The great outdoors beckons. You have trails to blaze and roofs to adorn with mountain bikes and kayaks. You need something rugged and capable, but comfortable enough to handle daily driver duty that also won’t break the bank. If that sounds familiar, we recommend considering the 2016 Jeep Renegade and 2016 Subaru Crosstrek. Let’s take a look at which one of these small SUVs might be better for your adventurous vehicle needs.
2016 Jeep Renegade
There were only minor feature changes to the Renegade for 2016, which was an all-new model last year. Of these two SUVs, the Renegade has far more variations in trim level, equipment and powertrain. Some are more appealing than others. See all 2017 Jeep Renegade models available near you
2016 Subaru Crosstrek
The Subaru Crosstrek loses the XV in its name for 2016 (no loss), but adds a few extra safety technologies to its options lists (big gain). Unlike the Renegade, the Crosstrek differs little beyond equipment from trim to trim. See all 2017 Subaru Crosstrek models available near you
The Jeep Renegade is such a new model that there aren’t substantial reliability ratings available. However, there have been a fair share of buyer complaints logged with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as well as the site CarComplaints.com. These included engine and electrical problems. Other vehicles produced by Jeep and FIAT (which builds the Renegade) tend to have poor reliability ratings.
By sharp contrast, the Subaru Crosstrek has superior reliability, with impressive scores from multiple sources (for both it and the almost-identical Subaru Impreza).
Quite simply, the Crosstrek is more efficient. Less simply, a 5-speed manual is standard on the bottom two Crosstrek trim levels, but a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is likely to be found on the vast majority of those sold. All come with standard all-wheel drive and a 148-horsepower 4-cylinder that delivers anemic acceleration if you load it up with people and stuff. Fuel economy with the CVT stands at 26 miles per gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg in combined driving, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates.
Most Renegades you’ll see on dealer lots will come with a 180-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that provides slightly better acceleration than the Crosstrek, but the 9-speed automatic it’s paired to is unresponsive and unrefined. Front-wheel drive is standard and returns an EPA-estimated 22 mpg city/31 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined. A 4-wheel-drive system is optional (it is enhanced with low-speed off-road gearing in the Trailhawk trim) and lowers those figures to 21 mpg city/29 mpg hwy/24 mpg combined. A 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder is available that returns better fuel economy — still below the Crosstrek — but it can only be had with a manual transmission.
The Crosstrek received five out of five stars for overall crash protection from NHTSA, as well as the best-possible rating of Good in testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). IIHS also gave the Crosstrek’s available frontal-collision warning system the best possible rating of Superior. That system is one of several accident-avoidance technologies included with the EyeSight package that’s available on all but the base trim.
The Jeep Renegade received a 4-star overall crash rating from NHTSA, including a rather low 3-star rating for rollover when equipped with 4-wheel drive. IIHS gave it the highest possible rating of Good in the moderate-overlap front, side and roof-strength tests, but has yet to test its performance in the small-overlap offset test. Its frontal-collision warning system was also deemed Superior.
Every 2016 Subaru Crosstrek comes with a standard 6.2-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, a USB port and various smartphone apps, including Pandora and other streaming audio choices. A 7-in touchscreen is included on the 2.0i Limited trim, along with an extra USB port and hands-free text messaging. Either touchscreen is easy to figure out and use.
The Renegade is available with most of the same tech features as the Crosstrek (it has a Wi-Fi hot spot, but not the same streaming entertainment apps). Touchscreen sizes are smaller (5 or 6.5 inches depending on trim and options package) but are a bit easier to reach and use. If you’re looking for a good audio system, the Jeep’s optional 9-speaker Beats system blows away everything offered by Subaru.
The Renegade has a considerably lower base price, but it also has far less standard equipment, including 4-wheel drive as an option. Should you want the sort of equipment that comes standard on the Crosstrek, you’ll want the Renegade Latitude, which either costs the same when it has front-wheel drive or more with 4-wheel drive. This, plus the Crosstrek’s superior reliability and mpg, make it the better value.
Comfort and Space
The Renegade has a surprising amount of interior space for people, especially regarding headroom. Even very tall drivers should find a comfortable seating position. Cargo space is poor, though, with the tall, boxy cargo area countered by a lack of width and depth. The Crosstrek’s cargo area is essentially the opposite and may be a bit more useful for luggage, though not by much. Its interior space and driving position are the same as a compact hatchback, both in terms of dimensions and feel.
So space is a bit of a wash, but comfort is not. The Crosstrek delivers a softer ride than the Renegade, especially the rather rigid Trailhawk. Both are quite loud inside.
Taking It Off-Road
You’d be surprised at how capable the little Jeep Renegade can be when equipped with 4-wheel drive, especially the Trailhawk that comes with a variety of enhancements for off-roading. Among those is extra ground clearance at 8.7 inches (versus 7.9 with other trims) — but that’s actually how much you get in every Crosstrek. Although the Jeep’s terrain-specific electronic traction aids are not available, the Subaru’s ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive should get you wherever you want to go. So although the Renegade can be superior, not every version is.
As most of the above categories show, the Subaru Crosstrek is the smarter choice from an objective perspective. It can also look pretty cool, but few vehicles can match the character and distinctiveness offered by the little Jeep. It’s certainly the cooler choice, but probably not the better one.