Lexus’ RX series of small crossover SUV’s has been out now for since 1998, and has enjoyed incredible popularity for most of that time. Over the years it’s gotten bigger, and had more and more features crammed into it. But the one thing Lexus hasn’t tried is stuffing a third row of seats into one. Well that’s not changed with the introduction of the RX 350L. When I first heard of this, I thought it sounded like a great idea – until I learned that Lexus added the 4.4” of overall length behind the rear wheels. That’s right, the wheelbase is unchanged from the standard model. This presents a number of challenges that we’ll detail below.
First and foremost, it makes getting into and out of the third row much more challenging. The wheel arch really blocks the ingress/egress area, so you really have to slide the second row all the way forward to be able to get in. Lexus claims 23.5” of legroom back there, but we couldn’t actually find any. That measurement must be with the second row slid forward so far that they wouldn’t have any legroom left. It’s the kind of misleading statistic that you need to verify before buying something like this, and living with it for a week showed us that the third row is not particularly usable.
Considering that only really small children will fit in this third row, it makes it all the more odd that Lexus put the controls for the rear zone of the HVAC in the third row. I consider the third row in this crossover to be for occasional use only, and I could see using one that way. Keep them folded down to increase cargo area (also nonexistent with the third row in use,) but have it on deck for when extra kids pile in and need a ride unexpectedly. Why on earth, then, would Lexus put the HVAC controls in the back? They are in the cargo area when the seats are folded down. Let that sink in for a second. The HVAC controls are in the cargo area.
Luckily the second row is quite comfortable, with reclining, adjustable seats. There’s still a lack of headroom, even though the profile of the roof has been changed to accommodate the extra length. All that aside, the RX 350L is a Lexus crossover through and through. First and foremost that means odd exterior styling. The brash angularity and wild shape don’t have any sort of conventional appeal or seem to relay a design language other than ‘look at me, I’m futuristic.’
Except when you get inside, the Lexus doesn’t feel that futuristic. There’s lots of tech, but it doesn’t feel very refined. In particular, the trackpad controller for the infotainment system makes it feel like a small miracle when you select the option that you intended to. It skips all around, and makes more beeps and bloops than a slot machine. Integrated safety features are plentiful, but Toyota/Lexus always find the need to give you a litany of warning lights telling you these systems are on. It makes the dash look messy and cluttered. And in 2018, in a vehicle that costs this much, wouldn’t you expect Android Auto and Apple CarPlay? We would too, but they are nowhere to be found in this Lexus.
Controls are ok, some are better than others – the lack of consistency in switchgear is another frustration, especially in a vehicle that can easily be optioned up over $50k. There’s options for just a few dollars more that tick the luxury and refinement box a lot better than this. The interior materials are well chosen, without too many of the tell-tale thin plastic that gives away this Lexus’s Toyota heritage. Powered by Toyota’s 295HP 3.5-Liter V6, performance is punchy but not inspired. All the extra weight of the additional length bogs the RX in the corners as well.
Overall, the idea of a long-version of the RX is intriguing, but it should have been a long-wheelbase version. By adding the length behind the rear wheels, they have essentially created unusable space and made an odd vehicle look even odder. Clearly, this was done to save money in re-engineering the AWD drivetrain, but it feels like a compromise that wasn’t worth what the savings. With so many great mid-size three-row competitors out there, this one might not be enough to grab too much of the market share.
Special thanks to Toyota Motor Corporation for providing
the 2018 Lexus RX 350L for review.