The 2016 Acura MDX and the 2017 Volvo XC90 are both large, seven-seat luxury utility vehicles. They show how far family crossover SUVs have evolved from traditional SUVs, in design, refinement, and features, not to mention active safety, crash testing, and on-road behavior.
The MDX was first launched in 2014, but it gets significant updates its third year—and freshened styling will be coming for 2017 as well. This year's changes include a new 9-speed automatic transmission and more active-safety features. Meanwhile, the big Volvo is now in its second year, with a new base powertrain added at a slightly lower price. (There's also a new, high-end Excellence model with a price tag of more than $100,000.) Each has earned some of our highest ratings among premium SUVs. And the Acura comes in at $5,000 to $10,000 below the XC90 in many trim levels.
So which is the right one for you?
Either vehicle will provide comfortable accommodation for up to seven people. The Volvo is higher on the luxury scale, despite a design that's evolutionary and reserved even for the sensible Swedish brand. The MDX is a sportier drive, and it feels a bit more spacious. Both are good purchases, but the Volvo won our comparison last year for receiving the highest marks from both safety agencies.
Our ratings have changed for 2017, so our scores for the 2016 Acura and the 2017 Volvo can't be directly compared. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.) We'll update this comparison as soon as we've reviewed the 2017 MDX and can compare both cars in the same model year.
2016 Acura MDXEnlarge Photo
Design and comfort
The shape of the MDX is unchanged in 2016, continuing to resemble a sport wagon more than a slab-sided utility vehicle, especially at the rear. The tapered roofline is an MDX hallmark, and the chevron-like chrome strip across the top of the grille and jewel-eye LED headlights in the chiseled front end distinguish it as an Acura.
While the exterior lines of the XC90 instantly say Volvo, it's crisper and more fluid than its predecessor, launched way back in 2002. 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 front-end theme of the MDX is echoed by the dash, which has a V-shaped center stack and sloping, tiered design. The dash design complements the rest of the cabin, and the materials used for interior trim are coordinated nicely.
The MDX is roomy for its class, and the front seats are comfortable, with sporty bolstering and better than average support. The new push-button shifter is intuitive, and frees up considerable space on the center console.
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.