Daily Driven: 2018 Lexus RX 350L
Segment Stalwart Gets an Optional Third Row
With every succeeding generation, Lexus makes greater strides to set itself apart as a purveyor of comfortable, reliable, and highly styled—if not stylish—luxury vehicles. The new-for-2016 Lexus RX was no exception, offering buyers of the extremely popular midsize crossover more aggressive and distinctive attributes in its fourth generation.
The SUV family’s appeal only broadened for 2018, when Lexus added an extended-length RX L model to the roster. At 4.3 inches longer than the regular RX, with all of that added length residing aft of the rear axle, the RX 350L and RX 450hL boast a more commodious rear cargo area that hides a flat-folding pair of seats, expanding total passenger capacity to seven. What’s more, the RX L gets elongated styling from the C-pillar back, enhancing its appearance to our eyes compared to the regular RX, which all of a sudden looks stubby next to the L.
But would the longer SUV’s driving dynamics match its aggressive front end and stylish rump? Keen to find out, we borrowed a 2018 Lexus RX 350L Luxury FWD for a week and put it through its Daily Driven paces.
And unfortunately for the big Lexus, our first impressions were not favorable.
Pulling away from our office parking lot, anything less than a three-quarter prod of the accelerator elicited resonant harshness from the powertrain, a grating sound that echoed through the interior and had us worried we’d maybe left the parking brake engaged. Alas, that wasn’t to be. And on the drive home over Los Angeles’ grooved concrete highways, we were met with an unpleasant grittiness that found its way through the tires, wheels, and suspension into the driver’s backside and steering wheel. Once at freeway speeds, the wide-open cabin was prone to boominess, a trait we think may be the result of the extended-length SUV’s longer, taller cargo area. Was this really a Lexus RX—the paragon of cushy, sensory-deprivation numbness—exhibiting all these unpleasant behaviors?
The Lex changed its tune once we moved from the highway to a slightly curvy ribbon of asphalt. Although not a performance SUV in the slightest, the RX 350L was much more at home traveling at 40 mph along a well-paved surface street, with the 290hp 3.5L V-6 and well-tuned eight-speed automatic transmission making friends once up to speed. And at full throttle, the gearbox is more than willing to drop a few cogs and hustle up that onramp, accompanied by a pleasant, smooth growl from the exhaust. Minor surface imperfections are dispatched by the RX’s standard, luxury-tuned suspension without any wallowing, showing that Lexus engineers have figured out how to smooth out the bumps without turning the vehicle into a wiggly Jell-O casserole.
The comfort quotient expands further once you look around at the RX L’s interior, particularly the Luxury model. That package, which adds $5,015 to the price of an RX 350L, brings with it semi-aniline perforated leather seating with ventilation, genuine sapele wood trim with aluminum inlays, a heated and wood-trimmed steering wheel, and soft ambient lighting. All of those ingredients conspire to make the RX 350L a special place to be, particularly the gorgeous, curved swath of wood found in the lower center console.
Burnished aluminum-look accents on the dash and door panels give the cockpit a vague fighter-jet feel, and the interior’s styling on the whole is much more modern and interesting than, say, the Acura MDX. Seat comfort up front and in the second row are better than class-competitive, with plenty of space and support for long drives.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the third row, which is sized for either three-year-olds or folks without legs. The sliding second-row seat helps some, but there’s really no way to fold even a small adult into the back seat and expect him or her to be comfortable. Commendably, there’s a respectable amount of cargo space, even with the third row up, and with it folded, there’s plenty of room for a family of four to take a long road trip. The same cannot be said of all seven-seat midsize SUVs.
In addition to the Luxury package, the price of our RX 350L was inflated by a blind-spot monitor, active parking assistant, and 360-degree camera system, as well as a head-up display, LED headlamps, and touch-free power rear door. A widescreen 12.3-inch navigation system and Mark Levinson audio package joined the bunch as well, controlled by a hopelessly difficult joystick/trackpad in the center console. With $7,580 worth of options and a $995 destination fee, our 2018 RX 350L demanded $61,260 for the pleasure.
At that price, it’s hard not to consider the aforementioned Acura MDX, which offers an exciting Sport Hybrid variant for about the same coin. An MDX buyer would have to sacrifice the RX’s superior interior and exterior design in exchange for a smoother driving experience and improved third-row room.
Overall, we found our experience with the Lexus RX 350L just this side of disappointing. While it was interesting to look at inside and out and it offered first-rate seat comfort, it was lacking the smooth, slightly slushy luxury of its predecessors without offering better driving dynamics in return. In all honesty, it could be a tire change away from perfection, as the grittiness we felt could have just been the result of low-rolling-resistance rubber. But as delivered, we couldn’t help but feel slightly let down by the RX L.
2018 Lexus RX 350L LuxuryBase price: $52,685
Price as tested: $62,260
Engine: Direct- and port-injected, Otto- and Atkinson-cycle 24-valve 3.5L V-6
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Horsepower: 290 hp @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 263 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
EPA fuel economy rating: 19 city/26 highway/22 combined
Actual calculated economy, 382-mile trip: 19.06 mpg
Passenger volume: 114.9 cubic feet
Cargo volume, seats up/down: 16.3/58.5 cubic feet