A key adage that applies in the automotive industry is the classic saying “Build it and they will come.” Indeed, this logic has resulted in some truly impressive models such as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Corvette, as well as tamer fare like the Toyota RAV4. However, it has also resulted in the appearance of a fair share of odds ball offerings in the past including the Nissan Murano convertible. But with crossover mania in full swing, this timeless saying has new meaning, especially with how white hot the sales race is in the all important luxury crossover segment. Lexus is keen to exploit this with the all new 2019 Lexus RX350L, but does adding a third row seat into what is already a key player in this segment make the RX 350L a hotter commodity among CUV buyers? Or is it a road that shouldn’t have been traveled?
A Canvas That Still Needs Some Polishing:
When one looks at the 2019 RX 350L, they will see that many of the styling elements that define the standard RX are still firmly in place. This means that it is still an unbalanced mess that has a wide variety of things going on aesthetically. The front fascia is still very bold looking with the spindle style grille being a very prominent visual statement. However, like an unfinished origami design, the side profile completely ruins the design balance, and leads out to arguably the biggest change buyers will notice, the bigger rear overhang. The RX was originally designed to be a two row CUV, and the fact the third seat looks tacked on haphazardly is not an understatement with the extra 4.3 inches being put into the rear of the RX. The unchanged wheelbase makes it look awkward and does little to hide the fact that the taillights lack the cohesion we have become used to seeing in some of its rivals.
But amid the design missteps, there are a few highlights that we came to appreciate during our time with our Premium Luxury grade tester. For instance, we liked the rims on our tester, they looked very slick and modern and are one of the few islands of decent styling that are found in the otherwise cluttered visual presentation. While the Lexus is an improvement over the Acura MDX and the Infiniti QX60 when viewed in this category, The RX does lose some ground to rivals like the Audi Q7, Maserati Levante, and even the BMW X5 which is the equivalent of getting a “16” in a hand of blackjack. In short, we hope that the next generation RX will bring some much needed balance to the exterior design, which should help it snag a consistent winning hand when viewed by curious observers.
Proof That Some Things Are Best Left Untampered:
Wheras the exterior of the RX is polarizing, the interior is very staid and conservative with a relatively crisp design. Many of the materials here are high quality, and the RX features a balanced blend of leather trim, soft touch plastics, and equally elegant wood trim pieces. On that final front, the lone exception is a small piece of highly polished faux wood trim in the cupholder region that needs to be removed since it does contrast with the rest of the highly crafted look that the cabin aims to achieve. Visibility is also good out the front and sides, but the rear does have very thick pillars, and that caused us to exercise an extra degree of caution when undertaking lane changes or backing the RX into a parking space. The front seats in our Premium Luxury tester were comfortable and reasonably supportive, though we do miss some of the more extensive lower back bolstering that the F-Sport model has in its thrones. Regardless, look for these seats to still be an excellent place to spend time in, especially out on long road trips.
Ultimately though it is the two rearward rows that will certainly be a potent buying point for CUV buyers, and it’s here where our tester underwhelmed when it came to usability. The second row is just as comfortable as we have always remembered it, with good amounts of head and leg room and easy entry and exit. However, the rushed and slapped on nature of the RX’s third row seat becomes readily apparent the moment an unlucky soul finds their way back there. The seat bottoms are barely above the floor, and the low seating position is amplified by an absolute lack of leg room. Headroom is also very tight for taller passengers, and even shorter passengers (like our kind volunteer Emily) found little reason to spend any extended time in the tight and very claustrophobic space. Moving the second row seat forward does help solve the leg room issue (though it did little to make our entry and exit more elegant) but in the process, it makes the seats there practically useless.
Thankfully, the useless third row can be folded down to help increase cargo space and transform the RX 350L into what it ultimately is, a two row CUV with a bigger cargo area. While both rows are folded down via electronic switches, the resulting cargo space is still not that big, with the RX only offering 70.7 cubic feet of cargo space. In comparison, the Infiniti QX60 and the Acura MDX offer more cargo space, with the duo boasting 75.9 and a massive 90.9 cubic feet respectively, while still offering third row seating that is far more habitable and useful for third row occupants.
Like other Lexus offerings, our tester arrived with the Lexus Enform infotainment system, and like our prior encounters with this system, we found ourselves frustrated with the way it operated. Unlike recent Lexus models that have switched to a newer touchpad for navigating around the screen, our tester featured the older mousepad style controller, and we really wish that it will finally go away. Dubbed Remote Touch, the mouse is supposed to offer fluid movement, but it is very sensitive, and we found ourselves constantly overshooting various icons when trying to reach a particular category. Also the screen graphics, input speeds, and the basic setup of the menus feel a generation behind which is a shame since the 12.3 inch display screen is certainly a sight to behold especially when fully lit up at night. While we are complaining, Lexus has still not implemented Android Auto or Apple CarPlay capability into its offerings. With the recent news that Toyota will slowly add this to their lineup starting in 2020, we hope that the RX will eventually gain this key revision to allow it to be on par with others in its pampered segment.
Smooth Performance That Gets the Job Done:
With all the compromise that exists in the exterior design, and the interior layout, its good to see that the RX’s performance hardware is still consistent when it comes to delivering a strong showing to buyers. While it will certainly not se the world on fire with its performance numbers, the RX 350L makes use of the same 3.5 liter V6 that its two row counterpart utilizes. With 290 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque on hand, the V6 is a silky performer, and allowed our tester to have a confident personality both in the daily grind, as well as longer jaunts on the freeway, along with doing its job in a refined and quiet manner. The L’s revisions to the rear end don’t seem to affect acceleration too much, but with a curb weight of 4,619 pounds, the RX in this configuration is heavier than the MDX, QX60, and even the larger Buick Enclave Avenir.
Handling in our tester was on par with countless others in the segment with the overall experience being acceptable to a point. It handled itself well in various aspects of the daily commute, but when tasked with sharp corners and spirited driving, our tester did not quite have the same level of composure as its slightly spicier F-Sport counterpart with abundant amounts of body roll making itself noticeable, and the electrically assisted steering system having a few too many swigs of Bob Marley to deliver consistent feedback to the drivers finger tips. This behavior also makes it a bit less refined in the twisties than its Swedish and German rivals, but Lexus is keen on not letting those omissions distract buyers from the magic carpet-esque ride that allows the RX to absorb all kinds of bumps and other road imperfections when shuttling its occupants from place to place.
The RX does fall behind rivals in regards to towing, with the Lexus only offering 3,500 lbs of capability. That figure is far behind rivals such as the MDX which offer figures that surpass 5,000 lbs with similarly sized engines. It’s a shame too since the RX has the chops to be an excellent long haul vacation vehicle for families that are regularly on the move, and some of these buyers might not like the notion of not being able to take along all their gear when it comes time to hit the open road. Fuel economy though is still a long running trump card for the L, with the hybrid trim also making its way into the new three row RX.
Pricing for the RX is still positioned firmly in the thick of the luxury CUV segment, with the base two row model starting at $43,670. If you choose to add a third row to the RX, the base price does creep up to $48,870 for a front wheel drive version. Our all-wheel drive equipped Luxury tester arrived with a base price of $54,185, and a figurative laundry list of options (including the $3,225 navigation/sound package) which helped shoot the final price tag all the way to a whopping $63,120 with the $1,025 destination fee factored in. This is a lot of money for what is essentially a three row luxury CUV that was cobbled together at the last minute. For comparison, the Acura MDX has a slightly lower base price, was designed from the very start to accommodate a third row, and still manages to be $4,000 less expensive when comparably equipped like our tester. Another rival is the Buick Enclave Avenir. While it loses some ground to the Lexus when it comes to overall refinement, the Enclave is bigger than the RX, offers more usable space, and the nine speed automatic is a cog ahead of the eight speed that is employed in the RX.
At the end of the day, the 2019 Lexus RX 350 is still a solid two-row CUV entry in many ways. However, like cobbling two different Lego sets together into a single model, the three-row RX 350L feels like something that was assembled together in a knee jerk reaction to try and stick the RX into a slice of the utility market that it has never ventured into before. We hope that Lexus engineers will put more time, cohesion, and effort into making a true three row RX for its next iteration, especially considering that the three row CUV (luxury or otherwise) is rapidly becoming a very popular choice for many U.S. families.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.