Car reviews - Lexus - RX - RX350L Luxury
Beautifully engineered third-row seat-folding mechanism, generous equipment and engine specs compared with price rivals, lots of standard safety gear, strong aftercare and reliability reputation
Room for improvement
Effectively less practical than the five-seat RX, underdone drivetrain and dynamics, woeful infotainment system, doesn’t justify premium pricetag
Stretched Lexus RX350L achieves seven-seat status on a strictly temporary basis
27 Mar 2019
LEXUS finally filled the seven-seat-SUV-shaped gap in its line-up with the RX L that tacks on an extra 110mm of length and 10mm of height in order to liberate the room for a third row of seats without extending the regular RX’s wheelbase.
Family friendly? We found the cramped rear quarters suitable only for children in a pretty narrow age and size range. So, it’s a temporary seven-seater in more ways than one.
Worse, the RX’s already small-for-the-segment boot has shrunk by more than 20 litres despite the extra length.
But the engineering that went into the beautiful electric folding mechanism of the new pews is plenty to geek out on if you like that sort of thing.
Price and equipment
Lexus charges $84,700 plus on-road costs for the seven-seat RX350L Luxury tested here, pitching this premium SUV into competition with the likes of the Land Rover Discovery, BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE.
This is the least expensive version of the seven-seat RX range, with the hybrid RX450hL commanding $93,440 and the flagship Sport Luxury variant costing $101,500 for the petrol RX350L or $110,240 for the hybrid RX450hL respectively.
Lexus tends to offer high levels of standard kit, with highlights on the RX350L including adaptive cruise control, an 8.0-inch multimedia system with satellite navigation and a reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, and a 12-speaker sound system with a subwoofer.
There is also electric steering column adjustment and wireless phone charging, although the Lexus connectivity suite is yet to support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay and relies purely on Bluetooth and USB.
As well as conventional features such as ABS, electronic stability control and hill start control, the RX350L comes with lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, 10 airbags and a pre-collision preparation and braking system.
Our test vehicle was equipped with the sole available option, a $3500 bundle Lexus calls ‘Enhancement Pack 1’, comprising a colour head-up display, a tilt and slide sunroof, and a smart entry key card that is more compact than the conventional keyfob.
Nine colours are offered, with Onyx Black standard and the rest – including the Vermillion Red of our test car – being a $1500 cost option. Four no-cost interior trim combinations are also offered as well, allowing for a degree of personalisation. Our cabin had a two-tone ivory and reddy brown colour scheme.
Bad news first: This is a pretty poorly executed seven-seater with a token, temporary-use-only third row. It would be a miracle to find seven people who can fit into this vehicle all at once.
While fans of engineering could enjoy repeatedly watching the satisfyingly intricate and graceful electric-folding mechanism of the new rear seats – it is so very Lexus – but those concerned about packaging will question the lack of legroom, headroom and boot space.
If using the third row, sliding the second row forward is pretty much mandatory in order to liberate a little legroom for those behind. The trouble is that space for adults or bulky child seats then becomes compromised unless the driver and front passenger are short enough to have their seats fairly far forward.
And despite a 10mm increase in roof height, the ceiling is so low in the back that it can only be used by small people, although there is a connection point for one child restraint back there. But they’ll quickly grow out of the available space, unless they are destined to never exceed about five foot.
Finally, there are a few too many ways of moving the central row seats. It’s confusing.
We’d highly recommend the $1500 equipment upgrade fitted to our car for the head-up display alone, as the standard instrument panel is laughably basic, dated and clearly shared with much cheaper old-generation Toyota models.
The only RX variant to improve this is the F Sport that has a digital instrument pack, but this trim level is not available in seven-seat format.
Also mind-bogglingly old-fashioned is the multimedia setup in this entry-level RX L. Within a huge bezel rising from the expansive flat dash-top is a tiny, low-resolution screen that feels a bit distant from the driver and is embarrassingly inadequate for the asking price of this car.
Similar to the instrument cluster, Lexus is seriously cheaping out by omitting the much more modern-looking 12.3-inch widescreen you get in higher trim levels. Either way, you’re saddled by the brand’s clunky joystick/mouse-like method of navigating the system’s menus. And there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring, so you’re stuck with it.
Apart from this, every surface is covered in supple genuine or imitation leather, soft-touch material or, at the very least, interestingly and convincingly textured hard plastic. It’s also quiet, refined and comfortable and roomy provided only the first two rows are in use (even the middle position of the central row is adult-friendly despite the way it looks). From this point of view, it’s a proper Lexus and it soaks up long journeys like few other cars.
Storage for drinks and other items is strong, with variable-depth cup-holders, a big rubberised tray suitable for phones under the central stack – including wireless device charging – and an iPhone SE-sized cubby under the driver’s wrist rest plus a big felt-lined under-armrest bin, a sunglasses holder, a big glovebox supplemented by another small one by the driver’s right knee and extendable front door pockets (although they can interfere with the seat adjustment controls).
In the middle row are solid bottle-only door bins, solid-backed map pockets, a fancy cupholder mechanism in the central armrest that also includes a handy covered phone storage and charging area. Right at the back, a pair of generously sized drinks holders are provided at thigh level plus a couple of hooks to hang items from.
Second-row passengers have access to knee-level vents while third-row occupants have their own fan speed and temperature controls. Up front, the presence of automatic front-seat ventilation and heating is a nice touch in this entry-level variant.
The boot floor is a little high and the tailgate does not open that wide, reducing ease of access and forcing tall people to duck when loading items in.
Also, the 176 litres of boot space with all three rows up is only just enough for a quick grocery run rather than the weekly shop. Worse, folding the 50/50 split rear row results in 432L below the cargo blind – 21L less than the already small five-seat RX boot offers, despite that extra body length.
Practicality, then, is far from being a RX L strong point. And what do buyers want from their seven-seater? Big fail, Lexus.
Engine and transmission
Unlike many rival offerings of a similar price, the RX350L comes with a 3.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol V6. It puts out 216kW of power and 358Nm of torque (5kW/12Nm less than the five-seater) and is claimed to average 10.2 litres per 100km on the official combined cycle.
We averaged a markedly thirstier 13.7L/100km, although 7.8L/100km on the motorway was pretty impressive.
The other option is a V6 hybrid combining a 193kW/335Nm 3.5-litre V6 engine and 123kW electric motor for a combined system output of 230kW and 6.0L/100km combined consumption. But the $8740 price premium could take some time to recoup in lower fuel bills.
Lexus doesn’t offer the five-seater’s 175kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine in the RX L.
The eight-speed transmission of our test vehicle made some odd noises, was hesitant to kick down in Eco and Comfort modes, was generally indecisive and often caused a bit of lag when pulling away from stationary and surging between shifts. From this standpoint, the hybrid provides a much more seamless and Lexus-like experience.
It wasn’t helped by the occasionally undernourished feel of the V6, especially uphill, unless revved. Again, the hybrid’s electric-assisted grunt is better suited to the purpose.
On the upside, it remains smooth, refined and willing under a heavy right foot, which means it never feels hard worked. This also translates to a generally effortless character for both urban and motorway work. It’s quiet, too.
But compared with the characterful note and super-slick six-speed of the previous-gen RX, we couldn’t help but feel this latest model is a step backward on the drivetrain front – even though it looks better on paper.
Ride and handling
The overall suspension setup of the RX L is soft, with an initial firmness that constantly allows small details of the road surface to make their way through to the cabin by way of a subtle but ever-present shudder and bumpiness.
It gives the car a bit of an edge that is the opposite of what we expect from a Lexus. Disappointingly so.
We suspect this is a trade-off that enables the RX L to settle quickly into a corner, quelling and controlling the initial body-roll.
This is great for covering ground quickly in a drama-free fashion with passengers onboard as they are not thrown around like they would by in some of the squidgier SUVs out there, but not so great for most other driving scenarios.
But there is disconcerting front-axle tramp under power on poorly-surfaced corners suggests the all-wheel-drive system is a bit lazy in distributing drive to the rear. Also, the brake pedal feel of our test car was woefully wooden, non-linear and not at all confidence-inspiring.
Overall, the RX L is in its happiest place when unchallenged. Suburban errands are fine, with a nippy and nimble feel that belies its size. Long motorway journeys just breeze by as well.
Safety and servicing
The Lexus RX was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when tested in 2015, scoring 31.8 out of 38 for adult protection and 40.3 out of 49 for child protection.
As is the case with all current Lexus models, the RX350L comes with a battery of safety and driver assistance systems. It gets a remarkable ten airbags, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep and steering assist, adaptive cruise control, a reversing camera, parking sensors, a pre-collision safety and braking system, and high-beam assist.
The RX L also packs a host of other safety features, including ABS, traction control, hill-start assist and electronic brake-force distribution. The colour head-up display, which can improve a driver’s focus on the road, was fitted to our test car as part of an upgrade pack.
Lexus provides a four-year/100,000km warranty, while servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km. During the warranty period, customers can either drop the car off and pick up a free loan car, or Lexus will collect and return their car from a convenient location. The dealer will also clean the car while it is in for its service, free of charge.
Legend has it that Akio Toyoda tore up what was going to be the final RX design and asked the team to start again, giving them a month do achieve what would normally take half a year.
Perhaps that’s why the RX L we drove felt a bit unfinished.
We can’t recommend it to families who need seven seats as the rear accommodation of this stretched model is simply too compromised, to the verge of pointlessness. It’s as though all the development budget was spent engineering that beautiful seat folding mechanism.
And you don’t even get a bigger boot than the standard RX with the third row folded.
The outdated, inadequate multimedia system is downright insulting for the price and there’s nothing really special enough about this Lexus to justify the premium price it commands.
With mainstream large SUVs such as the Mazda CX-9 Azami LE providing a genuine touch of luxury and lots of standard tech plus a much more resolved driving experience and superior practicality, save a heap of money rather than buying the overpriced, half-baked effort that is the RX L.
Better luck next time, Lexus.
Mazda CX-9 Azami LE (from $66,490 plus on-road costs)
Seriously, consider this and spend the savings on a nice holiday or a second car. If you don’t, you are succumbing to badge snobbery as by almost all measures the big and now more luxurious Mazda is a superior car to the Lexus tested here.
Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum (from $93,900 plus on-road costs)
The XC90 is a classy and luxurious seven-seat SUV which, while not particularly gratifying to drive, is ideal for those seeking something effortless, subtle and refined. Like all other price rivals to the V6-powered RX L, the XC90 relies on a highly strung four-cylinder diesel.
Land Rover Discovery SD4 SE (from $85,950 plus on-road costs)
The Disco is a suitably upmarket, practical and off-road-capable SUV that also has superb on-road manners. Option costs are a rort and Land Rover’s position at the opposite end of the dependability reputation spectrum to Lexus make it hard to recommend in this company.
Mercedes-Benz GLE 250d (from $92,900 plus on-road costs)
Ride quality and refinement still impress as the current-generation GLE readies for retirement with an all-new model revealed and on the way. At this price point, you’re restricted to a four-cylinder diesel – like the rival offerings – but as a runout model there will be deals to be done.
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Model release date: 1 February 2018
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