First Impressions: Lexus RX 350L

Lexus adds more space and utility to the popular RX 350 SUV.

2018 Lexus RX 350L

Does an extra row of seats make for a better Lexus SUV?

By Nick Kurczewski, Contributor, Car-ED.com | July 2018


What is this vehicle?

The 2018 Lexus RX 350L is a bigger and roomier version of the Japanese luxury brand’s popular SUV. Stretching roughly four inches longer than the standard five-passenger RX, the 350L variant offers the convenience and utility of a standard third-row seat. In total, there is now room for seven people, though anyone sitting in the back had better be of modest proportions.

Where the RX scores a homerun is with its ride comfort and cabin quietness. This Lexus sport-utility is tuned to take the stress out of every drive, though sometimes all the extra coddling starts to sap the fun out of the driving dynamics. Even when toggling the adjustable drive mode selector to its sportiest setting, the RX 350L remains a serene environment. Everything from the feel of the door handles, to the muted sound of the exhaust seems to have an extra layer of isolation.

If you need to get places and enjoy feeling like you’re traveling on a cloud, however, this three-row Lexus could be your dream machine.

Who is this vehicle for?

The Lexus RX 350L is aimed primarily at SUV shoppers who might have overlooked the RX, simply because it never offered an extra row of seating. The second-row can be optioned as either a bench seat, or as a pair of captain’s chairs. The latter option definitely makes it easier to get to and from the third-row in the RX 350L. Clambering between the two separate seats is, quite simply, a lot more graceful than folding a bench-seat forward and climbing over the back.

Do some SUVs offer roomier third-row seats, or better access to them? Yes, and yes. It’s worth noting the RX 350L rides on the same wheelbase as the standard five-passenger model, so that means the rear doors and overall layout of the cabin remains virtually the same between the two. That’s fine when you’re seated up front, especially in the ultra-comfy front seats which (in our test vehicle) were both heated and ventilated.

The 3.5-liter V6 and 8-speed automatic transmission combine to work in near-silence, at least until you really hammer the gas pedal. Even then, the RX 350L is as well-mannered as a private butler, it always gets about its business and never appears flustered.

Why is this vehicle important to you, the buyer?

With rivals like the Acura MDX, Infiniti QX60 and Volvo XC90 all offering third-row seating, it was beyond time that Lexus followed suit with the RX. Simply having the option of this seating configuration could convince many Lexus loyalists to stay in the family-tree, so to speak, rather than looking to a rival brand for greater versatility. There is a premium to be paid, since the RX 350L starts at around $47,000 in front-wheel drive format – or about $4,000 more than the base five-passenger RX.

In terms of fit and finish, not to mention a reputation for reliability, the Lexus brand has one of the best track records in the business. Almost 20 years ago, the original RX was one of the very first SUVs to blend car-like ride and handling characteristics into its driving behavior. Far from being the type of SUV to tackle the Rubicon Trail, the RX is more at home on a daily commute, long road-trips on paved roads or, perhaps, a slightly muddy visit to an apple orchard or pumpkin patch.

As we mentioned earlier, the RX works overtime to make certain you, the driver, remain nicely isolated from the outside world.

Interesting facts about this vehicle!

  • The RX 350L comes powered by a 290-horsepower V6 engine, coupled to an 8-speed automatic and your choice of front- or all-wheel drive. This powertrain lives up to the Lexus legend, it’s quiet and disappears into the background. In fact, the transmission is so subtle in the way it shifts, we almost forgot to jot down notes about its performance during our week with this SUV. When something works so nicely that it becomes completely forgettable, you know the automaker has done an excellent job.
  • Cargo room behind the third-row seats measures in at 16.3 cubic feet. Of course, if you’re not toting along anyone in the third-row, the seats can be easily folded down for extra cargo space.
  • Adding all-wheel drive gives you extra peace of mind when the weather doesn’t cooperate, though it takes a small bite out of overall fuel economy. Our RX 350L has an EPA-estimated fuel economy average of 18 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway. These figures are exactly 1 mpg better when you skip adding all-wheel drive. Somewhat surprisingly, during our time with this Lexus (which did include many highway miles), we saw our highway average nudge past that official 25 mpg marker. Maybe some of the credit is due the easy-going driving nature of this Lexus?
  • In case you haven’t noticed, Lexus is done being shy when it comes to exterior styling. The brand has used much more extroverted design language for several years now, in the hope of standing out in a crowded luxury segment. The over-sized front grille commands attention, to say the least.

What Impressed Us / Top Likes:

1 – Comfort, comfort, and comfort. The Lexus RX 350L makes long drives an absolute breeze, thanks to its near-silent powertrain and incredibly composed ride. This is an SUV that will lull your passengers to sleep, though you (as the driver) had better stay alert and prepared!

2 – Believe it or not, we like how the extra four inches of length work in conjunction with the brash design language of the RX. While we wish the wheelbase was extended a few inches, if only to free up some additional legroom for second- and third-row occupants, the RX 350L has a rakish design that looks even better in this new L-sized format.

3 – We worried the wild-looking roof would seriously impede rear visibility. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. While you don’t feel like you’re driving in a goldfish bowl, the RX 350L doesn’t sacrifice all outward visibility in the name of flashy style. Of course, having blind-spot monitors (part of a $1,065 option package that includes rear-cross traffic alert and park assist) certainly helped too.

4 – Safety is a major plus point with the RX. Standard safety equipment includes lane keep assist, automatic emergency braking, dynamic cruise control, intelligent high beams, and lane departure warning. The 2018 Lexus RX earns a “Top Safety Pick” rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Items to Make Better (Least Favorite Things):

1 – All that driving comfort doesn’t translate into a whole lot of driving excitement. We love that every surface, dial, and control in the Lexus RX has been tuned for maximum tactile pleasure. Even the inside of the front door pulls are padded in soft leather. Except the handling never seems to want to dial you into the road – it would rather act as a pleasant go-between, apparently. You turn the wheel, the RX goes in the direction you want it to, and that’s the end of it. The same is true for the ride, which is wonderfully isolated, but leaves you wanting to know more about what’s going on at each wheel.

2 – The control pad for the infotainment system is much too fussy. Trying to work the navigation controls involved far too many failed attempts, as the cursor skewed wide of our intended location. There are some actual buttons and knobs for functions like radio volume, or adjusting the heated and ventilated front seats. But this infotainment oversight is starting to hinder Lexus and a fix needs to happen soon.

3 – We admit to liking the general look of the RX 350L, though many people could be turned off by its aggressive appearance. Lexus sales haven’t slowed since the brand took a more daring approach to exterior design, though we wonder how this edgy look will age in the years ahead.

4 – The third-row seat is probably best used by kids, or only when you really need to get yourself and five additional (not too tall) adults into your Lexus SUV. While the extra seating and slight bump in available cargo room is nice, the $4,000+ premium for the RX 350L seems excessive.

Segment and Competitors:

The luxury SUV segment is absolutely brimming with excellent options. While Lexus RX shoppers have a little more variety when it comes to speccing their ideal sport-utility, it could be worth checking out some of the competition.

  • Acura MDX
  • Volvo XC90
  • Infiniti QX60
  • Audi Q5
  • Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
  • Cadillac XT5
  • Land Rover Discovery

Unique Specifications:

If you’ve decided you want a Lexus RX, the first choice is whether you really want to pay extra for that third-row seat. It doesn’t come cheap, remember. Adding all-wheel drive also increases the price of the RX 350L, by about $1,400 at the time of our test drive. With a few other options added in – including blind spot monitors, and booming Mark Levinson audio system – our test vehicle rang in at $58,865, including $995 destination charge.

Pricing and Availability:

The 2018 Lexus RX 350L is available right now, with a starting price of $47,670 for the front-wheel drive model.