2018 Lexus RX 350L First Drive | Edmunds

2018 Lexus RX 350L First Drive

L Means Long, but Is It Long Enough?

The RX has been consistent best-seller for Lexus for many years now. But this five-passenger crossover SUV has never offered a third row of seating that a portion of the American SUV-buying public wants. These buyers want a third row "just in case" but also want to stick with a carlike SUV and not pay more for one of Lexus' larger, truck-based SUVs. For them — or for you — a solution is finally here: the all-new seven-passenger 2018 Lexus RX 350L.

2018 Lexus RX 350L

Behind the Scenes
From a quick glance, you won't likely be able to distinguish between the L from the standard model. The spec sheet tells you that the L's wheelbase measurement (the distance between the front and rear wheels) is unchanged from the regular RX's, and total body length is just 4.3 inches longer. Rather than being a clean-sheet design, think of the L version as a regular RX wearing a backpack.

And Lexus has made the most of the L's modest-size bump. It raised the height of the back of the cabin to increase rear headroom and changed the rake of rear window to increase cargo volume. Finally, Lexus raised the second-row seats to provide some toe room for third-row occupants.

Kids? Yes. Adults? Umm ...
Those changes are good enough to make the 2018 RX 350L — and the hybrid version, the RX 450hL — a viable three-row crossover SUV for taking along a couple extra kids on your way to soccer practice or to school. 

2018 Lexus RX 350L

Still, the third-row seat simply isn't big enough for adults. Even with the second-row seat positioned all the way forward, people taller than 5 feet 8 inches will find the lack of legroom problematic for anything other than a short trip. It's a similar story for headroom: You'll find your head brushing up against the headliner if you're about 5 feet 6 inches or taller.

Access to the third row isn't so great either. The second-row seats have a handy lever that brings the seatbacks forward and unlocks the fore-aft adjuster, allowing the seat to slide forward and make a narrow aisle to crawl into the third row. Be forewarned: The way in is a scramble that adults will not find graceful. Some experience with contortion or yoga would be beneficial.

2018 Lexus RX 350L

At least third-row passengers will be able to adjust their own climate control system. Lexus put the rear-seating climate control panel (as part of the RX's automatic tri-zone system) for the third row on the driver's side. This is all well and good, but that panel is all but unreachable for people sitting in the second-row seats.

A Bit More Space for Your Stuff
Besides the third-row seat, the 2018 RX 350L offers enhanced cargo capacity. The standard RX, with its rear seats up, has 18.4 cubic feet of cargo volume, while the L provides 23 cubic feet of volume with the second and third rows up. But with the second and third rows folded down, the gains are less tangible. The regular RX has 56.3 cubic feet versus 58.5 cubic feet in the L.

Getting the 350L ready for cargo is easy since the third-row seats are power-folding. They do a funky trick to ensure a flat load floor, too. Instead of having the seatbacks merely fold forward, the seat bottom also drops down into the floor. This allows for a consistently low load floor from the opening to the seatbacks of the second-row seats. Those 40/20/40-split second-row seats fold flat to allow for a truly large space. The RX 450hL has two captain's chairs with fold-down seatbacks.

Drives Just Like a Regular RX
From the front seats forward, the rest of the RX is the same. The 350's 3.5-liter V6 engine produces 290 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque, fairly good numbers for the segment. Power is sent to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is optional. Estimated fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive gas model is 22 mpg combined (19 city/26 highway). The all-wheel-drive gas model gets 21 mpg combined (18 city/25 highway).

2018 Lexus RX 350L

For those wanting greater fuel efficiency, the RX 450hL comes with an all-wheel-drive system that incorporates a 3.5-liter gasoline V6 and an electric hybrid system. Combined, the system produces 308 hp and offers a fuel-efficiency bump, with a rating of 29 mpg combined (29 city/28 highway).

The fuel economy numbers for both hybrid and standard versions are all within 1 mpg of the figures for their shorter non-L counterparts.

Likewise, the driving experience is just as similar. On our initial drive of a front-wheel-drive RX 350L test car, we found it provides an uneventfully smooth and quiet ride on typical highway and surface streets. It has the same adjustable drive modes that either dampen or accentuate the already smooth gas-pedal response found on the RX 350. Steering effort is light, but it's nothing that would dissuade a potential owner. The L's revised rear window and interior body panels do change the visual geometry, making the window seem smaller than a regular RX's, but its upright angle actually improves rear visibility. Nevertheless, a rearview camera is standard, and front and rear parking sensors are optional.

The Final Word
Compared to established three-row crossover rivals such as the Acura MDX, the Infiniti QX60 and the Volvo XC90, the RX 350L comes up a little short in utility. Those dedicated three-row crossovers have seating and interior layouts that are more useful for big cargo loads and frequent transporting of third-row passengers — especially if they're adults.

2018 Lexus RX 350L

But evaluated simply as a slightly bigger Lexus RX with a third-row seat good for kids, the 350L is undoubtedly a success. There's also appeal in Lexus' reputation for reliability and after-care service. It's an easy-driving, well-built crossover, with the capability to carry more cargo or six additional people.

The 2018 RX 350L is available now and has a starting MSRP of $47,670 for the front-wheel-drive version and $49,070 for the all-wheel-drive version. The RX 450hL, which has standard all-wheel drive, has an MSRP of $50,620.

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