Review: Lexus RX 350L’s Third Row Cramps Its Style

November 02, 2018 by Carly Schaffner, @carlyschaffner

At first glance, Lexus’ all-new, stretched RX 350L big crossover appears no different than the original five-passenger version.

The only hint that Lexus, the luxury version of Toyota Motor Corp., has turned this popular family SUV into a true people hauler is the extra 4.3 inches of body length. The RX L holds seven passengers but preserves its familiar jelly bean shape except for a steeper slant in the tailgate window that adds rear headroom.

Lexus said its customers want more seating, but those 4 inches aren’t generous. The RX L still lives on the same 109.8-inch wheelbase as its shorter sibling. Climbing in and out of the back is an Olympic challenge, even for a skinny, 4-foot-tall 6-year-old.

Once any small-bodied human is situated, there’s minimal legroom (23.5 inches) with the second row in place. Opting for the second-row captain’s chairs (standard on Hybrid models) allows an easier pass-through to the back. A nimble teenager could stretch out in the space, but an adult sitting in the back is a nonstarter.

  • Lexus RX 350L (Photo: Ryan ZumMallen/Trucks.com)

Buyers need to think carefully about what they are looking for in a luxury crossover before pulling the trigger on the RX L, especially because it will cost them around $50,000.

The Lexus RX L is an excellent road tripper. The all-wheel-drive option is ideal for battling inclement weather. Lots of convenient, standard driver-assistance systems – adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert with lane centering, and pedestrian detection – are included. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic braking is an additional $1,865.

But it won’t work for rugged adventures. This vehicle does not fancy unpaved roads. Even though its ground clearance is 8.1 inches, the overhang turns a curb into a boulder. Flush roof rails are standard, but there’s no tow hitch – a requirement for any adventure vehicle. A dealer-installed hitch receiver and ball mount capable of towing up to 3,500 pounds cost about $730.

The third row also eats into precious cargo space. A trip to Costco used up all the 7.45 cubic feet of available storage behind the third row plus half of the 60/40 split power-folding rear seat. With the whole third row flat, there is 23 cubic feet of trunk space. Space grows to 58.5 cubic feet with all seats folded.

Despite the squeeze, the Lexus DNA and build quality still shine.

The character lines on its profile are prominent. The roof line swoops down behind the rear-passenger doors, framing blacked-out C and D-pillars, giving it a sleek, floating effect. The Nightfall Mica paint color on the model Trucks.com tested had a deep sparkle.

The one style hitch is the front end. It’s overwhelmed by the hourglass figure of the signature Lexus spindle grille bracketed by L-shaped headlights. It is an aggressive look in an era of nuanced, minimalist styling from rivals such as Audi’s Q5 and Land Rover’s Range Rover.

But there are plenty of brand loyalists drawn to the bold statement. Lexus’ RX crossover, now in its fourth generation, has been a top-seller since its debut in 1998.

The seven-passenger crossover is growing sales of the RX nameplate. Lexus sold 79,563 RX crossovers through the first nine months of this year, a 5 percent gain compared with the same period in 2017. The RX L accounted for more than 17,000 of those vehicles. Sales of the two-row version have slid 18 percent this year as some buyers opted for the bigger RX.

By offering a third row, Lexus is ushering customers into a more expensive RX. It’s a smart business move that’s both growing sales volume and getting buyers to spend more. The starting price for the RX 350L is $47,770 before destination, almost $4,000 more than the five-passenger variant.

The all-wheel-drive RX L starts at $49,170. Add a hybrid powertrain – which also comes with standard AWD and second-row captain’s chairs – and the price jumps to start at $50,720.

Included in the added cost of the RX L are other upgrades, including real leather rather than a synthetic version. That gives an already comfortable and spacious cockpit extra pizzazz.

The RX L also boasts a slew of storage innovations. Two sizable cupholders in the console have a trap-door style bottom that pops up to release smaller items or smaller drink containers. Storage compartments on each front door expand at the top so contents are easily accessible. Passengers in the captain’s chairs and third-row seats get their own cupholders.

Infotainment on the RX L is a head-scratcher. A 12.3-inch screen juts out from the dash, far from the reach of the driver – a downfall to those who prefer touchscreen technology. The display size, along with 15-speaker premium audio, is part of a $3,200 navigation package. The system – Lexus Enform – is controlled via a joystick on the driver side of the console. Its mouse-like operation doesn’t always find the desired command. The system itself has layers of menus, and the split screen leaves even more room for error.

The addition of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto could remedy technology frustrations for buyers who prefer simpler interfaces. Neither technology is available on the RX L.

The RX 350L has a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 290 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. It’s the same engine as the RX, but it loses 5 horsepower and 5 pound-feet of torque. The curb weight is 4,464 pounds (4,619 pounds for AWD), over 200 pounds more than the RX. It’s mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, which is slow with gaps between shifts. The brakes are large – over 13 inches – and require excessive pressure. Steering is loose and a bit cruisy. The RX L is not in a rush to get anywhere. Even Sport mode is more of a jog than a sprint.

When the adaptive cruise control is activated, the RX L feels alert. It’s adequate at lane centering – sometimes it jumps back and forth between lane lines. It can also feel a little aggressive at times, overcorrecting to move uncomfortably close to a nearby big rig. It is excellent at detecting the slowdown of approaching traffic and will speed back up from as low at 5 mph. This is a key technology to reduce driver fatigue, whether commuting around town or driving long distances.

The RX L also gets great gas mileage. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the front-wheel-drive version at 19 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway and 22 combined. It loses 1 mpg in each category compared with the FWD RX 350. The hybrid is rated 31 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg combined.

There also is excellent air circulation in the vehicle. The third row has its own climate controls (a pain for moms with 6-years-olds that like to push buttons), which the driver can turn on and off from the main control.

For those seeking a seven-passenger crossover, there are better choices whose designers prioritized seating configurations. With all the creative engineering out there – think Buick’s tip-and-fold middle captain’s chairs on its three-row Enclave – it’s disappointing that the back of the RX L doesn’t offer a more innovative people-hauling solution.

If the ability to haul seven passengers is a novelty and the Lexus nameplate is a must-have, then it’s a lovely choice. But consider saving $4,000 and opting for the original five-seater.

Read Next: Review: Buick Enclave Avenir is Spacious, Premium Family SUV

Research: 2018 Lexus RX L

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