Significant safety tech
Lovely, serene cabin
Finicky infotainment interface
Lilliputian third row
Price escalates quickly
2019 Lexus RX 350L
In 2018, Lexus augmented the RX lineup with the “L” model. While it retains the standard RX’s 109.8-inch wheelbase, the L offers an additional 4.4 inches behind the C-pillar, as well as a higher rear roofline and more upright hatch. All three are necessary to accommodate the purpose of the L - the addition of a third row.
Love it or hate it, in a class dominated by safe, conservative design, the RX grabs your attention with sharply creased body panels and edgy styling touches that begin up front with a rendition of the corporate spindle grille so massive that it negates the need for a separate lower air intake. Book-ending the grille are narrow headlight enclosures containing triple LED auto-leveling lighting elements and L-shaped LED ribbon lights set above small LED fog lights set in triangular niches, as well as the space for vertical LED cornering lamps, carved out of the lower fascia.
The bold design continues along the flanks with flared wheel arches, deep upper and lower creases, and an A-line that descends starting at the leading edge of the C-pillars in the most obvious rendition yet of a "floating" roof. In back, the spindle theme is duplicated in the outline of the license plate surround with an upper edge trimmed with a chrome strip that rests between a pair of dimensional, trapezoidal-shaped taillights.
The lower valance also features a single chrome trim strip that drops down at the outboard edges to form the lower portion of the dual exhaust ports.
But there is a counterpoint: while the RX 350L's sharp design should appeal to style conscious buyers, we're not sure it will age that well. In addition, unlike the RX 350's rear wiper that parks itself under the rear spoiler and out of the way of snow and ice accumulation, the more conventional wiper placement on the 350L - at the bottom center of the rear window - offers no such advantage.
The striking exterior is wrapped around a cabin that’s a bit more subdued, but equally stunning – a domain where calm and order prevail and road noise is banished to the outside where it belongs. The seats up front, covered in Aniline leather on Luxury models, are soft and supportive, offering a comfortable position even after long hours of freeway driving, while offering 12-way adjustability along with heat, cooling and extendable bottom cushions for additional thigh support.
Presiding over the hand-stitched, 2-tier dashboard is a center-mounted standard 8-inch, or optional 12-inch, full-color infotainment screen that, despite its size, doesn’t block forward visibility. The various dash- and console-mounted buttons and knobs are placed within easy reach and operate smoothly. Both front seat occupants, as well as occupants in the second-row captain’s chairs (a bench seat that easily accommodates 3 adults can also be specified at a cost savings) will find an abundance of leg, hip, shoulder, and headroom, while drivers will note that sightlines out the front and sides are very good courtesy of fairly narrow A-pillars.
Overall fit and finish is outstanding, and soft-touch surfaces are found nearly everywhere, while even surfaces on the lower doors executed in hard plastic look and feel good. Versatility also abounds, with 23.03 cu ft of fully-carpeted (including the sides) cargo space behind the second row, that expands to 58.48 cu ft with both rows of seats folded.
At the same time, like many 3-row crossovers in this class, the third row, with just 23.5 inches of leg room, is little more than a glorified jump seat, while cargo space behind the third row is a miniscule 7.45 cu ft. In addition, the view out the rear three-quarters view is hindered by a thick C-pillar, the view out back is hampered by a smallish rear window, and is exacerbated when the back row headrests are deployed. Finally, we continue to be mystified why Lexus insists on keeping the haptic-feedback infotainment joystick controller that we find irritating and often too distracting to use when driving (the palm rest also hides a small storage area, but for what we don’t know as it’s too small for an iPhone 11 Pro), Android Auto and Apple CarPlay won’t be available until the refreshed 2020 models hits showrooms, while the various stand-alone options and option packages can quickly add to the bottom line.
Under the hood
The RX 350L is offered with a single engine and transmission pairing. The 2GR-FKS 3.5-liter DOHC all-aluminum V-6 generates 290 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 263 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. It's mated to an electronically-controlled, eight-speed automatic with ECO, Normal, and Sport settings.
All-wheel-drive models like our tester feature an Active Torque Control AWD system that employs an electronically controlled coupling located in front of the rear differential that can vary the distribution of torque from 100:0 front to rear, to 50:50, front to rear, depending on driving dynamics and road conditions.
Published fuel economy figures 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 – just average for the class. Our own observed fuel economy was a vehicle-measured 19.3 miles per gallon in a mix of city and highway driving.
On the road
Occupying a vehicle class hardly associated with either straight-line performance or back roads agility, the RX 350L still manages to offer strong off the line performance, accelerating smoothly all the way up to freeway speeds. The three driving modes – Normal, Eco, and Sport S – vary transmission shift behavior to either optimize fuel economy or overall performance. Other than over tar strips, tire noise - along with road and wind noise - is nearly non-existent, while suspension compliance is excellent. Although we didn't notice much of an initial bite, the brakes are very strong and easy to modulate with plenty of feedback through the pedal. Handling is smooth and composed, and feedback through the steering wheel is better than average, with a decent amount of on-center road feel, although even in normal mode there seems to be a bit too much weight to the wheel.
But all is not perfect, as visibility out the rear three-quarters is impaired by the wide C-pillars, and though the latest version is the best-handling yet, the RX remains more of a highway cruiser than back roads corner carver. In particular, our RX 350L tester, laden with a few hundred extra pounds of mass in the rear third of the chassis, felt sloppier than the standard model with more pronounced body lean in corners. The extra heft also affects acceleration as well as passing at freeway speeds.
As you might expect, RX 350L Luxury models come with the requisite luxury power bits (windows, locks, mirrors, seats, sunroof, rear hatch), the aforementioned features, plus a power tilt-and-telescopic heated wood steering wheel, one-touch up/down windows, 3-zone automatic climate control with a rear control panel, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, auto-dimming, power-folding, heated outside mirrors, 20-inch alloy wheels, LED illuminated door sills, keyless push-button start, driver’s seat/steering wheel/outside mirror memory, power-folding third row seats, and a 4.2-inch multi-information display in the instrument cluster.
Standard advanced safety features include forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, automatic headlights with high beam assist, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, and lane keep assist.
2019 Lexus RX 350L prices
Base pricing for the 2019 RX 350L, including a $1,025 destination charge, starts at $47,870 when equipped with front-wheel-drive. All-wheel-drive tacks on $1,400 to that price, while the Luxury trim (semi-Aniline leather-trimmed seats, power-folding, heated, auto-dimming outside mirrors, wood & leather-trimmed heated steering wheel, 20-inch chrome alloy wheels with color inserts, manual rear door sunshades, driver’s seat/steering/mirror memory, illuminated scuff plates, Sapele wood with aluminum interior trim, LED ambient interior illumination) commands an additional $5,015 with either drivetrain.
Our tester, an AWD Luxury finished in Nightfall Mica, was an early production model with a slightly lower base price of $54,185.00. The addition of Blind Spot Monitor with front and rear parking sensors and automatic braking, auto-dimming and power folding outside mirrors, overhead camera ($1,865), second-row captain’s chairs ($405), color head-up display ($600), hands-free tailgate ($200), triple-beam LED auto-leveling headlights with washers, cornering lamps, LED front turn signals and rear lights ($1,615), and a 12.3-inch display navigation system/Mark Levinson 15-speaker Premium Audio Package, Lexus Enform destination assist ($3,225), along with a $1,025 delivery, processing and handling fee, brought the total MSRP to $63,120.00.
The Bottom Line
The 2019 RX 350L shares the same shortcomings as the regular-wheelbase version including a polarizing design, a price that can escalate quickly, and wonky, distracting infotainment controls, while the L model adds another: unless you have small children, the third row is a non-starter.
At the same time, it's easy to see why the RX remains a perennial best-seller as it offers a lovely interior, quiet ride, strong acceleration, and wide range of advanced safety features – all of which, despite the shortcomings, make it a top choice in the midsize luxury class.