Think of the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek and 2019 Jeep Cherokee as the automotive equivalent of low-top hiking boots. They’re not quite as off-road-ready as a new pair of high-top Montrails, but they’re far more eager to get down and dirty than a pair of Top Siders.
On our scale, the 2018 Crosstrek scores a 7.2 out of 10, while the refreshed 2019 Cherokee comes in with a 6.2. The Subaru scores for its value and its safety, while the Jeep earns points in off-road ability and its wider lineup of engines and trim levels. Let’s have a look at the nitty-gritty.
Jeep’s Cherokee is based on a design that debuted for the 2014 model year, but its new duds are an improvement. The latest Cherokee is more cohesive than before and it looks sufficiently butch in off-roady Trailhawk guise. Its shape is fairly conventional with some quirks to its details like taillights mounted high on the tailgate. Inside, the Cherokee’s looks carry over with a curvy dashboard and comfortable front seats.
By contrast, the Crosstrek looks like what it is: a compact hatchback with a lifted suspension and unpainted fender flares. That chunky styling works, especially since Subaru offers a wide palette of available paint colors. The Crosstrek’s interior is more about function than style.
The Cherokee looks like it should be far roomier, but in reality it’s only a hint more spacious than the well-packaged Crosstrek. The Subaru benefits from ultra-narrow roof pillars that give every passenger a commanding view out, and its seats and door panels don’t have the overstuffed couch feel the Cherokee can impart. Both have decent space up front and plenty of room for outboard passengers in row two. A third passenger fits in both, but only for short distances. Fold the Crosstrek’s rear seats down and it offers a maximum cargo capacity of 55 cubic feet. The Cherokee comes in just a hint more space at about 59 cubes, although a slightly higher ceiling and a rear window that doesn’t cut into the passenger area as much add some utility to the Jeep.
By the numbers
With the 2018 Crosstrek, Subaru buyers make one underhood choice: 6-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). All Crosstreks use a 152-horsepower flat-4 engine that musters leisurely acceleration. On the bright side, its 29 mpg combined rating with the CVT means longer drives between gas station visits. Slower drives, though.
The Cherokee’s base 2.4-liter inline-4 is rated at 180 hp, but it’s heavier than the Subaru and its 9-speed automatic can feel confused, so it’s not much quicker. A better bet is the optional 3.2-liter V-6 or a new 2.0-liter turbo-4, rated at a fairly thristy 22 mpg combined using either midgrade or premium gasoline in popular configurations. Cherokees come standard with front-wheel drive, however, so snow-belters and those who want to get a little dirty will need to pop for all-wheel drive that runs around $1,500 depending on the trim level.
Surprisingly, the Crosstrek’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance, its standard all-wheel drive, and its off-road traction control mode make it a formidable four-wheeler out of the box. Cherokees other than the Trailhawk trim level sit lower to the ground, which makes them better rainy day drivers than off-roaders. But the Trailhawk erases that sentiment with its high clearance, its two-speed transfer case, and its various off-road modes. It’s the clear winner here for getting really dirty.
Speaking of lineups, the Crosstrek is fairly simple: base, Premium, and Limited grades that run from about $20,000 to about $30,000 with a handful of options. In our eyes, the best bet is the Premium with the optional EyeSight suite of safety gear that includes automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. That model costs about $26,000, and includes such niceties as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. At $30,000, a Crosstrek Limited is loaded with goodies like Harman Kardon audio, built-in navigation, an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment, and leather seats.
The Cherokee lineup includes six trim levels that start around $27,000 with four-wheel drive. The roughly $28,000 Latitude Plus trim level offers good value with its 7.0-inch touchscreen and Apple/Android compatibility, but getting advanced safety gear requires spending more than $33,000 for a Cherokee Limited or Trailhawk.
If your budget stretches far enough for the Cherokee, a well-equipped model is a roomy, powerful runabout. But off-roading is compromised in all but the Cherokee Trailhawk, which becomes a questionable value at upward of $35,000 with important safety gear. That’s why we give the high-value, remarkably roomy Crosstrek the nod in this comparison.