- Bill Antonitis
What Do You See?
The US small and midsize truck market has been heating up for the past few years with vehicles returning like the Ford Ranger, stalwarts like the Toyota Tacoma, and new offerings like the Ford Maverick. Then there’s the Ridgeline. Once in a class of one, it is meant to offer the utility of a truck with the comfort and dynamics of an SUV. Most agree that it succeeds in these regards, and Honda has recently refreshed it. Manufacturers have noticed its continued popularity and now look to it as they branch out while developing new vehicles.
It’s interesting to see how other companies have been influenced by Honda. Let’s pair two very different trucks that represent the best aspects of the Ridgeline’s unique combination of automotive traits, the 2022 Nissan Frontier and the all-new Hyundai Santa Cruz.
The New, Old Truck
Watching several interviews with Nissan representatives revealed
that the the Frontier was really planned to be more of an evolution than a revolution. Driving one confirmed this notion. The Frontier is about as “trucky” as you can get these days. It rolls and jounces and sways as expected, though not excessively. Steering is vague, the cabin spartan. However, Nissan very thoughtfully improved on its legacy platform, benchmarking the Honda Ridgeline to hone its ride quality. The revised suspension offers just enough control to keep the truck between the lines when hustling around a corner. The nine-speed transmission is smooth and works well with the V6 to get up to speed with no effort. The floor shifter has a manual mode that is surprisingly responsive and lets you hold revs. The base model I drove had a perfectly adequate infotainment system and flat, comfortable cloth seats. If you need a truck for work with few compromises as a daily driver, this is the one to get. While I haven’t tested one yet, the Pro-4X trim should be a great off-road as well. Overall, none of the other body-on-frame designs offer a package as complete as the latest Frontier.
The New, New Truck
Most media relating to the Hyundai Santa Cruz compares it to the Maverick, and that does make sense, as they are both recent entries that mark the return of compact trucks in America. However, for this comparison, let’s see how it stacks up against the best of the old guard, the Nissan Frontier. The Santa Cruz, like the Frontier, is also blatantly benchmarked with the Ridgeline, and it offers a fresh take on what a unibody truck can do.
With increased appreciation for vehicles with all-wheel drive and a bed—especially in more urban areas—not to mention skyrocketing fuel prices, people want smaller, more efficient, SUV-based platforms. The Santa Cruz, a self-proclaimed “Sports Adventure Vehicle” lives up to its moniker. It rides very much like the Tucson with which it shares much, though its wider track allows for more stability at speed. The 2.5L turbo four in this thing is no joke, and the paddle shifters add a sense of control and excitement not found on anything else in this class. It’s about as car-like a ride you can get in a vehicle like this, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. The mid-level SEL Premium I drove was downright luxurious compared to the Frontier, packed with tech and convenience features like lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, and a sunroof. The bed, while minuscule compared to the Frontier’s, has a retractable tonneau cover and lockable in-bed storage that is perfect for recreation gear, if not to max out at a job site. On the whole, the Santa Cruz puts more fun in to functional than the Frontier does, but with street tires and lower ground clearance it is far less capable overall.
What Do You See?
It was interesting to study how Nissan and Hyundai looked at the Ridgeline and saw something completely different—like the famous optical illusion of the old and young women. Both trucks succeed in achieving their version of the vision. As a buyer, perhaps the main consideration is this: What do you do on the weekends? If you’re devoted to home improvement or even wheeling, then the workhorse Frontier will serve you well. More into surfing or mountain biking? The sporty Santa Cruz should keep you smiling from beach to trailhead.
Bill hosts a blog and YouTube channel that lead him to think more deeply about what it means to drive. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.
Vehicle photos by Bill Antonitis