The elderly lady in the Toyota Prius doesn't make a killer pit out of her heart. "I love this car," comes the voice from the lowered window. However, this testimony of love does not mean their own Toyota Prius, even if it has already developed a patina that suggests an intimate relationship. The heart of the American flies to a Toyota Santa Cruz, which we quickly got the nickname "Desert Storm" because of its sand-colored paintwork (California Sand). The front reveals that the 4.97 meter long pick-up shares the technology with the Hyundai Tuscon. Not the worst base.
We are located in Seligman, a small town in the US state of Arizona that lies on the legendary Route 66. The street that the famous writer John Steinbeck called the Mother Street, the street of flight, in his novel The Grapes of Wrath. As a concrete asphalt worm, on which the immigrants and impoverished farmers strive west to find their happiness there. The street, opened in 1926, originally began in Chicago, crossed eight states and ended near Los Angeles in Santa Monica. This most American of all streets provided the backdrop for countless films, including legendary classics such as "Blues Brothers" near Chicago or Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" and of course the biker-hippie freedom flick par excellence: "Easy Rider".
We're on our way from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. Not always on the historic street, which is no longer preserved. Over three days, our route takes us almost 1,500 kilometers from Santa Fe in the state of New Mexico to the end of Route 66 in Santa Monica. Our companion is the Hyundai Santa Cruz - a pick-up, the backbone of American mobility. Our flatbed truck is painted in the color "California Sand", which, as we will soon find out, is appropriate. The Korean quickly lost his nickname: "Desert Storm".
Our Santa Cruz is powered by a 2.5 liter four-cylinder turbo engine that delivers 207 kW / 281 hp and a maximum torque of 422 Newton meters. For comparison: the suction cup of the basic model achieves 141 kW / 191 hp and 245 Nm. With a weight of more than 1.9 tons, 66 kW / 90 hp and 177 Nm definitely make a difference. Even on the highway, where you're coasting at 75 mph (121 km/h), the extra power pays off as soon as you have to sprint. The rear axle of our all-wheel drive only participates in propulsion when traction is required. Otherwise, the front axle is in command. We're in the rather well-equipped Limited version: Blind Spot Assist, all-round camera and ventilated leather seats. Which we quickly appreciate at temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius. The price of our pick-up is 43,000 US dollars (around 39,000 euros) and is therefore significantly cheaper than the VW Amarok, which is not available for less than 47,121.62 euros.
We swing behind the wheel of the rustic Korean and glide through Santa Fe in the state of New Mexico. The Wild West is still alive here, as evidenced by the classic Pueblo settlements and adobe-brick houses. So that the original Indian-Mexican flair of the state capital is not distorted, new buildings must also be erected in this style. Here people are proud of their history and show it. Tourists and especially artists like to come here. There is always something to see in the more than 200 galleries. If you're in a hurry, it's easy to get huffy as Santa Fe is over 7,000 feet. It's a good thing that we're getting used to the altitude, because the next destinations aren't necessarily in a valley either. But on the contrary.
We leave Santa Fe and merge onto the highway. Today, after all, almost 500 kilometers have to be covered. And the Santa Cruz is made for these routes. The eight-speed double-clutch transmission acts more like an automatic converter, lets the engine howl when accelerating, but otherwise smoothly changes gears and only occasionally jerks when starting off. Nevertheless, the motor-transmission combination cannot completely cover up the weakness in starting. Only from 2,800 rpm does something really happen. The long struts also sand the bumps smooth. That was just the prologue to the heart of the road trip that follows the next day and makes the heart of every car and motorcyclist beat faster: Route 66.
The stretch between Seligman, Arizona, where hearts threw hearts out for Santa Cruz, and Kingsman is one of the best-preserved sections of the legendary east-west route. The asphalt is sometimes brittle, but for a pickup like the Santa Cruz it doesn't make much of a difference. The comfort remains. We feel good and let the legendary track work its magic on us. We're not the only ones with that. Heavy Harley-Davidson motorcycles buzz around us like a sonorous buzzing swarm of hornets. Again and again gas stations with weathered old gas pumps or motels with the famous sign and the number 66 appear on the side of the road. Often flanked by vintage cars. The Route 66 business is booming. As long as there are fun drivers, that will not change. In Seligman we then pay tribute to a lost premium brand and park our Santa Cruz next to a Ford Edsel. Resting gracefully next to a building.
We continue west. The desert is alive. A rain shower pelted down and the temperature plummeted to a bearable 26 degrees. Apparently not the first downpour, given the green flora stretching left and right. The asphalt worm adapts to the area and turns into a gravel road, garnished with lots of sand. The Santa Cruz lives up to its paint color and also digs through and over these obstacles. A real desert striker. It continues west. The temperature jumps to an unbelievable 46 degrees Celsius. No problem thanks to the ventilated seats and powerful air conditioning. We roll on and see the low water level of the reservoir behind the Hoover Dam with wide-eyed horror.
We approach Las Vegas and cross the gambling metropolis on the main street, the famous Strip. The mighty casino hotels are piling up to the left and right, but we don't stop there yet, because we want to go to the Valley of Fire and let the red sandstone formations work their magic on us in the evening sun. Impressive. Now we know where the name of the valley comes from. The night in "Lucky Vegas" was short and the last stage to Santa Monica over 520 kilometers awaits us. Interstate 15 connects the two states. We cruise casually past the Nevada border town of Primm, where Tesla drivers queue up at charging stations before heading to expensive California. Shortly before Los Angeles, the Ecto-1, the Ghostbusters mobile from the cult film of the same name, appears next to us. At 5 p.m. we roll onto the famous Santa Monica Pier. People enjoy the sun. We celebrate the end of Route 66 and the finale of our road trip with an American soft drink. The conclusion is short and just as clear: the legendary road has lost none of its appeal, nothing at all. And: Please bring the Hyundai Santa Cruz to Germany.