Standard safety tech
Quiet, comfortable cabin
Poor infotainment interface lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Mediocre fuel economy
Options quickly add to the bottom line
2018 Lexus RX 350L
Lexus was the first upscale brand to base a sport utility vehicle on a unibody platform (the Toyota Camry) when, in 1998, it created the RX crossover utility vehicle. The RX continues to be the brand's best-selling model, representing nearly 41 percent of Lexus sales here in the U.S.
For 2018, Lexus has added a new model – the 350L – to the RX model lineup. Retaining the same 109.8-inch wheelbase as the standard RX, the L model measures a total of 196.9 inches in length - 4.4 inches longer that's been added behind the C-pillar. To accommodate the additional height required of the third row seat, the hatch is more upright. Pricing for L models start at $47,670 –a $4,400 premium over the standard RX.
Lexus describes the overall design of the current generation RX as "seductive strength" and "sophistication with edge" with the "edge" being readily apparent in the sharp edges and deep creases of the new model's sheetmetal. It begins up front with a massive spindle grille bracketed by a pair of narrow L-shape LED headlamps and, just below them, a set of triangular-shaped fog light enclosures, and continues along the sides with deeply sculpted body panels, terminating with a floating canopy C-pillar that sits above a sculpted and flared rear quarter.
The spindle design theme is repeated, albeit a bit less aggressively, in the outline of the license plate surround between the trapezoidal-shaped rear taillamps, while the lower rear valance features a pair of oversized, chrome-trimmed, exhaust outlets. A particularly nice feature is a rear wiper that parks itself under the upper rear spoiler and out of the way of accumulating snow and ice – something we're sure is appreciated by drivers in colder climes.
But while the RX 350L's edgy design should attract style conscious crossover buyers to Lexus showrooms, we're not so sure it will age well.
That bold sheetmetal is wrapped around a luxurious interior that's far more traditional – a place of calm and order, nearly bereft of exterior noise - with soft, supportive front seats that offer a comfortable perch even after hours of freeway driving, with ten-way adjustment, cooling, heat, just the right amount of side bolstering, and extendable thigh cushions on Luxury models.. The hand-stitched, two-tier, dashboard features a horizontal theme, with the upper dash dominated by either a standard 8-inch or optional 12.3-inch TFT display. Although it looks imposing, it doesn't interfere with forward visibility. Cabin instrumentation is straightforward and easily understood, the various buttons and knobs are silky smooth to operate, within easy reach of the driver, and, aside from the infotainment interface, intuitive to use. Sightlines out the front and sides are good, thanks to relatively narrow A-pillars.
There's plenty of leg, hip, shoulder and headroom for both front passengers as well as three full-sized adults in the middle seats that are just as comfortable and also split, fold, and recline. The third row comes replete with heating, air conditioning, the requisite cup holders, and the choice of six-passenger (via second row captain's chairs) or seven-passenger (courtesy of a second row bench) seating configurations. Overall fit and finish is outstanding, while soft-touch surfaces can be found nearly everywhere and even surfaces on the lower doors executed in hard plastic look and feel good.
The standard 40/20/40 split rear seats come with a fold-down center arm rest that contains a storage area and a flip-up dual cup holder. Cargo volume behind the rear seat is now 16.3 cubic feet that expands to 33.4 cubic feet with the seats folded. With the middle seats flipped forward, that expands to a versatile 70.7 cubic feet – an increase of 14.4 cubic feet over the RX 350.
But like many vehicles this size, the 350L's third row is little more than a jump seat, and cargo space behind the third row is miniscule, the rear three-quarters view is hindered by a thick C-pillar, and the view out the back is also compromised by the smallish rear window. In addition, despite the added personality, the RX 350L's design may or may not age well, the various options and packages can add up quickly, the haptic-feedback infotainment joystick is irritating and often too distracting to be used when driving; while Android Auto and Apple CarPlay aren't even offered.
Fortunately, a rear view camera is standard, while an available panoramic view monitor allows the driver to survey the surroundings – an especially nice touch in tight spaces.
Under the hood
A single engine and transmission are offered. The 2GR-FKS 3.5-liter DOHC all-aluminum V6 now generates 295 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and a maximum 267 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. It's mated to an eight-speed automatic with ECO, Normal, and Sport settings.
On all-wheel-drive models, an Active Torque Control AWD system uses an electronically controlled coupling ahead of the rear differential to vary the distribution of torque anywhere from 100:0 to 50:50 front to rear, depending on driving dynamics and road conditions.
Fuel efficiency on models like our all-wheel-drive tester is an EPA-estimated 18 miles per gallon in the city, 25 on the highway, and 21 combined. Our own observed fuel economy turned out to be a vehicle-measured 21.0 miles per gallon in a mix of city and highway driving.
On the road
Not the type of vehicle normally associated with either twisty roads or straight-line performance, the RX 350L still manages to accelerate off the line nicely with smooth, composed handling up to – and including – freeway speeds. Three driving modes – Normal, Eco, and Sport – vary powertrain performance, road and wind noise – other than some tire noise over tar strips - is nearly non-existent, while suspension compliance is excellent. Although we didn't experience much of an initial bite, the brakes are very strong and it's easy to modulate the brake pedal.
Handling is also improved, with very little body lean in corners. Feedback through the steering wheel is also better with more on-center road feel, although even in normal mode we felt that there's a bit too much weight to the wheel. On the freeway very little in the way of rain, engine or wind noise enters the cabin – although we did experience a small amount of tire noise over tar strips.
At the same time, rear quarter visibility is impaired by the wide C-pillars, and though the current version handles more sharply than past models, even the F Sport is more of a highway cruiser than back roads corner carver. More pointedly, our RX 350L tester with a few hundred extra pounds of mass – carried in the rear third of the vehicle – felt sloppier in corners than the standard model with more pronounced body lean in corners. Those extra pounds also affect acceleration as well as passing at highway speeds.
In addition, while not a gas guzzler, the RX 350's EPA-estimated 18 miles per gallon in the city, 25 on the highway, and 21 combined on all-wheel-drive models is only average for the class.
Equipment and pricing
Lexus's midsize long-wheelbase crossover is available in either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. Pricing for the FWD RX 350L starts at $48,795, and can rise to over $64,000 for an AWD model with all the trimmings.
As you might expect, all RX 350L models come with the usual power features, along with additional features that include a power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, one-touch up/down windows, power rear door, dual automatic climate control, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, heated outside mirrors, alloy wheels, Siri Eyes Free, Bi LED headlights and LED fog lights, daytime running lights and taillights. Loading objects into the cargo area is also a breeze with the standard electric hatch that can be operated from the back, from a button on the dash, or from the key fob.
Finally, a wide range of advanced safety features including a rear view camera, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, and lane keep assist are also standard.
Our tester, an AWD model finished in Nebula Gray Pearl, had a base price of $49,070.00. The addition of the Premium Package ($810, walnut trim, rear armrest storage, leather trim, power moonroof, auto-dimming outside mirrors, driver's seat/steering wheel/mirror memory), Color Head-Up Display ($600), Cold Weather Package ($200, triple-beam LED headlights, windshield wiper de-icer, fast-response interior heater, auto-leveling headlamps), Heated and Ventilated Front Seats ($640), Navigation/Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package ($3,225, Mark Levinson surround sound audio, in-dash DVD/CD player, Lexus Enform destination assist, navigation system with 12.3-inch display, Lexus Enform app suite, Remote Touch, climate control smog sensor, fuel guide, sports, and stocks). Along with a $1,025 delivery, processing and handling fee, it brought the total MSRP to $57,185.00.
The Bottom Line
Despite average fuel economy and a love-it-or-hate-it design, it's easy to see why the RX 350L – along with the rest of the lineup – remains a best seller. A serene ride, strong performance, and breadth of standard advanced safety features make it a top choice as a mid size luxury crossover, and buyers looking in this class should put it at the top of their lists.