With the 2018 Lexus RX 350L, longer is better
CASEY WILLIAMS | Auto Reviewer
Our society teaches our little brains that longer is better, whether we’re talking about hot dogs, vacations, or… um, car hoods. But longer is not always better. Nobody needs a longer workday, dentist visit or hurricane. But a longer Lexus RX crossover with a third-row seat? Yeah, that’s definitely better.
The RX L projects the same origami sheetmetal as shorter models, showcasing Lexus’ large, gaping “spindle” grille, sharp creases, floating rear roof and shimmering LED headlamps. Look closely and you’ll notice 4.3 inches of additional rear length and a steeper rear window to enhance third-row headroom. Base models come with 18-in. wheels, but we stepped up to the sportier 20-in. alloys.
Most of the interior changes took place in the aft compartment where a 40/20/40 split/fold middle row seat, which slides and folds forward, allows relatively easy access to the rearmost row. Optional middle-row captain’s chairs allow walk through access. Paying attention to third-row comfort, the RX L has raised second row seats to enhance third-row legroom and added tri-zone climate control with rear vents. Side curtain airbags extend over all three rows of seats.
Designers kept all of the features that make the RX both loved and despised. It feels quite expensive up front with intricately stitched dash and door coverings plus laser etched gray sapele wood with aluminum slats that beautifully curves up the side of the console. A power moonroof, 835 watts of Mark Levinson audio and heads-up display with navigation directions add comfort and convenience. I could do without the cumbersome joystick controls for infotainment, but some like it.
Safety was paramount given families would be frequent passengers. The pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, blind spot monitor and dynamic radar cruise control add margins of safety, as do rear cross traffic auto-braking and forward collision mitigation.
On the road, you’ll have plenty of power to kick it forward. You can get a hybrid powertrain, but we moved out with a 3.5-liter V6 that delivers 290 horsepower and 260 lb-ft. of torque. All of that was sent to the pavement through an eight-speed automatic transmission and optional all-wheel-drive. Lexus claims 0-60 mph in 7.9 seconds. Fuel economy is rated 18/25-MPG city/highway.
You wouldn’t think 4.3 inches of length would matter much, but you can feel the difference between regular and L versions from behind the wheel. That length puts extra weight on the rear, making the RX feel more like a full-size crossover than a mid-size one. The suspension was surely calibrated to handle additional weight, giving the vehicle a softer ride. It’s all good, though, because the RX handles well, rumbles over rough pavement as smoothly as a Lexus should, and there’s adequate power whether creeping through city traffic or hammering the Interstate on long trips.
Does added length make a better Lexus? Mostly. Having the option to carry a couple of extra passengers with virtually no downsides makes a pretty compelling case. The entire cabin is beautifully crafted, but I sure wish Lexus would ditch its infotainment controls. Simple touchscreens would be so much better. All in, Lexus built a tough competitor for vehicles like the Buick Enclave, Ford Explorer Platinum and Acura MDX. Prices start at $47,670, rising to just over $62,000 as-tested.