The 2018 Lexus RX 350L six- or seven-passenger SUV is an uncharacteristically half-hearted effort from Toyota’s normally buttoned-down luxury brand.
Lexus’s sterling reputation rests on a savage attention to detail. The brand’s slogan was once “the relentless pursuit of perfection,” but the stretched, three-row version of the brand’s best-selling SUV feels more like the relentless pursuit of “meh.”
Lexus dealers have been begging for a family-hauling SUV with three rows of seats for years. The lack of one ceded a significant piece of the luxury market to vehicles like the Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, Infiniti QX60 and Volvo XC90.
For reasons we may never know, Toyota’s usually sharp product-planning department declined to develop an SUV to compete with these profitable models, leaving its dealers in the unenviable position of trying to talk buyers who wanted a sleek and car-like family wagon to buy the bigger, less fuel-efficient and more expensive truck-based LX 570.
When that failed, Lexus brass decided to add 4.3 inches of length and about 230 pounds and a row of seats to create the RX 350L.
If that were the best solution, other automakers would not go to the trouble and expense of developing all-new vehicles for their three-row SUVs. The result: Lexus got a compromised vehicle, but an attractive price.
Behind the Wheel
2018 Lexus RX 350L Premium AWD
All-wheel-drive, seven-passenger luxury SUV
Price as tested: $52,080 (excluding destination charge)
Rating: ?? (Out of four stars)
Reasons to buy: Price; three rows of seats; interior materials.
Shortcomings: Third-row comfort; cargo space; controls.
Toyota engineers added 4 inches to the rear of the regular model, RX 350, to create room for a small third row, and changed the roof and tailgate to increase cargo space.
The lengthened 350L is new for the 2018 model year.
The drive train is unchanged, except for being very slightly less powerful than the smaller, lighter 350. A 3.5L V6 produces 290 hp and 263 pound-feet of torque in the L versus 295 and 267 in the five-seater. Gasoline-powered RXs get an eight-speed automatic transmission. Hybrids use a continuously variable transmission and a pair of electric motors to boost system power to 308 hp.
Prices for the 2018 RX start at $43,470 for a short with front-wheel drive, $44,870 for the same with AWD. The 450h all-wheel-drive hybrid starts at $45,895.
The six- or seven-passenger 350L starts at $47,670 FWD, $49,070 AWD and $50,620 hybrid.
I tested a well-equipped 350L Premium AWD. Features included heated and cooled front seats, adaptive cruise control, navigation, blind spot and cross traffic alerts and more.
My test vehicle stickered at $52,080. All prices exclude destination charges.
The RX 350L’s price compares well to comparably equipped competitive three-row luxury SUVs.
Competitive base prices
(Excluding destination charges; All-wheel-drive models)
Lexus RX 350L Premium AWD: $46,670
Acura MDX SH-AWD with Tech packages: $50,600
Audi Q7 3.0 TFSI Premium Plus: $56,400
Buick Enclave Essence AWD: $46,300
GMC Acadia Denali AWD: $47,100
Infiniti QX 60 AWD: $45,100
Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription: $54,350
The RX 350L’s greatest strength is its cost, which is lower than many of its larger and roomier competitors. Modifying an existing vehicle costs less than developing an all new SUV with three rows, as all the competitors did.
It also has Lexus’ usual premium materials and good interior fit and finish.
The RX is a quiet, comfortable vehicle for long trips or quick jaunts about town, as long as nobody’s in the third row of seats. Those rear seats were raised and lowered by electric motors in my test car. The middle row slides fore and aft, increasing third-row legroom at the middle row’s expense.
The RX’s driver assistance features include adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind spot alert, collision alert with pedestrian detection and autonomous emergency braking.
The RX 350L AWD scored 18 mpg in city driving, 25 on the highway and 21 combined in EPA tests. The key combined rating is pretty much in the middle of its competitive set, trailing MDX, Q7 and XC90, matching the Q7 and topping the Acadia and Enclave.
The RX got its EPA score with regular gasoline, but needs premium to generate its rated horsepower. The drop-off using regular isn’t likely to be enough for most drivers to notice, though. Performance isn’t one of the top reasons anybody buys Lexus’ popular SUV.
The third row of seats is the 350L’s whole reason for existing, but legroom and headroom are severely limited. It’s best reserved for small children or “maybe a 10-minute ride,” to quote my 15-year-old and 5’7” tall assistant Owen.
The L’s controls are outdated, with slow voice recognition for navigation and other features, and a joy stick that’s no picnic to use in a moving vehicle.
Specifications as tested
Engine: 3.5L 24-valve V6.
Power: 290 hp @ 6,300 hp rpm; 263 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
Length: 196.9 inches
Width: 74.5 inches
Height: 67.3 inches
Curb Weight: 4,619 lbs.
Where assembled: Cambridge, Ontario
Competitive EPA fuel-economy ratings
(All-wheel-drive models; V6 where available.)
Lexus RX 350L Premium AWD: 18 mpg city/25 highway/21 combined. Regular gasoline.
Acura MDX SH-AWD with Tech packages: 19/26/22. Premium.
Audi Q7 3.0 TFSI Premium Plus: 19/25/21. Premium/
Buick Enclave Essence AWD: 17/25/20. Regular.
GMC Acadia Denali AWD: 17/25/20. Regular.
Infiniti QX60 AWD: 19/26/22. Premium.
Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription: 20/27/23. Premium.
Lexus dealers wanted a three-row SUV to keep loyal customers in the fold, but they’d better hope those customers are very loyal. Shoppers who compare the RX 350L’s accommodations with vehicles engineered from the start to carry six or seven people are likely to go elsewhere.
Key features on vehicle tested
Standard equipment: Power sunroof; auto-dimming sideview mirrors; UV reducing windows; power-folding third row seats with 50/50 split; multizone climate control; power front seats; power tilt and telescoping steering wheel; USB ports in center console; pre-collision system with pedestrian detection; adaptive cruise control; automatic high beams; lane departure alert; lane keep assist
Options: Navigation; 12.3-inch display; 12-Speaker premium audio; blind spot alert; cross traffic alert; heated and ventilated front seats; power tailgate.