Lexus has addressed one of the major criticisms of its edgy RX: the lack of a third seating row. This makes it a more complete competitor to the Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 and co.
For many prospective buyers, having a sixth and seventh seat is hugely valuable. Not necessarily for daily use, but just as a backup solution. These cars are commonly called ‘5+2s’.
The seven-seat RX L is 110mm longer than the five-seater, making it precisely five metres nose to tail, and costs an extra $3300. Does it take the edge off the five-seater’s savvy exterior design? Yes, in this writer’s entirely subjective opinion. Still has presence, however.
Luxury and Sports Luxury spec levels are available, with either V6 petrol or hybrid drivetrains to choose from. Here we’re looking at the 2018 Lexus RX350L Luxury kicking off the range at $84,700 plus on-road costs.
That puts it smack-bang between a flagship Mazda CX-9 or Toyota Kluger, and a prestige Euro such as the Q7. It’s a sweet spot Lexus regularly occupies in the market, and one that about reflects where its brand sits in many people’s minds here.
Lexus reckons the third seating row offers equivalent comfort and luxury to the middle row. Rearmost occupants benefit from their own climate controls and vents, and Lexus has wisely extended the side-curtain airbags to cover everybody on board.
Access to the third row is simple enough, in theory. A lever folds and slides the second-row seat portion forwards on longer rails. The back seats also fold down flat when not in use, as you’d expect. You’re not always going to be using them…
Lexus has positioned the second row up higher to liberate foot room underneath for third-row passengers, which is good, though that does have the reciprocal effect of making one feel a little more squished downwards into the seat.
Furthermore, that sharp body design and slim rearmost side window mean you wouldn’t necessarily be ferrying adults back there too often. Kids will be okay with it, which is sort of the point. Lexus itself cites 160cm as the height cut-off. Like a reverse rollercoaster.
The final thing to note is the fact that the third row of seats are trimmed with a synthetic material compared to the leather of the first two rows. Lexus talks up the former’s durability, and it’s not bad. Just a little… Unusual.
More impressively, when the third-row seats are in use, there’s still 566mm of cargo length, enough for a folded stroller. A button folds the third-row seats downwards giving you a modest 432L of cargo space to the tonneau cover.
The rest of the cabin is pretty familiar. Which is a very good thing. The layout is clear and simple, and the build quality is typically without fault. You know you’re getting good quality if you choose a Lexus – even its less-inspiring cars deliver that.
Typical of the brand, it’s absolutely loaded with stuff. Lexus is rarely a company to make you rely on options boxes.
Safety boxes ticked include 10 airbags, autonomous emergency braking that detects pedestrians (pedestrian element works between 10km/h and 80km/h, car-to-car up to 180km/h), radar active cruise control, lane assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a tyre-pressure monitor, auto-levelling headlights and a reversing camera.
There are also pretty sumptuous leather seats (first and second row), with the front pair both heated and cooled, and the driver’s seat getting 10-way electric adjustment and memory presets.
Other tech includes a wireless smartphone charger, keyless entry and start, privacy glass, electric tailgate, three-zone climate control, 20-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights with auto high-beam and roof rails.
Infotainment includes sat-nav with traffic updates, though the 8.0-inch screen is hardly mind-blowing, and the Lexus Remote Touch trackpad device that you use to scroll through its submenus remains fiddly and less ergonomic than a BMW-style rotary dial.
If you shell out $3500 for the Enhancement Package, you get a welcome colourised head-up display and a sunroof.
The manually adjusting back seats get flip-down cupholders in the armrest, LED lighting, bottle holders, rear temperature control and air vents, as well as two 5V USB inputs.
If you want more luxuries, an extra $17K (!) will net you the Sports Luxury derivative that adds a 360-degree camera, adaptive variable suspension with dampers that change to suit various road surfaces, heated second-row seats, lashings of leather and wood, sunshades, adaptive high-beam and a 15-speaker audio system with a 12.3-inch display.
We can go without much of that given the extra impost, though the big screen would be a welcome addition on all versions.
Engine choices are the ubiquitous 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 used in a number of Lexus and Toyota product, and demonstrative of its US-market focus. These sorts of engines are well out of fashion among the Euro set these days.
Peak power is 216kW at a high 6300rpm and 358Nm of torque between 4600 and 4700rpm. Those with a keen eye for data will notice that the lighter five-seat RX with this engine has 221kW/370Nm. That’s because the tight packaging of the third row has necessitated the fitment of a single exhaust rather than dual-exhaust system.
It’s matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission and an on-demand front-biased all-wheel-drive (AWD) system with electromagnetic coupling that distributes engine torque between the axles depending on demand – a byproduct of surface grip. You can watch the front/rear torque redistribution in real time on the driver’s instrument screen.
Lexus claims combined-cycle 95RON fuel consumption of 10.2L/100km compared to 9.6L/100km for the five-door. We averaged 12.4L/100km on our modest loop, which fits within the usual tolerances for a real-world test as opposed to a dynamometer one.
There are also three driving modes: one that sharpens the throttle and tells the transmission to hold lower gears; one that does the opposite to save fuel; and the other that sits between.
It’s sufficient to move the 2090kg SUV to 100km/h in a brisk-ish eight seconds. The 3.5 V6 is butter smooth, quiet at all times, and if you’re heavy on the throttle it has a lovely rasping quality to it. It’s also been around in some form or another long enough to be proven.
At the same time, a Mazda CX-9 makes 62Nm more torque available earlier in the rev band, while a number of Euro options (often using diesel) do similarly, or better, and use less fuel. For urban work it’s fine, but never frugal and never cutting-edge.
The towing capacity is also a pretty weedy 1500kg braked.
The 2.0-litre turbo petrol from the five-door is not available, which is a shame, but Lexus knows its buyers. Naturally, there’s a parallel petrol-electric hybrid RX450hL that pairs the same V6 with a 123kW electric motor, Ni-MH battery and CVT, adding 110kg of weight but cutting claimed fuel use to 6L/100km. It’s also $8740 more expensive…
Dynamically, there’s a run-of-the-mill MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension set-up, speed-sensitive electric-assisted steering, a 10.8m turning circle and adequate 328mm/338mm diameter ventilated disc brakes front/rear.
Like the five-seater, the RX’s happiest environment is the urban grind and highway time, where it proves soft and cushy, and exceptionally quiet. We’d love to see how much sound-cancelling material and insulation there is in here compared to the Kluger, itself pretty quiet.
It’s no dynamic star, getting a little wallowy if you drive it with gusto, even compared to the lighter and better-proportioned five-seater, though it’s not exactly designed to do otherwise, nor do its buyers expect racy dynamics. Off-roading? Bah, forget that. This ain’t a Land Rover Discovery.
From an ownership perspective, you get a four-year warranty and Lexus’s lauded dealership experience, with roadside assist, loan cars, service pick-ups and more. The company has always tried to stand out by requiring its dealers be as hospitable as possible.
So, does the Lexus RX L make for a worthy addition to the range? Yes it does. The third row is for kids, but squeezing it in late rather than never, at a reasonable price premium, is a smart move that’ll broaden this SUV's appeal.
The Luxury is well equipped, beautifully made, quiet and composed, and an affordable bridge between upper mainstream and high-tech Euro luxury. Downsides? The engine is rarely inspiring, nor is the infotainment. It’s lost some design edge too, though that part is subjective.
What is clear is the fact that the Lexus RX has a purpose, and a positioning, and its good attributes speak to a number of affluent family buyers who will get precisely what they’re expecting. Solid indeed.
Extra: Second opinion from CA journalist James Wong
Over the Easter long weekend, I was given the keys to the RX350L for my road trip to Yarrawonga. It's a three-hour drive each way between Melbourne and the riverside town, including a long stint on the Hume Highway.
The big Lexus was tasked with carting myself and three passengers to and from the destination, along with all our luggage and tennis equipment – we were all participating in the town's annual Easter tournament – and the RX350L swallowed all our belongings with relative ease.
I travel along the Hume Highway quite regularly these days, as my grandparents live about an hour north of the Victorian capital, and it's my go-to road to test out a vehicle's NVH, and the RX didn't fail to impress.
There isn't a vehicle I have driven in my short-lived career so far with such excellent sound insulation as the RX. Despite wearing 20-inch wheels shod in 235/55 rubber, the RX exhibited minimal tyre roar even over the roughest of surfaces, while wind noise off the windscreen and mirrors was also non-existent.
Ride comfort is also great on the open road, thanks to the RX's softer suspension tune that wafts over all kinds of imperfections with minimal fuss.
There's a sense of solidarity and ‘planted-ness’ in the way the RX L sits on the road too, which inspires confidence at higher speeds and means you're not constantly making little corrections when travelling on the highway.
While it's not a dynamic standout, the RX L has a nice and predictable steering feel and exhibits a bit of body roll through bends without feeling like you're going to topple over.
I may have a lot of praise for this capable grand tourer, though I do have a couple of complaints.
The third row is next to useless for any person that's over five-feet in height. One of my friends found out the hard way when I carted a couple of extra people to and from the tennis club that there's no leg room and minimal head room for adults.
Another con is the 8.0-inch infotainment system, which looks and feels basic compared to the larger 12.3-inch unit used in the Sports Luxury grade and other members of the Lexus stable, while also featuring graphics and an interface reminiscent of my parents' 2006 Toyota Kluger Grande.
While I complain about the aesthetics, it has all the functions expected of a vehicle this price like navigation and DAB+ radio, even if it has that bloody annoying joystick-like control.
My final gripe is with the adaptive cruise-control system, albeit a minor one. At times when navigating the long-weekend traffic I encountered on both trips, the radar-based cruise control had the tendency to wait until the very last moment to brake when another vehicle cut in front, resulting in a rather sudden burst of braking that didn't bode well with my sleeping passengers.
The condition wasn't really helped by adjusting the following distance, as it just made the gap between me and the car in front rather unnecessary and made overtaking too long.
All told, though, I'm a big fan of the RX L and would recommend it to anyone that has a family with 2–3 kids and travels long distances regularly.