Auto review: Stretched 2018 Lexus RX 350L SUV comes up short

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 30, 2018

       

THe 2018 Lexus RX 350L

The 2018 Lexus RX 350L six- or seven-passenger SUV is an uncharacteristically half-hearted effort from Toyotaís normally buttoned-down luxury brand.

Lexusís sterling reputation rests on a savage attention to detail. The brandís slogan was once "the relentless pursuit of perfection," but the stretched, three-row version of the brandís best-selling SUV feels more like the relentless pursuit of "meh."

Lexus dealers have been begging for a family-hauling SUV with three rows of seats for years. The lack of one ceded a significant piece of the luxury market to vehicles like the Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, Infiniti QX60 and Volvo XC90.

For reasons we may never know, Toyotaís usually sharp product-planning department declined to develop an SUV to compete with these profitable models, leaving its dealers in the unenviable position of trying to talk buyers who wanted a sleek and car-like family wagon to buy the bigger, less fuel efficient and more expensive truck-based LX 570.

When that failed, Lexus brass decided to add 4.3 inches of length and about 230 pounds and a row of seats to create the RX 350L.

If that were the best solution, other automakers would not go to the trouble and expense of developing all-new vehicles for their three-row SUVs. The result: Lexus got a compromised vehicle, but an attractive price.

Behind the Wheel

2018 Lexus RX 350L Premium AWD

All-wheel-drive, seven-passenger luxury SUV

Price as tested: $52,080 (excluding destination charge)

Rating: ?? (Out of four stars)

Reasons to buy: Price; three rows of seats; interior materials.

Shortcomings: Third-row comfort; cargo space; controls.

How much?

Toyota engineers added 4 inches to the rear of the regular model, RX 350, to create room for a small third row, and changed the roof and tailgate to increase cargo space.

The lengthened 350L is new for the 2018 model year.

The drive train is unchanged, except for being very slightly less powerful than the smaller, lighter 350. A 3.5L V6 produces 290 hp and 263 pound-feet of torque in the L versus 295 and 267 in the five-seater. Gasoline-powered RXs get an eight-speed automatic transmission. Hybrids use a continuously variable transmission and a pair of electric motors to boost system power to 308 hp.

Prices for the 2018 RX start at $43,470 for a short with front-wheel drive, $44,870 for the same with AWD. The 450h all-wheel-drive hybrid starts at $45,895.

The six- or seven-passenger 350L starts at $47,670 FWD, $49,070 AWD and $50,620 hybrid.

I tested a well-equipped 350L Premium AWD. Features included heated and cooled front seats, adaptive cruise control, navigation, blind spot and cross traffic alerts and more.

My test vehicle stickered at $52,080. All prices exclude destination charges.

The RX 350Lís price compares well to comparably equipped competitive three-row luxury SUVs.

Competitive base prices

(Excluding destination charges)

(All-wheel-drive models)

Lexus RX 350L Premium AWD: $46,670

Acura MDX SH-AWD with Tech packages: $50,600

Audi Q7 3.0 TFSI Premium Plus: $56,400

Buick Enclave Essence AWD: $46,300

GMC Acadia Denali AWD: $47,100

Infiniti QX 60 AWD: $45,100

Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription: $54,350

Source: Autotrader

Outstanding features

The RX 350Lís greatest strength is its cost, which is lower than many of its larger and roomier competitors. Modifying an existing vehicle costs less than developing an all new SUV with three rows, as all the competitors did.

It also has Lexusí usual premium materials and good interior fit and finish.

The RX is a quiet, comfortable vehicle for long trips or quick jaunts about town, as long as nobodyís in the third row of seats. Those rear seats were raised and lowered by electric motors in my test car. The middle row slides fore and aft, increasing third-row legroom at the middle rowís expense.

The RXís driver assistance features include adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind spot alert, collision alert with pedestrian detection and autonomous emergency braking.

The RX 350L AWD scored 18 mpg in city driving, 25 on the highway and 21 combined in EPA tests. The key combined rating is pretty much in the middle of its competitive set, trailing MDX, Q7 and XC90, matching the Q7 and topping the Acadia and Enclave.

The RX got its EPA score with regular gasoline, but needs premium to generate its rated horsepower. The drop-off using regular isnít likely to be enough for most drivers to notice, though. Performance isnít one of the top reasons anybody buys Lexusí popular SUV.

The downside

The third row of seats is the 350Lís whole reason for existing, but legroom and headroom are severely limited. Itís best reserved for small children or "maybe a 10-minute ride," to quote my 15-year-old and 5í7" tall assistant Owen.

The Lís controls are outdated, with slow voice recognition for navigation and other features and a joy stick thatís no picnic to use in a moving vehicle.

Specifications as tested

Engine: 3.5L 24-valve V6.

Power: 290 hp @ 6,300 hp rpm; 263 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 109.8 inches

Length: 196.9 inches

Width: 74.5 inches

Height: 67.3 inches

Curb Weight: 4,619 lbs.

Where assembled: Cambridge, Ontario

Competitive EPA fuel economy ratings

(All-wheel-drive models; V6 where available.)

Lexus RX 350L Premium AWD: 18 mpg city/25 highway/21 combined. Regular gasoline.

Acura MDX SH-AWD with Tech packages: 19/26/22. Premium.

Audi Q7 3.0 TFSI Premium Plus: 19/25/21. Premium/

Buick Enclave Essence AWD: 17/25/20. Regular.

GMC Acadia Denali AWD: 17/25/20. Regular.

Infiniti QX60 AWD: 19/26/22. Premium.

Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription: 20/27/23. Premium.

Source: www.fueleconomy.gov

The verdict

Lexus dealers wanted a three-row SUV to keep loyal customers in the fold, but theyíd better hope those customers are very loyal. Shoppers who compare the RX 350Lís accommodations with vehicles engineered from the start to carry six or seven people are likely to go elsewhere.

Key features on vehicle tested

Standard equipment: Power sunroof; auto-dimming sideview mirrors; UV reducing windows; power-folding third row seats with 50/50 split; multizone climate control; power front seats; power tilt and telescoping steering wheel; USB ports in center console; pre-collision system with pedestrian detection; adaptive cruise control; automatic high beams; lane departure alert; lane keep assist

Options: Navigation; 12.3-inch display; 12-Speaker premium audio; blind spot alert; cross traffic alert; heated and ventilated front seats; power tailgate.