The Lexus RX 350L, the stretched three-row edition of Lexus’ best-selling midsize SUV, is a fabulously comfortable car for highway cruising and around town. The passengers in the first two rows have first-class seats. Safety features and driver assists are excellent, and the center stack display and optional head-up display are both huge.
Lexus outsells its nearest competitors, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, each by 2-1. That is despite a clumsy Remote Touch infotainment controller and handling that’s soft during lane changes and cornering (even on the Sport setting). The long-awaited third-row seating turns out to be suited only for younger children. However, the extra room is great for cargo. Clearly, the RX resonates with buyers.
In a week of interstate as well as suburban commuting, the RX L was perfect for four adults. With the third row seat down, there was reasonable cargo space for people whose family crest reads, “Pack heavy, leave late.” All systems worked to perfection, especially the Mark Levinson premium audio, as well it should at $3,200 in combination with a nav system and larger display. While there initially appeared to be zero electrical connectivity in the second row, flipping open the middle row armrest revealed a pair of 2.1-amp USB jacks, suitable for the most power-hungry phones or tablets.
In testing on the Garden State Parkway, I had to swerve to avoid a fellow New Jersey resident who cut in front of me, then braked — a move so common it’s in the driver’s exam guide — and the Lexus lurched and then leaned a bit more than you’d find in cars built in Europe (or the southern US, where foreign companies build hundreds of thousands now, in US factories). The RX L also leaned hard going around sharp curves on country roads. But in both cases the car still performed the maneuver I asked of it. I had the RX L in the Sport setting, but because it doesn’t have an adaptive suspension, “Sport” means adjusting throttle and steering wheel response, just not suspension response.
The third row space is disappointingly small even compared with other midsize SUVs. It stops being comfortable by the time kids hit first grade. If you slide the second row seats forward all the way, then two rows of people are uncomfortable.
While the RX L looks and drives bigger than the RX, it’s only 4.5 inches longer at 197 inches, and the wheelbase, which essentially defines how big the passenger area can be, is the same at 110 inches. Cargo area from the tailgate to the back of the second row is 28 percent bigger than on the base RX. That may be the reason to look at the RX L. If you want a real third row of seats and you love Toyota/Lexus, get a Toyota Sienna.
In a week’s driving, I got about 21 mpg from the 290 hp V6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Toyota rates the all-wheel-drive RX L at 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, 21 mpg combined. The hybrid RX L scores 29/28/29. The non-stretch gas RX rates 29/26/22.
Technology: Safety, HUD, Remote Touch
The Lexus RX L is awash in technology, which this class — premium midsize SUVs — requires for a car to be competitive. The optional center stack display is 12.3 inches wide, matching best-in-category. The optional head-up display is similarly large, appearing to the driver’s eye as nearly the size of a sheet of transparent paper. One useful feature is the HUD’s hollow turn arrow, which when you’re close to the next turning point, becomes a cascading set of blue stripes that rise to fill the arrow.
The standard safety suite, an enhanced edition of what its Toyota sibling calls TSS (Toyota Safety System), comprises stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, self-centering lane keep assist (“steering assist” in Lexus terminology), pre-collision system (auto emergency braking), pedestrian detection, and automatic high beams. The safety suite is completed with a $1,065 package of blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, and intuitive park assist, which is not automated parking but front and rear sonar sensors; or the same plus surround view cameras for $1,865.
The most polarizing RX feature is the infotainment interface, called Remote Touch. It’s a pointer stick with a big, leather-covered rectangle on top. You push the Remote Touch toward an icon. When the pointer gets close, a snap-to feature jumps it the rest of the way. If that’s the item you want, you press down to select, or press the Enter button on the base of Remote Touch. While it sounds way cool on paper, after the first week, you’re about as good as you’ll get. Other interfaces reward you with better, faster selections a month or two into your ownership period. Lexus voice input is quite good and you may find that’s useful.
There is currently no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay on the RX, but it’s now on other Lexus/Toyota vehicles. In addition to four USB jacks, there are three 12-volt outlets and, for fans of nostalgia, an in-dash CD player.
The Lexus RX L Trim Walk
The Lexus RX 350L with a V6 gasoline engine is $48,695 including freight for front-drive, or $50,095 for all-wheel-drive. It includes the Lexus Safety System, keyless entry / engine start (SmartAccess), power tailgate, leather seats (synthetic leather third row seats called Nuluxe), a leather steering wheel and shifter, a color multimedia center stack display (Display Audio) and nine speakers, Bluetooth, standard telematics (Lexus Enform) with 10 years of basic service and one year of premium service, no-fee traffic and weather, HD radio, folding outside mirrors, and roof rails.
Rather than trim lines (model variants), there is an extensive packages and options list: luxury, premium, cold weather, etcetera. Some options are pricey even for the luxury category.
A loaded RX L with premium audio and navigation, luxury package, premium package, cold weather package, towing package (3,500-pound t0w weight), surround view cameras-BSD-RCTA-parking sonar, HUD, and hands-free tailgate, runs $62,365.
My test car also came with Nebula Gray Pearl paint, a $200 cold weather package of windshield de-icer and headlamp cleaner; 20-inch alloy wheels, $600 head-up display (recommended), $200 touch-free liftgate (wave your hand near the rear wiper), $1,515 LED headlamp and cornering lamp array, the $3,200 audio/navi package, the $1,065 blind spot / RCTA package, an $810 moonroof and wood interior trim, for a total list price of $58,825.
Should You Buy?
Lexus is on target to sell more about 100,000 RX models this year. BMW and Mercedes may not hit 50,000. Chalk that up to a vehicle (Lexus) that provides a smooth ride, quiet interior, and comfy seats, or just what American drivers and passengers appreciate. I’ve driven the BMW X5 on the racetrack and it’s fabulous, but that’s not where most Americans — or even car-crazy Germans — drive.
Other midsize SUVs handle better and accelerate faster. None matches the Lexus if your interests are a comfortable SUV with good reliability and a superior dealer experience. The concessions Lexus wrung from dealership applicants a quarter-century ago — “If you want a franchise, you’ll have to treat customers well” — are paying dividends today.
If you want the longer, hybrid version, the RX 450hL, which is all-wheel-drive only (electric motors power the rear wheels), it’s $1,550 additional, and overall fuel economy increases from 25 mpg to 28 mpg. If you drop back to the standard-length Lexus RX, the base price is $4,400 less.
Lexus makes every permutation of regular and stretch RX — gasoline, hybrid, sport (RX 350 F Sport), sport hybrid, front- or all-wheel drive — except there are no front-drive-only hybrids and there are no stretched versions of the F Sport models, which have adaptive suspensions for improved handling.
Given the almost 10 percent premium of the gasoline RX350 L over the 350, it’s worth considering the smaller RX, unless you need to maximize cargo space, have a roomier second row, or carry small kids in the third row.
As for competitors, Audi-BMW-Mercedes present competition when buyers are looking for a known, sporty, premium brand. Infiniti and Volvo also present competition. The Infiniti QX60 is well finished inside and out. Jaguar’s F-Pace SUV calls itself midsize, but it’s more of compact, while the Range Rover Sport is close to the RX in length. The Acura MDX, two years away from a new model, still sells well; it is sportier and the third row is better, while the RX is nicer inside.
Lexus also makes the Lexus GX, the same length as the base RX. But it has a truck-like body-on-frame construction, the ride is nowhere as nice as the RX, and it feels dated, but the GX is a better off-roader.