WHAT IS IT?
Lexus’ familiar RX large SUV, except with a multitude of changes from the B-pillar rearward to help it accommodate a third row of seats. Available in two grades with two engines – an aspirated 3.5-litre petrol V6 or a V6 petrol/electric hybrid, the RX L costs $3300 more than its five-seat brethren in low-spec Luxury trim, and $1600 extra in flagship Sports Luxury form.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
While the majority of its rivals have had seven-seat options for yonks, Lexus has only just been able to join the party. Previously, Lexus shoppers had to spend big on the $143K LX570 to get three rows, but the newly-arrived RX L (that’s ‘L’ for ‘Long’) finally brings a more affordable seven-pax option.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The RX 350L might allow Lexus to finally tick the ‘large three-row SUV’ box, but it relies on flawed packaging for its limited additional functionality, and introduces compromises that aren’t present on its five-seat stablemate.
PLUS: No more cumbersome than the five-seater; decent performance; cushy ride
MINUS: Third row legroom is tight; no four-cylinder or F-Sport options; soggy dynamics
THE WHEELS REVIEW
TALK about subtle. Unless you see them side-by-side, you’ll have trouble picking apart the newly-arrived Lexus RX L from the five-seat RX that’s been on sale here since 2015.
Lexus says all sheetmetal behind the seven-seat RX L’s B-pillar is unique, but you’ll need to squint to tell. The wheelbases are identical between both models and just 110mm of extra length has been spliced in behind the rear axle, the only real hint that something is different is the chrome trim above the L’s rear quarter window - it arches the opposite way to the regular RX’s.
Oh, and the tailgate glass is a few degrees steeper. Adding a third row to the RX is a pretty big deal, but Lexus has adeptly camouflaged the new variant’s bigger butt.
The only problem is it's brought with it several compromises from a packaging point of view. Yes, we know those two fold-out third row seats are only intended to be used occasionally, but Lexus themselves admit that those seats are designed with people under 160cm in mind, and the high beltline means they’ll also struggle to look out through that thin triangular quarter window as well.
Are your kids claustrophobic? No? Banishing them to the RX L’s third row might change that. At least Lexus has provided third-row occupants with their own climate control console, dedicated air vents and cupholders
But it’s not just those in the rearmost seats that will struggle to get comfy. The second row has to be slid forward a fair way to liberate enough footroom for those behind, which dramatically cuts second row knee room unless the front seats are also inched forward. The RX L is, in effect, a 5+2 and not a true seven-seater.
There are a few other tradeoffs that come with the addition of a third row, namely the loss of the panoramic glass roof that’s standard on high-spec five-seat RXs (which is substituted with a much smaller moonroof above the front seats) and the trimming of 5kW and 12Nm from the RX350’s 3.5-litre V6’s output (thanks to the adoption of single rather than dual exhaust plumbing). The power-adjustable second row seats of the regular RX have also been replaced by a manually-adjusted bench to facilitate access to the second row, but that change is easier to understand.
It’s not all bad news, though. There’s enough luggage space for a large pram or a pair of decently-sized suitcases even with the third row raised, those seats are deployed electrically so you don’t need to wrestle with straps or levers, the front seats are spacious and comfortable, and the ride is cushy on the standard 20-inch alloys.
The 3.5-litre V6 that powers the RX350L is showing its age, however, and while the extra 110kg mass of the seven-seater is barely felt in around-town motoring, the RX remains one of the least-dynamic offerings in its segment. Last year one in five luxury SUVs sold in Australia had seven seats, so the arrival of the RX L is clearly in Lexus’ commercial interests. Unfortunately, those searching for a triple-row family hauler in that segment are still better off looking in other showrooms.
Model: 2018 Lexus RX 350L
Engine: 3456cc V6, dohc, 24v
Max power: 216kW @ 6300rpm
Max torque: 358Nm @ 4600-4700rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 10.6L/100km