There’s a familiar feeling to the 2018 Lexus RX L as you approach it front on. Lexus’s distinctive design language, anchored by that love-it-or-hate-it spindle grille, is in full effect. As you move around to the side, though, you’ll start to notice some changes towards the rear of the Japanese manufacturer’s popular mid-sized SUV.
There’s a distinct boxiness to the RX L’s profile, edges and angles not seen on RX sans ‘L’ models with its swooping roofline and angled tailgate offering a sporty stance and presence to Lexus’ five-seater.
Now, however, with the addition of a third row adding two seats (and a chrome ‘L’), that swoop, that look-fast angle is gone. Instead, the RX L has grown 110mm in length and 10mm in height while that rakish tailgate has lost some of its, well rake.
Lexus says customer demand has spawned the RX L seven-seater, filling a void in its SUV line-up that previously only the slightly monstrous LX570 filled, a vehicle almost too much car for most (not to mention, the circa $150k price).
Instead, with the addition of a third row to its popular RX range, Lexus is hoping to snare some of the lucrative seven-seater market. The question is though, will it attract new buyers to the brand, those who previously would not have considered a five-seater RX? Or will the RX L cannibalise sales of the RX five-seater range?
To answer that question, we’ll have to wait a few months for the top-of-the-pops charts to trickle through. In the meantime, two RX L models – each with two trim grades – join the already fat Lexus RX line-up.
The RX350L Luxury gets things rolling with a starting price of $84,700 plus on-road costs. Power comes courtesy of Lexus’ 2GR-FKS 3.5-litre V6 petrol with 216kW and 358Nm of torque, delivered to all four wheels through a traditional eight-speed auto transmission. Tellingly, these outputs are down slightly (5kW and 12Nm) on those offered by its five-seat brethren due to the packaging requirements of the seven-seater necessitating a single, rather than a dual, exhaust system.
Next in the range is the $93,400 RX450hL Luxury, Lexus’ hybrid take the premium SUV segment. Powered by a 193kW 3.5-litre petrol unit (2GR-FXS), the RX450hL total output is boosted to 230kW thanks to the addition of a 123kW electric motor. Torque is rated at 335Nm. Drive is sent to the wheels via a six-stepped CVT.
True to the Lexus ethos of cramming as much into each vehicle it possibly can, the RX L range is loaded with standard features including leather-accented seats in the first two rows (the third row is finished in a durable synthetic material which Lexus claims is a necessity because of the regular folding the third row will undergo); heated and cooled front seats, LED headlights, DRLs, an 8.0-inch centrally mounted screen, sat-nav, 12-speaker sound system, 20-inch alloys, roof rails and rear privacy glass.
On the safety front, each RX L scores 10 airbags (including curtain bags all the way to that new third row) and Lexus Safety Sense+ which includes pre-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, hill-start assist, tyre pressure monitoring, and auto-levelling and high beam assist headlights.
Adding the $3500 optional Enhancement pack adds a colour head-up display, moon roof and smart key card, a credit-card-sized key which sits in your wallet.
Stepping up to Sports Luxury variants in both models adds 14-way electric adjustment for the front pews, heated second row seats, a 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system and a 12.3-inch colour infotainment screen (over the Luxury’s 8.0-inch). There’s a premium commanded for this extra kit though, with the RX350L Sports Luxury asking for $101,500 (plus on roads) and the RX450hL Sports Luxury needing $110,240 of your hard-earned.
Options? Aside from the already mentioned Enhancement pack, premium paint will ask for $1500 extra. And that’s it. True Lexus then.
Slide inside the RX L and you’ll be met by typical Lexus fare – understated premium. There’s no ‘wow’ factor, but neither are you left feeling the interior is a bit cheap. The front seats are comfortable and the materials used throughout look – and feel – premium. So far, so good, although, the Japanese maker persists with its awkward infotainment toggle/mouse/cursor controller. It's annoying, difficult to use – particularly on the move – and should be consigned to the bin at Lexus HQ labelled 'Stuff that doesn't work in cars'.
The second row offers plenty of comfort with adequate head- and legroom. Second row occupants are treated to their own climate controls and vents, and the outboard seats have ISOFIX points for the littlies.
But there’s a caveat to that second-row comfort. With the third row in play, the only passengers travelling in comfort in the second row will be kids and small adults.
Yes, Lexus has added 110mm in length (and 10mm in height) over the five-seater RX, but it’s an exercise in compromise. To use that third row (which, kudos to Lexus, features its own climate control functions and vents), the second row needs to be moved forward significantly. It can slide up to 45mm and you’ll need every one of those millimetres to make the third row a viable place for passengers six and/or seven.
On launch, I sat myself in the second row behind my not especially tall (I’m 5’7”) driving position with the second row in the full forward position. And it’s cramped, my knees hard up against the seat back which, I might add, features scallops for said knees. It’s not the last word in comfort, that’s for sure. The third row? It’s a squeeze in every direction, a compromise best left for very occasional use. Sure, there’s a single tether point for a child seat (but no ISOFIX) and the back row splits 50:50, opening up space for a stroller – according to Lexus – with only one third-row seat in play.
To be fair, Lexus isn’t alone in this regard with a whole world of compromise to be found in the mid-to-large-size, seven-seater SUVs segment.
On the road, the Lexus RX L displays the same manners we’ve come to expect from the premium Japanese maker. It’s comfortable, powerful enough without being manic and offers a luxury motoring experience.
Our time behind the wheel was limited due to the tightly controlled schedule of the RX L’s local launch. However, the launch loop did take in a variety of roads, from twisting mountainous B-roads, to a stretch of severely pockmarked country road, and a blast down the freeway.
Where the RX L excelled in both variants – we sampled the RX350L and the hybrid RX450hL – was in road manners. The RX L dispatched the uneven road surfaces of our test loop with an ease and aplomb that belies its (now) 5.0-metre length.
While not exactly a corner carver… okay, while not at all a corner carver, the RX L nevertheless offered a comfortable ride. There’s certainly no sharp edges, just the type of cossetting experience that buyers of this brand in this segment have come to expect, enhanced further by a near total absence of wind noise. Tyre roar, on the other hand, was quite intrusive but again, amplified by particularly coarse road surfaces on our test loop.
We’ve previously been impressed by the inherent punchiness of the 3.5-litre V6 petrol unit found in the Lexus RX. In that iteration, the RX offers a decent level of sportiness and engagement befitting its place in the segment. That, however, hasn’t translated to the stretched RX L, which lacks the oomph found in its five-seater siblings.
Let’s be clear, the RX L isn’t a slug. It moves away from standstill with purpose and poise. But it lacks that last little bit of punchiness which would make it a much more engaging drive. No doubt the slightly lower power outputs, combined with the extra heft of having two more seats, is a contributing factor. The RX L just feels large, and heavy, and that translates to a less-than-engaging drive. Mitigating this though, is that buyers of this particular variant are unlikely to be the type of buyers looking to go for an enthusiastic blast through the Byron hinterland.
Instead, the Lexus RX L is right at home on the highway, sitting comfortably and effortlessly at 110km/h with minimal fuss and noise. That soft and cossetting ride comes in to its own, offering a plushness one would expect from a luxury SUV.
With our test loop so truncated, accurate fuel consumption figures are pointless, but Lexus claims the RX350L will go through 10.6L/100km for the combined cycle and 14.3L/100km on urban only duties. Unsurprisingly, Lexus claims the hybrid RX450hL will drink 6.0L/100km with a slight bump on the urban cycle to 6.2L/100km. We’ll see how those claims stack up against real-world figures when we cycle the RX L through the CarAdvice garage for a week in the near future.
In the meantime, there’s no question Lexus is tapping into a demand for seven-seater, luxury SUVs. Whether adding 11cm and two seats to its popular RX range is the answer, though, remains to be seen. Like so many of its counterparts in the segment, the RX L is an exercise in compromise, forgoing a level of comfort and practicality in favour of squeezing more human cargo into a tight package.
That compromise extends to its performance credentials too. The urgency of Lexus’ V6 powertrain is gone, replaced by an altogether more middling experience which, while not exactly underwhelming, lacked excitement.
It’s somewhat telling that the carefully selected (by Lexus) soundtrack for the launch test drive, featured some middle of the road country pop. I’m told it was Keith Urban. That soundtrack perfectly sums up the RX L: middle of the road, inoffensive and just a little bit bland.