2017 Volvo XC90 vs. 2017 BMW X5: Compare cars

October 17, 2016
2017 Volvo XC90 Excellence

2017 Volvo XC90 Excellence

The 2017 Volvo XC90 and the 2017 BMW X5 are large luxury utility vehicles for buyers offering European cachet with all-wheel-drive hauling capacity. Each was its maker's first-ever crossover SUV years ago, and both have refinement, handling, and features unimaginable in older SUVs.

While the big Volvo was new last year, the BMW is now in its fourth model year. Each is among our highest-rated premium SUVs. The Volvo starts just below $50,000, while the BMW is about $5,000 higher. Top-level versions of each run above $70,000. So which is the right one for you?

MORE: Read our reviews of the 2017 BMW X5 and 2017 Volvo XC90

The Volvo beats the BMW in our new and more stringent scoring this year, 7.5 to 6.8, based on the German's cars lower ratings for safety (6 vs 9) and and fuel economy (4 vs 6). The pair scored within a point of each other on design (Volvo won) and performance and comfort (BMW won); they tied for features. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)

Design and comfort

The XC90 has a crisper, more fluid shape than its predecessor, launched way back in 2002, but it's very obviously a Volvo. The designers have managed to disguise the size of this seven-seat vehicle, which looks smaller than it actually is. But it downplays its luxury, refusing to telegraph any hint of prestige on the outside. Volvo says its buyers “do not look for a brand that defines them.”

It's the widely-praised interior where the full force of Volvo's luxury becomes apparent. Layered shapes in stitched leather, matte wood, and textured metal suggest Scandinavian furniture, while the seats are exquisitely comfortable. The tablet-style 9.0-inch center touchscreen has fast responses and an intuitive interface without layers and layers of sub-menus.

2016 BMW X5

2016 BMW X5

2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e

2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e

2016 BMW X5 AWD 4-door xDrive35d Trunk

2016 BMW X5 AWD 4-door xDrive35d Trunk

2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e

2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e

The X5 too is more graceful than earlier generations. A tapered roof, a lower window line, and careful side sculpting give it a hint of sport-wagon identity despite its tall sides. But the handsome, aggressive "twin kidney" grille leaves no doubt that it's a BMW.

The BMW cockpit offers neutral or brown leathers over the standard black leatherette, and you can even get a reddish-brown. Its controls are more purposeful, set in the monolithic bulge of the latest BMW dash design. The BMW iDrive controller on the console gives the driver access to huge quantities of audio, navigation, settings, and operating information. 

The Volvo offers more interior space in the third row that matters to family buyers. Theater-style seating puts each row slightly higher than the one in front, while the second-row seats slide forward and backward. The third row can accommodate two adults if they bargain for leg room. Outward vision is excellent—aided by large windows and the standard panoramic sunroof.

2017 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine with Polestar Performance Optimization

2017 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine with Polestar Performance Optimization

2017 Volvo XC90 Excellence

2017 Volvo XC90 Excellence

2017 Volvo XC90 Excellence, 2016 New York Auto Show

2017 Volvo XC90 Excellence, 2016 New York Auto Show

2017 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine with Polestar Performance Optimization

2017 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine with Polestar Performance Optimization

The BMW conveys a warm ambience for at least four adult passengers, though seat comfort isn't perfect; front buckets are somewhat flat. Second-row seats adjust for rake and are split 40/20/40 for flexibility. The optional third-row seats are very small, only for occasional use by smaller riders. The tailgate is split, with a lower piece that drops like that of a pickup truck, while the upper glass portion opens like a minivan tailgate.

Powertrain and performance

For 2017, Volvo has introduced a new base engine in the lower-priced T5 version. It's a 250-hp version of the company's turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. On the T5, front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive can be added as an option. But Volvo says most XC90s will be sold with the 316-hp T6 version of the same engine, which adds a supercharger to the turbo. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 22 mpg combined, and all-wheel drive is standard. A low-volume plug-in hybrid variant can run on its gasoline engine, a 60-kilowatt (82-hp) electric motor on the rear axle, or both together. Its electric range is rated at 13 miles.

On the road, the XC90 handles like a car, with good steering feedback, predictable roadholding, and sprightly performance despite its small engine. Noise and vibration are more noticeable than in many luxury SUVs, though.

The BMW X5's base engine is a 300-hp, turbocharged inline-6, paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. The V-8-powered xDrive50i gives performance fans 0-to-60-mph acceleration times of just 4.7 seconds. There's also an X5 xDrive 40e plug-in hybrid, powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor built into the transmission. A 9-kwh battery under the load bay gives 14 miles of electric range, but precludes the third-row option. The gas engines outperform the plug-in by a wide margin, but all are strong enough. Choosing a drivetrain largely comes down to a personal ethos.

The X5 only feels like a true BMW if drivers engage one of the two Sport modes; otherwise, electric power steering and a host of electronic active-safety systems to control handling, roadholding, and roll stabilization rob the driver of steering feedback. Sport modes stiffen the suspension and provide much flatter cornering with somewhat more feel.

Safety and features

The XC90 gets excellent safety ratings from the IIHS and has been named a Top Safety Pick+ winner, but the X5 was only partially tested by the IIHS. The NHTSA, on the other hand, gives the BMW X5 its top five-star overall rating, but has yet to test the new XC90. Both vehicles also have a full suite of electronic active-safety systems.

The two cars have quite different personalities. The Volvo is quietly luxurious, with a focus on making all seven occupants comfortable and keeping the driver alert. The BMW is theoretically sportier for four or five occupants, with an occasional third row that most buyers forgo—but its performance and handling only snap into focus if you use specific drive-mode settings.

The Volvo has more useful third-row accommodations than the BMW. Despite its evolutionary, even reserved design, the interior reads as more luxurious than that of the more functional BMW. This year, a new and more blatantly luxurious Volvo version, the Excellence, carries a price tag of more than $100,000. But the X5 offers sportier and higher-performance versions, though they're a small part of its total sales.

Either is a good choice, in our view, and which one you choose requires comparing cost, luxury, performance, and the value of that third row.

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Summary

7.3
Expert Rating
The 2017 Volvo XC90 is comfortable, capable, and only whispers its virtues—reinterpreting the Volvo brand as quiet sophistication in comfort, style, and efficiency.
7.2
Expert Rating
The 2017 BMW X5 boasts a solid set of powertrains and features that move the sedan toward the top of any list of luxury SUVs.

Styling

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Volvo XC90 is elegant but low-key on the outside, but its interior uses simple Scandinavian design and elegant materials to redefine luxury in a soothing, sensible way
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
The X5 is best considered inside its cabin; the exterior has manners, but doesn't rise above average.
Read More

Performance

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Volvo XC90 uses two types of boost to wring good power out of a small engine, while its on-road behavior is car-like—which is remarkable for a seven-seat SUV
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The X5 isn't short on power anywhere in the lineup; a turbodiesel may come back this year.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Volvo XC90 holds seven adults, has comfortable seats and uses high-quality materials, and is smooth underway, let down only by more noise than competitors
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The BMW X5 can fit up to seven in its friendly confines, but we think it's better suited for up to 5.
Read More

Safety

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Volvo XC90 lives up to its brand's reputation, with a complete package of safety features and some of the best safety ratings anywhere
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
The BMW X5 has good crash data and accessible safety options, but the lack of a standard rearview camera spoils it a little.
Read More

Features

8.0
Expert Rating
Against German competitors, even the $50,000 base model of the 2017 Volvo XC90 is well-equipped; luxury, sporty, and plug-in hybrid versions broaden the range
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The X5 is very well equipped as standard; a heavy hand on options can add more than $30,000 to the bottom line.
Read More

Fuel Economy

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Volvo XC90 gets decent fuel-economy ratings from its small engine, and it's the sole seven-seat SUV that offers a plug-in hybrid model
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
Last year, BMW added a plug-in hybrid X5, but fuel economy is still fairly low for the heavy SUV.
Read More

MSRP

from $45,750
from $56,600

Invoice

from $43,005
from $53,140

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

24
21

Engine

Intercooled Turbo Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.0 L
Intercooled Turbo Premium Unleaded I-6, 3.0 L

Drivetrain

Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
Rear Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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