Lexus stretches its top-selling RX 350 by adding a new 3rd-row variant without leaving a mark

By                 Cecilio Leacock                    IBexclusive News Saturday, March 31, 2018.

(IBEXNews) - Nowadays, I think we can all agree that it’s hard to get excited about 4.4 inches. But that length of slightly more than one’s index finger is what separates a garden-variety, 5-passenger Lexus RX 350 from the new 7-passenger RX 350L.

With some clever packaging and the aforementioned quartet of inches grafted onto the aft end of the RX, Lexus has now added a 3-row variant to its family of midsize luxury crossover SUVs.

The extra length came in handy during a recent Lexus drive event in Phoenix, Arizona, whereupon my mission was to obtain and stuff an RX 350L full of sports equipment for a youth charity group. Let’s just say I came nowhere near filling the SUV to capacity.

Sliding and Folding

That said, don’t get the idea that the stretched RX model has magically achieved Chevy Suburban status and can now swallow seven adult passengers and their gear. As with other 3-row mid-lux crossovers such as the Acura MDX, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class and Audi Q7, the RX 350L’s 50/50 split third-row bench seat is really for kids. Make that kids who are old enough not to require a child safety seat and sufficiently daring and flexible enough to squeeze back there.

The third row of the RX 350L offers about the same headroom as the back seat of a Mustang fastback, and almost half a foot less legroom than in the rear of the aforementioned Ford ponycar. We’re talking tight. Then again, you’re not slogging around in something the size of a Suburban, either.

Luckily, the RX L’s second-row seats (a standard 40/20/40 split bench or optional captain’s chairs) slide and have a large range of fore-aft adjustment, both to facilitate third-row ingress and egress and to bestow some semblance of foot space to the rearmost denizens. Which works well enough provided the second-row passengers aren’t long-legged themselves. So, keep it to occasional use by elementary schoolers and you’ll be fine.

Max Cargo

Just don’t go on any big Costco runs with the third-row seat up because, at around 7.5 cubic feet, the cargo space back there is about the same as in the teeny tiny trunk of a Camaro convertible.

Most of the time, you’ll want to roll with the third row folded flat, which the RX L accomplishes electrically via a handy pair of power switches at the rear of the cargo area. With the third row lowered, there’s an ample 15.3 cubic feet of cargo space below the standard window shade-style tonneau cover; 34.1 cu. ft. if you load it to the headliner.

Dropping the second-row seats (this is done manually, and these chairs don’t fold fully flat) opens up a cargo cavern 58.5 cubic feet large, so there’s plenty of room for that big screen TV you just got on sale.

A power liftgate is standard, and $200 spent wisely on the options list nets a hands-free liftgate opening feature; just wave an arm, chin, or some other body part over the Lexus insignia at the rear with the keyless-entry fob on your person and the tailgate opens automatically.

Otherwise, what we have here with the new RX 350L is the same winning combination of ample power, smooth ride, hushed cabin, high-quality fit and finish and generous standard comfort and convenience amenities that made the regular-issue 2-row RX 350 such a hit—just 4.4 inches more of it. It takes a very sharp eye to notice the RX 350L’s stretch; if anything, it helps balance the SUV’s proportions a bit and takes some of the focus off its enlarged proboscis.

Driving Dynamics

Despite its angry-looking face, the RX 350L has a gentle soul. The car-based RX possesses dynamic driving characteristics akin to the current Lexus ES 350 sedan or last-generation Toyota Camry. Which is to say driving enthusiasts won’t be going out of their way to find twisty back roads on which to exercise the handling limits of an RX.

It simply isn’t that kind of vehicle, and there is no F Sport version of the RX 350L to suggest otherwise. Rather, the RX 350L, just like its 2-row RX 350 cousin, is a pleasant suburban schlepper. Despite its nose-heaviness, the RX offers exemplary ride quality, and even with optional 20-inch tires (18-inch skins are standard), impact harshness never intrudes.

Steering effort is pleasantly light if a bit lacking in feedback, but offers good precision. Ditto for the RX L’s 4-wheel disc brakes, which offer good top-of-pedal response and halt the 4,464-pound SUV (242 lbs. more than the 2-row RX) without drama.

Under the hood is the same, basic torque-rich 3.5-liter V6 and slick-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission that’s been in the RX for years. Power drops a bit in the RX 350L to 290 horsepower, not that you’d really notice as throttle response is crisp and there’s plenty of scoot available for freeway merging, highway passing, or just squirting into an open slot in the traffic flow.

Sixty mph arrives from rest in a tick over 7 seconds, just a few tenths slower than the standard-length RX 350 can accomplish the deed. As with the standard-issue RX, the RX L has a drive mode select knob on the console with Normal, Sport and Eco settings that allow the driver to skew throttle response and transmission shifts to favor performance or fuel economy.

The optional all-wheel-drive system didn’t get much of a workout on the smooth, dry roads around Phoenix, Arizona. To save fuel, it defaults to front-wheel drive except under brisk acceleration or when the front wheels break traction, at which time it can send up to 50 percent of drive torque to the rear wheels.

Unlike its European-branded competitors, the 2018 RX 350L is quite happy burning less-expensive regular unleaded fuel, although its rated 290-hp is achieved, Lexus says, on 91-octane premium. The RX L’s EPA fuel economy estimates drop 1 mpg across the board compared to the standard 350: 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway/22 mpg combined for front-drivers, 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway/21 mpg combined on all-wheel-drive models. Also available is an all-wheel-drive-equipped RX 450hL hybrid that’s EPA-rated at 29 mpg city/28 mpg highway/29 mpg combined, but it requires premium fuel.

Chilling Out

Hop inside the new RX L and all of those mechanical details kind of melt away. Lexus does interiors well. First of all, it’s quiet inside, with engine, road and wind noise well hushed. The RX L is offered in a variety of two-tone interior color schemes that are simply stunning and supremely comfortable. Third-row seats notwithstanding, the leather-covered front chairs are cosseting with a just-right balance of support and cushiness. Just about everything the driver has contact with is soft-touch or padded—the sides of the console, front door armrests, even the insides of the front door pulls.

Checking off certain option boxes adds buttery, semi-aniline leather-covered seats—vented and heated and with thigh-bolster extenders. Even though the RX L comes standard with an 8-inch infotainment screen, you’ll want to pony up for the 12.3-inch one that makes the navigation display look panoramic and also gives the option of opening two windows simultaneously.

The only downside is a fussy mouse-like remote controller for the display on the console that takes some time—and patience—to master. Luckily, for Luddites or slow learners, Lexus provides redundant knobs or buttons for most of the audio and climate control functions. Now, if only Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were available. Maybe next year.

Shop Safely

Meanwhile, the 2018 RX 350L rolls with safety systems today’s SUV buyers want. Standard items include 10 airbags plus dynamic radar cruise control, a backup camera, lane-keep assist, intelligent high-beam control, and a pre-collision warning system with pedestrian detection. The Enform Safety Connect and Service Connect systems are now complimentary for 10 years of ownership. Optional blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, parking assist and a panoramic view monitor are also available.

The Lexus RX created the midsize luxury crossover segment two decades ago, and still owns it today. The RX 350 remains the best-selling luxury model—car or SUV—in the U.S. With sales of more than 108,000 in 2017, the 2-row RX handily outsold the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 combined.

Now, with the 3-row RX 350L joining the family, the Lexus mid-lux crossover expands its appeal and inches its way onto the shopping lists of buyers perusing the Acura MDX, Volvo XC90, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60 and others.


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