The 2017 Honda Pilot and the 2017 Volvo XC90 are both large, seven-seat family utility vehicles, though they're about as far away from traditional SUVs in refinement and design as you can get.
Both were new for the 2016 model year, and the two cars are among our highest-rated crossover SUVs. Which one is right for you?
Either vehicle will provide comfortable accommodation for up to seven people, though the Pilot feels more spacious inside and has more family-friendly touches. The Volvo is higher on the luxury scale, despite an exterior design that's quiet and evolutionary for the sensible Swedish brand. Either one is a good purchase, but the Honda represents better value for money, and it won our 2016 comparison on that basis.
By our numeric rankings, it's a dead heat. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
Design and comfort
The new and more rounded shape of the Pilot moves away from the previous model's truck-like lines. The profile is elegant, with a nice proportion of glass to metal, and the lower front end and horizontal grille play nicely off each other.
While the exterior lines of the XC90 instantly say Volvo, it's crisper and more fluid than its 15-year-old predecessor. Its shape also effectively disguises the seven-seat vehicle’s size; the Volvo simply doesn’t look as large as it is. Nor does it telegraph its prestige; as one Volvo executive said, the XC90 is a car for people who “do not look for a brand that defines them.”
Inside, the new Pilot is very well finished, combining elements from the current Accord with a few touches from the CR-V. On some versions, a huge panoramic roof opens up the cabin to a flood of natural light. The front seats are just about ideally shaped, and with step-in height about an inch lower than before, the Pilot is an even better bet for smaller or older drivers.
The Honda's middle row is adult-friendly, and for the first time, you can get a version with two captain’s chairs and a pass-through. The seat reclines for long trips and has its own tray table and cup holders. The push of a button folds down the second row, for access to the back seat, which has enough space for two adults and a surprising amount of head and leg room. Abundant cargo space includes cupholders everywhere, and a console big enough for an iPad.
2017 Volvo XC90 ExcellenceEnlarge Photo
2017 Volvo XC90 ExcellenceEnlarge Photo
2017 Volvo XC90 Excellence, 2016 New York Auto ShowEnlarge Photo
2017 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine with Polestar Performance OptimizationEnlarge Photo
As for the XC90, its luxury is on full display in a widely-lauded interior that distinguishes it from a host of German competitors. The seats are superbly comfortable, and the interior shapes in stitched leather, textured metal, and matte wood are layered to suggest Scandinavian furniture. The 9.0-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash responds quickly to tablet-style commands, and is pleasantly intuitive.
The Volvo's second-row seats slide forward and backward, and the third row will accommodate two adults if they bargain for leg room with second-row riders. Theater-style seating means each row is slightly higher than the one in front, and outward vision is excellent —aided by large windows and the huge panoramic sunroof that’s a standard feature.
Powertrain and performance
The Honda Pilot is powered by a 280-horsepower V-6 paired to either a 6-speed automatic or a new 9-speed on Elite models. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is an option, and there's no plusher ride or more relaxed steering in this segment, with the Pilot feeling mature and luxurious at the wheel. Fuel economy is as high as 23 mpg combined.
For 2017, Volvo introduced a new base powertrain, the T5. This is a 250-hp turbocharged inline 4-cylinder, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available as an option. But Volvo expects the bulk of Volvo XC90s to come with a 316-hp version of the same engine, known as the T6, which adds a supercharger to the turbo. All-wheel drive is standard, and fuel economy is rated at 22 mpg. On the road, the XC90 handles like a car, with good steering feedback, predictable roadholding, and sprightly performance despite its small engine. A low-volume T8 plug-in hybrid variant can run on its gasoline engine, on a 60-kilowatt (82-hp) electric motor on the rear axle, or on both together when needed.
Safety and features
Both vehicles get excellent safety ratings and have already been dubbed Top Safety Pick+ winners by the IIHS. The Honda Pilot gets the top five-star overall rating from the NHTSA; the same for the XC90. Both vehicles also have a full suite of electronic active-safety systems.
In the end, the Honda is less expensive, slightly more capacious, and among the most flexible seven-seaters we've tested. But the Volvo is more luxurious and has a nicer interior, as well as a plug-in hybrid option. Which one you choose may come down to balancing cost, luxury, and practicality—but either is a good choice in our view.