new vehicle and have watched many videos & read many reviews and find your videos extremely helpful and providing the greatest & most useful information. 

I’m considering purchasing a Hyundai Santa Cruz, instead of the more truck like Maverick or the more expensive Ridgeline. The Hyundai Santa Cruz 2.5 turbo appears to provide a wonderful combination of HP/Torque, MPG, “car” ride design for the 99% of time I would use the vehicle as my daily driver, but also provide the “truck” qualities for the other 1% of the time I’m using the truck bed. In addition to the ability to tow my 18-foot ski boat for the 5-10 miles I move it from storage to the lake and back. I have zero plans of taking my vehicle on an off-road trip so a true “off-road 4×4” is not a factor in my purchase decision. 

But in doing my research on the Santa Cruz 2.5T I have become terrified of all the horror stories I have uncovered associated with the DCT transmission recalls & replacements. But I can’t find if Hyundai has resolved the design problem in later model years, only the multitude of stories about recalls & transmission replacements. 

With your specialization & experience, do you know if Hyundai has fixed this transmission design flaw or are owners left to “see what happens & use Hyundai’s warranty if the transmission goes bad.” 

Even in your YouTube review “Ford Maverick vs. Hyundai Santa Cruz: Which Of These Two On-Road Trucks is better Off-Road?” at one point in your Santa Cruz review you mentioned your concern about the Hyundai transmission.

The DCT transmission is about to scare me from considering purchasing the Santa Cruz, until I can discover if the transmission for the 2.5 turbo AWD XRT has been resolved.

Because I trust your reviews, I thought you might know if Hyundai has fixed this major issue & if so, what Hyunai did to fixed it?

Thank you SO MUCH for your YouTube reviews & honest evaluation of different trucks.

Thank you, 

Michael P.

A: Thanks for the great email!

Good news first: after Recall 236, most of the 8-speed DCTs are much better. The flaw in the system has been addressed in the recent batch of Santa Cruz turbos and most reports are favorable. The last Sana Cruz I drove with the DCT was much better than the previous model, and it was better in traffic than I expected. That’s mainly due to its less jerky driving character in traffic.

Bad news: It’s not all sorted. A similar transmission in the new Santa Fe has been fraught with failures. Our friends at Car Confections suffered catastrophic failure of their transmission right after they purchased theirs. It had to be completely replaced. In addition, this isn’t the only case.

Hyundai and Kia are deeply invested in the DCT as they have serious performance, economical and production potential. Less moving parts, super quick gear changes and light weight are just the start, and Hyundai/Kia have used them in several fairly powerful vehicles. I think that, like Nissan and their investment with JATCO with their unloved CVTs, Hyundai/Kia are entrenched with the DCTs.

I still prefer a torque-converter.

Fortunately for others, some vehicles are moving back to torque-converter-based (olds-chool) transmissions. That’s one of the reasons I opted to go with the less powerful, non-turbo Santa Cruz: it has a conventional 8-speed automatic. So far, other it’s been pretty much solid.

Yes, you can rely on the Hyundai warranty if things go wrong; but be warned: they can be difficult to work with. You will have to be your own advocate and bark loudly to get the service your warranty covers. I speak from experience.

Over nearly two years, I was pretty happy with the Santa Cruz, and I have seen many others on their forum that appear to be pleased as well. I recommend joining the board, and ask lots of questions.

I would like to think that Hyundai is serious about improving the optics of their DCT’s reputation. The next generation Santa Cruz, which should hit the market in a few months, will (hopefully) address this issue. We’ll see.

Best of luck!

– N