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2021 Jeep Cherokee vs. 2021 Subaru Outback: Which Is Better?


Both the 2021 Jeep Cherokee and 2021 Subaru Outback offer real ability on different surfaces and in all weather conditions. But when it comes to your needs, which is better?

Quick Facts

  • Cherokee Trailhawk trim offers serious off-road ability.
  • 2021 Subaru Outback has a maximum of 74.7 cubic feet of cargo space.
  • V6-powered Cherokee can tow 4,500 pounds.

2021 Jeep Cherokee

2021 Jeep CherokeeBase price:$27,785 / Read our 2021 Jeep Cherokee Review

What we like: Legitimate off-roading ability; two upgrade engines; good standard safety features; 4,500-pound maximum towing capacity

What we would change: Base engine is weak; reliability and resale value could be better; cargo area is too small

Overview: With so many rivals in the compact crossover class, it pays to differentiate yourself, and the 2021 Jeep Cherokee’s party piece is its off-road ability. The base model comes with front-wheel drive, but any trim can be equipped with all-wheel drive, and the Trailhawk trim adds a more sophisticated AWD trim, a different suspension, under-body skidplates, and other things that make it a true off-roader. The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, but it’s neither refined nor terribly good at pulling the heavy Cherokee. Fortunately, there are both a V6 upgrade and a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, with the turbo offering more low-range torque and the V6 increasing maximum towing capacity to 4,500 pounds. The Cherokee is a bit chunky, so fuel economy isn’t great, and even with the upgrade engines it doesn’t feel terribly quick, but ride and handling are both certainly adequate. Standard features include a 7-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, two USB ports, and some decent driver-assist features. Reliability isn’t one of the Jeep’s greatest qualities, however, nor is resale value.

What’s new for 2021: There’s nothing too earth-shattering happening to the Jeep Cherokee for 2021. There are a couple trim swaps, with a new midrange Latitude Lux trim added and the luxurious Overland trim being dropped. The Latitude Lux trim also gets an 80th Anniversary Edition option. Also for 2021, some previously optional driver aids are now available standard.

Features and technology: There are plenty of options for the 2021 Jeep Cherokee, including three engine choices (the base, a turbocharged four-cylinder and a V6) and either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The base Latitude trim comes with decent equipment, including 17-inch wheels, rain-sensing wipers, 6-way adjustable front seats, a 7-inch screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration, Bluetooth, and two USB ports. Driver assist and safety features include blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning with active braking, and hill-start assist. Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction management system comes with all-wheel drive.

The next up Latitude Plus adds keyless ignition and entry, heated front seats, an 8-way power-adjustable driver seat, and satellite radio. The next level Latitude Lux includes the V6 engine and Nappa leather upholstery. The next up 80th Anniversary Edition includes a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, 19-inch alloy wheels, and an 8.4-inch touchscreen.

Moving up, the Limited gets dual-zone climate control, 18-inch wheels, parking assistance, leather upholstery, and power front seats.

The top Trailhawk model is the serious off-roader, with under-body skidplates, a more sophisticated all-wheel-drive system and suspension, 17-inch all-terrain tires, Selec-Terrain with both crawl control and rock mode, and Active Drive Lock with a locking rear axle.

What does the future hold: In the past, Jeep has occasionally offered limited-edition high-performance SRT models with upgrade engines and suspensions, as with Mercedes’ AMG models. We can dream, can’t we? Other than that, expect minor additions such as more technology and driver-assist features. Find a 2021 Jeep Cherokee for sale near you

2021 Subaru Outback

2021 Subaru OutbackBase price: $27,845 / Read our 2021 Subaru Outback review

What we like: Standard all-wheel drive; Standard EyeSight suite of safety features; 8.7 inches of ground clearance; huge cargo hold

What we would change: Base engine’s a bit weak at elevation; start-stop is unrefined; long hood can make navigating narrow roads challenging

Overview: A bit of an in-betweener, the 2021 Subaru Outback offers the size and cargo space of a rugged crossover SUV but with the sportiness of a sedan/wagon. Every model comes standard with all-wheel drive, and 8.7 inches of ground clearance assure that the Outback can handle all weather conditions and even some dirt trails. The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is plenty to motivate the Outback, but if you spend any time at higher elevations, we recommend the upgrade four-cylinder turbo. With 74.7 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats folded, the Outback provides plenty of space, and with the seats up, five people can sit comfortably. Every 2021 Outback comes standard with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of safety tech, and the standard 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Resale values are generally very good.

What’s new for 2021: Having been redesigned for 2020, the Subaru Outback has only modest changes for 2021. These include new active LED headlights, a rear seat reminder, and front and rear passenger seatbelt warning lights and chimes.

Features and technology: With five trim levels and a couple additions to each of those, even the base 2021 Subaru Outback comes generously equipped. Standard features include all-wheel drive and Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist technology, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane centering, and automatic emergency braking. The standard infotainment system includes two 7.0-inch screens, with the upper controlling audio and the lower controlling climate control and other systems, including the X-mode all-wheel drive. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard.

The next up is the Premium, which adds a 10-way power driver seat, LED foglights, front and rear wiper de-icer, dual-zone climate control, rear seat USB quick-charge ports, and the Starlink infotainment system with an 11.6-inch touchscreen. Above that is the Limited, which has 18-inch wheels, steering-responsive LED headlights, push-button start, leather upholstery, an 8-way power front passenger seat, and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system.

The Touring model adds a power sunroof, Nappa leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, a navigation system, and the DriverFocus driver monitoring system. The Onyx Edition XT builds on the Premium and adds the 2.4-liter turbocharged engine, push-button start, heated rear seats, and X-Mode all-wheel drive with snow, dirt, deep snow, and mud modes, among other things.

The Limited XT adds the turbo to the Limited trim, as well as a sunroof and a navigation system, and the Touring XT adds to the Touring trim the turbo engine and a 180-degree front-view monitoring system.

What does the future hold: With the Outback having been redesigned for 2020, we expect only modest updates, likely focusing on driver assist and safety features. Find a 2021 Subaru Outback for sale near you

Cherokee vs. Outback: Strengths comparison

Cherokee Benefits: Higher tow rating; serious off-road ability; optional V6.

Outback Benefits: Higher safety rating; more cargo space; higher resale value; better fuel economy.

2021 Jeep Cherokee vs. 2021 Subaru Outback: Which is better?

Both the 2021 Jeep Cherokee and 2021 Subaru Outback are great choices if you drive in all weather conditions and sometimes hit the trails for the weekend. If you regularly tow and need the Jeep’s boulder-bashing ability, then the 2021 Jeep Cherokee is the best choice. But if you’re just looking for a go-anywhere crossover, we recommend the 2021 Subaru Outback for its better ride and handling, ample cargo space, resale value, and fuel economy. Find a 2021 Jeep Cherokee for sale or Find a 2021 Subaru Outback for sale

2021 Jeep Cherokee 2021 Subaru Outback
Popular Powertrains
Engine 2.4-liter I4 2.5-liter flat-4
Horsepower 180 hp @ 6,400 rpm 182 hp @ 5.800 rpm
Torque 171 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm 176 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission 9-speed automatic CVT
Fuel Economy 25 mpg (22 city/31 highway) 29 mpg (26 city/33 highway)
Also Available 3.2-liter V6, 2.0-liter I4, turbocharged 2.4-liter flat-4, turbocharged
Specs
Basic warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain Warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety Rating 4 Stars 5 Stars
Max Seating Capacity 5 5
Wheelbase 106.5 inches 108.1 inches
Overall Length 182.0 inches 191.3 inches
Width 73.2 inches 73.0 inches
Height 65.7 inches 66.1 inches
Turning Diameter 37.6 feet 36.1 feet
Headroom, Front 39.4 inches 40.1 inches
Headroom, Rear 38.5 inches 39.1 inches
Legroom, Front 41.1 inches 42.8 inches
Legroom, Rear 40.3 inches 39.5 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 57.6 inches 58.1 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 55.1 inches 57.4 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 128 cubic feet 109.0 cubic feet
EPA Cargo Volume 54.7 cubic feet 74.7 cubic feet

Doug Lloyd
Doug Lloyd is an author specializing in comparison tests. A veteran of the automotive press world, Doug started at Sports Car International and Vintage Motorsport magazines and has worked at both Porsche Panorama magazine and Edmunds.com. Doug is also a jazz piano player and a composer for television.

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