In the late 1950’s, Ford and Chevrolet launched a new generation of vehicles named Ranchero and El Camino. Big body-on-frame products, but based on rear-drive full-size sedans of that era, these quasi pickups quickly created a niche clientele that readily embraced these urban utility vehicles.

Fast forward to 2022. Hyundai’s all-new Santa Cruz could easily be labeled a 21st century El Camino. Based on the company’s mid-size crossover platform, the 4-door Santa Cruz uses the same buttressed styling forward of the pickup bed, plus it is a solid uni-body vehicle with no separate body parts for the cargo box. In base form ($25,385) the Santa Cruz is front drive, yet all trim levels (five) are available with AWD ($1,500) that includes a locking button to keep all four tires engaged in delivering traction.

Perhaps, most notable, is the versatility of that short four-foot cargo box. It is made completely of composite materials, while featuring moveable cargo cleats, LED lamps inside, as well as a lockable trunk — just like Honda’s larger Ridgeline. The Hyundai’s rear bumper has convenient steps cut into the corners just like all of GM’s full-size pickups, plus our top-of-the-line Limited ($41,115) included a locking hard-tonneau cover that rolls up on itself. The tailgate only works conventionally — no swing action — yet it is light enough for one-hand use.

The Santa Cruz first appeared in 2015 as a design exercise. Consumers embraced the concept, yet Hyundai’s constrained assembly plants had no room to add new products. That issue was remedied recently at the Montgomery, Ala. plant that also builds Santa Fe crossovers.

While the Santa Cruz’ predecessors had big V-8 engines — Chevy even produced several years of El Camino SS models — the Hyundai uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 191-hp, and a conventional 8-speed automatic, as a standard powertrain. Optional power is a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine, making 281-hp and a healthy 311-pound/feet of peak torque, all running through an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic. Max tow ratings are 5,000-pounds — the same as the V-6 powered Honda. Fuel economy ratings are 21/26 for front drive models, 19/27 for H-TRAC AWD turbo editions. We realized 22-24-mpg during January’s cold weather.

As with other recent Hyundai debuts, the interior is well-screwed together and uses premium materials on several surfaces. Our Limited model featured a big 10.25-inch central screen with navigation and multiple entertainment links, including various apps, while the driver’s info panel includes blind-view cameras when you deploy your turn signal, wireless charging, parking guidance, and remote start. Limited also includes a power sunroof, sliding rear window, heated and cooled leather seating, heated leather steering wheel, remote start, 20-inch wheels, self-levelling shocks, plus a battery of electronic driving aids.

So, how does it all work? Pretty darned nice. Ingress and egress is handy. The doors all close with a resounding thud. The cabin is quiet. The rear seats hold real adults. The forward LED lighting — a very distinct daytime running lamp layout — offers impressive night vision. And, the power from the turbo-four would embarrass the former Ranchero and El Camino’s — it is swift, torquey, and refined. A big stab on the gas at cruising speed produces a satisfying whoosh down the road. Amazing how computers and little turbochargers have so altered performance over the past few decades.

Hits and misses; like the styling, the overall comfort, and the versatility of the bed, even if it is small. Nimble and quick makes it user friendly too. The regular console gear shift lever is preferred over the trend towards shifter buttons, yet the lack of any knobs on the stereo face (Limited trim) is a downer. The dual-clutch automatic is sometimes a little slow off the line, but otherwise crisp.

The Santa Cruz will not sell in a vacuum. Ford’s new compact-class pickup, the Maverick, is similarly sized and will be heavily promoted, especially since it is also available as a hybrid with elevated fuel economy ratings. It won’t have the tow capacity of the Santa Cruz — or the Ridgeline — but it will still be a solid urban pickup.

Look for buyers of all ages, and all outdoor pursuits, to enthusiastically pursue these new generation “trucks.” Heck, Jeep sold 90,000 Gladiators last year in case you need another clue about lifestyle innovators.

The Santa Cruz jumps into the fray with a typical Hyundai abundance of content, at all price points, plus one of the industry’s best new vehicle warranties. Hard to see the Santa Cruz as anything but a winner.

Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles for more than 20 years.