Thanks for all the good feedback! Yes, I will most definitely test drive both vehicles. I recently went to the auto show where I spent almost the entire time at both the Jeep and Subaru areas (sat in Jeep Renegade - Limited, TH; Jeep Cherokee; Subaru Crosstrek; Subaru Forester). Here are my thoughts so far. I really love the look and feel of Renegade. From the "fun to drive/own" and style perspective... it's my favorite. But from a practicality standpoint... I'm not so sure. If I can spend the $26K-30K range for a TH Renegade, I can actually get a Subaru Forester, which has symmetrical AWD and is a much bigger, more refined car (not a subcompact suv)
I think the Renegade in a manual would be awesome! Wish they make the TH Renegade with a manual but they don't so if I go with the manual, I'll have to get either a sport or a latitude. In which case I lose the 8.7" of ground clearance and the great approach and departure angles which drew me to the TH in the first place. Comparing it to the Subaru crosstrek... and for that matter also the Forester... they all have 8.7" of ground clearance regardless of trim.
Also, you can get a Subaru Crosstrek in a manual transmission too with AWD (mechanical, 50/50 split). Although, I've heard the manual trans on the crosstrek is nothing great (5 speed). But yes I've heard about Subaru having a reputation where their boxer engine do burn oil over the long term (and I do plan on keeping the vehicle for 8-10 years).
The the other thing is rear passenger space and cargo space. Now I know one can't expect much with subcompact crossovers... and with the Renegade, if you were to have the seat comfortable for the driver, the space for the passenger behind is going to be just adequate but not comfortable for a long driving trip, but head room in the rear is good. For the crosstrek, rear passenger leg room and excellent but that's to be expect as the vehicle has a longer wheelbase. The forester goes without saying has ample room. The one thing the jeep has going for it is is the roof height and you can fit taller items in the cargo area (with rear seats folded) than you can with the crosstrek...
And just some follow up questions for the manual 1.4L turbo engine for the renegade owners. How is the performance of that engine from your experience? Enough power and torque for general driving, highway merging? Fuel economy? Shift feel (clutch travel, long throws, sloppy or semi precise)?
So the reason I'm considering a vehicle with higher ground clearance is because I do a good amount of outdoor things (hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, etc.) I know I don't need a Wrangler JK as I'm not planning on doing the Rublicon Trail, but something that will get me to that trailhead where it's impossible to do on a Honda civic. I may go over some rocks, mud, some streams and paths were other 4x4 have driven by and created two semi deep tire ruts... (another reason to consider the TH with its skid plates to protect the engine/differentials)
decisions decisions decisions... sigh...