It seems that no carmakers are immune to the latest trends. And here is the latest in crossover-dome, 3rd row seats in mid-size vehicles. It’s actually not a new idea, heck you could even get 3rd row seats in small SUV’s like the RAV4 for a while.
Then we had a nice long run where mid-size vehicles were sensible 5-passenger models, and if you needed to seat 7 you got a larger SUV or even a minivan.
And then, all of a sudden 3 row vehicles started coming back. Models like the new VW Tiguan, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Nissan Rogue all offer room for 7. And for those luxury-minded individuals, there’s the all new Lexus RX350L.
What the L?
We recently had the opportunity to test a 5-passenger RX350 and then a 7-passenger RX350L, and we came away surprised, intrigued, and a little bit – scratching our heads.
The first question you’ll probably ask is, what’s the diff? 4.3 inches, to be exact. To give the interior room needed to add that third row of seats, Lexus adds 4.3” to the overall length. They do so putting all the added space behind the rear wheels, rather than extending the wheelbase, so if you had hopes of an RX Limo, not going to happen.
In an effort to make that 3rd row more livable, Lexus extends the roofline further and uses a more upright tailgate.
How does it look?
Interesting question. (yeah, we know we asked ourselves). Viewed on its own, the L looks big and substantial, our dark blue Nightfall Mica tester looked like the high-price piece that it is. The only problem we had is when you park the regular RX350 next to it. The RX is one sporty piece – over the years it’s been getting more aggressive looking – and our Matador Red Mica tester really looked the business. Side by each, the longer L can’t match the proportions of the original, from certain angles, looking a bit like a hot dog with too little bun.
Other than that, the two are virtual twins, with the same handsome, modern lines, large Lexus spindle grille and crisp features. Neither of our testers was the F-Sport model (not available on the L model) with added gills, grilles and unique 20-inch wheels, but we didn’t feel any less sporty.
It’s what’s inside that counts
It’s doubtful that exterior design will sway you on your choice of L or non-L. It’s really about that third row and added space. From the driver’s seat, you’d be hard pressed to notice any difference. This is the same Lexus design that we love, with high quality materials, and sensible design. Our testers enjoyed the navigation package, with includes a 12-speaker premium audio system, and huge 12.3-inch high-resolution split screen. Both our testers had the optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio systems that sounded fantastic. Nice.
Both also had the mouse-like control for the info-tainment system, and it still is less intuitive and more fiddly than we’d like. Luckily, there’s plenty of redundant controls for most systems, so you don’t have to deal with it that often.
2018 Lexus RX350
One interesting interior difference – our RX350 had the optional panorama sunroof, where the L had a more traditional power sunroof. We like the extra light the larger panorama brings in – but it’s a personal call.
Which brings us to the big question – the third-row seats. Since the wheelbase is unchanged between models, you have the same entry to the 2nd (and 3rd rows in the L), and while the second row is easy pickin’s, the third is a challenge. The 2nd slides and tilts forward to give access, but with the wheelwell intruding, it’s really easiest for small kids to scamper in.
Which are really the only people that should try to get into the third row. It’s great for little ones, but for teens – or worse – adults, don’t go there! Kids are well treated back there, with their own climate controls, and with the possibility of kids and pets clamoring around, the third row is covered in vinyl, rather than the cushy leather of rows 1 and 2. Smart.
That extra space also pays some other dividends. With the third row up, you have enough space for a couple of bags. Lowering the third row is super easy, with power controls easily accessed on the wall of the cargo area. Drop them and you have 23 cubic feet of space – the two-row model only has 18, and that’s a significant improvement. Maxxed out, the L has a little more cargo space – up to 58 from 56.
The L giveth, and the L taketh away
So far, the L sounds like a no brainer, but we were really surprised in the difference in the drive.
Let’s start with the RX350. While we usually seem to get the F Sport models, our tester was not one, and guess what? This was one of the most fun RX’s we’ve driven. We know both Lexus and more so, Toyota have been working on upping the sportiness, and it’s really noticeable here.
The familiar 3.5L V6 punches out a respectable 295 horses, and with the 8-speed automatic pushing through front wheel drive, our tester felt light, energetic and ready to play. Handling seemed crisper, and the ride is a nice balance of controlled and comfortable – but not overly creamy of Lexii past.
In many ways, it reminded us more of a BMW than a Lexus, and that’s a big compliment.
So, we hopped into the RX350L and we expected more of the same. Power is down to 290 hp in the L, but otherwise the powertrain is the same. Weight is up about 240 lbs., so acceleration is similar, and the V6 still has a nice throaty sound, but it doesn’t feel as willing to play.
That feel is even more noticeable in the turns – that extra length and weight behind the rear wheels takes away the newfound joy that we found with joy in the RX350. It’s not a boat, but it feels more like the luxo-cruiser you’d expect of Lexus. It’s quiet and comfortable and built like a fortress. It just didn’t make us smile like the 5-seater.
Big is More
So now it comes down to pricing. Your basic RX350 starts at $43,270. The RX350L $48,695. That’s over $5,000 for the added occasional seating and a bit more cargo space. Our two testers weren’t apples to apples, the RX350 was well equipped and stickered at $55,200, the RX350L was a tick above in trim and luxuries, and totaled out at $61,260.
There’s a lot to love about any Lexus RX, the style, the quality, the luxury goods. So, if you want one, but really need that ability to haul the occasional kiddos around, the L is a good choice.
For us, we prefer the significantly less-expensive, more-sporty 5-seater. It’s a terrific all-around package.
Once again Lexus refuses to take a back seat to anyone – by adding an available 3rd row seat.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.