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2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz vs 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz vs 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline debate is here…

Hyundai recently unveiled their 2022 Santa Cruz, a soft-roader SUV/truck hybrid, which was followed by Ford’s unveiling of their 2021 Explorer Timberline, a soft-roader SUV that gets some beefier off-roading upgrades.

With the Santa Cruz, you get the advantage of a truck bed – albeit a small one – as well as modern styling and up to a 5,000-lb. towing capacity. With the Explorer Timberline, you get the legendary Explorer pedigree, an upgraded interior experience, beefier tires and suspension, and up to 5,300 pounds of towing capacity.

So, while these vehicles are different in a lot of ways, they also offer many similarities.

If you’re looking for a soft-roader or mild overlanding vehicle, which one of these new offerings is right for you? Let’s find out!

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz vs 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline: Exterior Styling

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz at Sunset
Hyundai

Let’s start with the Santa Cruz.

While there are some…unique…elements to this vehicle, it looks the part of a modern SUV. It’s no wonder since it shares many components with the 2022 Hyundai Tucson.

The body panels look pretty aggressive, especially when viewed from the front corner, where you can also see the ultra-aggressive grille. This rig comes with 18-inch wheels standard, but 20-inch wheels with off-road tires is an available upgrade.

In back is a 4-foot bed, which obviously has its limitations, but a 4-foot bed is better than no bed, right? One interesting feature about the bed is that the entire thing is lockable. There are steps inset into the back bumper for easier access, too.

Explorer Timberline in the forest
Ford

Switching to the Explorer Timberline, you’ll find an all-new body color – Forged Green – which contrasts nicely with orange accents, including orange recovery points on the front bumper.

You get aggressive-looking 32-inch all-terrain tires wrapped around 18-inch wheels to match the aggressive-looking black grille on the front. Add some optional LED lights to the grille and you have an SUV that looks a lot like a Police Interceptor. The black-out headlights and taillights, and the black Ford oval are nice touches as well.

Santa Cruz vs Explorer Timberline Interior

Hyundai Santa Cruz dashboard
Hyundai Santa Cruz Interior – Hyundai

The Santa Cruz offers a comfortable interior in the front that features a huge center touchscreen. There are actually no physical knobs for anything, which could take some getting used to. Opt for the top-of-the-line model and you get a heated steering wheel, heated seats, and a sunroof.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Interior 2
Hyundai Santa Cruz Interior – Hyundai

In the back is a split bench seat that folds up to reveal a large cargo space underneath. It’s a great spot to keep some rescue and recovery gear for your forays off-road. You won’t be taking your tall buddies for a ride though because the backseat looks painfully small.

Other interior features include wireless phone charging, wireless connectivity to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and an available 8-speaker Bose sound system. Adaptive cruise control, driver-attention warning, lane-departure, and lane-keeping assist are just some of the driver-assist programs that are available.

Dashboard
Ford Explorer Timberline Interior – Ford

The Timberline comes with upgrades for off-roading that will come in handy, like ActiveX vinyl and cloth seats that are easy to clean. You’ll also find a Deep Cypress green interior with Deep Tangerine accents that mimic what the exterior of the vehicle looks like.

While you don’t get as large of a screen as in the Santa Cruz, the touchscreen is large and bright and positioned above traditional physical controls.

Seat Back
Ford Explorer Timberline Interior – Ford

Front seat passengers get heated seats while the driver gets a heated steering wheel and Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 Assist+ package. Co-Pilot 360 comes with evasive steering assist, lane centering, adaptive cruise control, and speed sign recognition, among other goodies.

The timberline also features a 360-degree camera system, including a front-facing camera that you can use to identify obstacles on the trail.

In back is a 50/50 split seat that folds flat to maximize space for all your overlanding or off-roading gear.

Learn More:

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz vs 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline: Off-Road Capabilities

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Off Road Capability
Hyundai

The 2022 Santa Cruz is available in 2WD and 4WD variants, the latter of which is obviously better suited for off-road use. You can choose between two 2.5L 4-cylinder engines, one of which is rated at 200 horses and the other at 275 horsepower. The less powerful engine is paired with an 8-speed automatic while the more powerful engine gets an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Since this vehicle is based on the Hyundai Tucson, it doesn’t have the hardcore off-roading pedigree of something like a Jeep Wrangler. This means that you won’t be taking this thing on the Rubicon Trail. Instead, its off-roading capabilities will be limited to mild off-roading that does not include navigating deep mud, water, or snow, or crawling over rocks.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz driving on a highway in the desert
Hyundai

The Santa Cruz offers 8.6 inches of ground clearance, an approach angle of 17.5 degrees, and a departure angle of 23.2 degrees. Its breakover angle is 18.6 degrees. In other words, you should expect off-road capabilities typical of most crossover SUVs.

In the future, Hyundai might offer beefier off-road packages with the Santa Cruz, but for now, those upgrades are not available from dealers.

Ford Explorer Timberline driving in the desert
Ford

As for the Timberline, it is much better equipped for more rugged off-roading (though it still is no Land Cruiser or Wrangler…).

Under the hood is the 2.3-liter 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine that puts out much more power than the Hyundai’s 4-cylinder – 300 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque to be exact. The engine is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Like the Santa Cruz, there is no low-range transfer case.

You get an approach angle of 23.5 degrees, a departure angle of 23.7 degrees, and skid plates that run from the chin of the vehicle backward.

The Ford Explorer Timberline Promises To Be The Most Capable Off Road Explorer Ever 2
Ford

Those features are paired with a modest suspension lift and beefier tires that give it 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

In the back is a Torsen rear differential that sends power to the wheel with the most grip. There’s also a terrain management system with seven modes to assist you on all sorts of terrain and road conditions.

Add to the mix the aforementioned tow hooks on the front, a new anti-roll bar, new springs, revised power steering calibration, and the heavy-duty shocks from the Police Interceptor, and you have the makings of an SUV with a few more off-road chops than you might initially expect.

So, Which of These New SUVs is Best?

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Styling
Hyundai

Let’s be honest – neither of these vehicles is going to be a hard-core off-roader. If you’re looking for something like that, you’re in the wrong place.

But, in both cases, you find vehicles that can provide you with some entertaining driving when you leave paved surfaces.

Ford Explorer Timberline Power
Ford

If you need something with the flexibility of an SUV/truck hybrid, the Hyundai is obviously the better of the two. But if you want a more capable off-roader (that still has its limitations, of course), the Ford is the clear winner.

As with most things, the choice between these new vehicles will likely come down to multiple factors outside of their off-road capabilities. Styling, brand loyalty, and above all, price, will be important factors in making your decision.

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