Lexus RX 350L — Stretched for three rows

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Maybe it was just a stroke of luck or maybe it was a very savvy decision based on the future of the luxury market. Either way, Lexus was the first out of the starting blocks with a smaller unibody sport utility vehicle, which has morphed into the modern crossover.

It was originally released in the U.S. in March 1998 as the Lexus RX,  and four generations have been produced, growing from a compact size and later into a mid-sized vehicle. Although dozens of copycats sprung up and the luxury market is now saturated with crossovers, the RX has been the segment sales leader since its inception. The current generation was introduced in 2016 as the RX 350, and a stretched model was added to the lineup this year increasing its length by 4.4 inches to accommodate a third-row seat.

Apparently Lexus felt it needed a three-row crossover to compete with such popular luxury three-row vehicles as the Acura MDX, Infiniti QX60 and the Land Rover Discovery. Its answer is the stretched RX 350L, which we think is just a stopgap effort awaiting a new larger purpose-built three-row vehicle. The RXL doesn't make a very compelling case against the competition, its third-row space is tight and should be reserved for small children and overall space has only been moderately increased.

The current RX 350 features a modern interpretation of crossover styling with numerous creases and sharp edges making it visually attractive — with the exception of the big nose that all Lexus products now wear. We have grown used to the overall look after three years, but the stretched RX makes it look awkward and unattractive from some angles. It has taken it out of proportion.

That being said, the RX 350L has cargo space not available in the standard model, and that came in handy when we took a trip with our wives and their luggage. Cargo space behind the second-row seats is up several cubic feet over the standard RX's 18.4. If you plan on pulling a weekend toy, towing capacity is the same as the standard RX, measured at 3,500 pounds.

Everything else with the RX 350L is nearly identical to the standard RX, which means occupants will be rewarded with typical Lexus quality. Climb in and you’ll be greeted by Lexus’s handsome interior, lined in lustrous aluminum trim, gorgeous wood veneers, a French-stitched leather dash and door gussets, perforated leather seats, and an immense array of technological features.

Unfortunately, some of the Lexus controls cry out for a remake. The radio tuning knob is a long, awkward reach from the driver's seat, and the infotainment system is operated by an irritatingly inaccurate controller just aft of the shifter. The aggravation was magnified for us because of our need to put several different addresses a day into the navigation screen constantly fighting with the computer-like cursor to hit the right numbers and letters.

Behind the oversized grille is the familiar 3.5- liter V-6 that makes 290 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 263 pound-feet of torque at 4,700 rpm mated to an eight-speed transmission. We found the performance adequate with the shifts smooth and unobtrusive. For comparison purposes it can accomplish a 0-to-60 run in around 8 seconds, about a second slower than the lighter RX 350. Gas mileage for our AWD test vehicle is rated at 18 city, 25 highway and 21 combined, and we managed 21.5 mpg on our trip. The cabin remains quiet and well isolated from the road, making the RX an excellent long-distance cruiser.

The RXL starts at $49,045 including a $1,025 destination charge with the base 350L. Packages can be added including Premium, Luxury and Navigation. Other options are also available. All-wheel drive is a $1,400 option. Standard equipment includes a power liftgate, tri-zone climate control, keyless ignition and entry, power-adjustable steering wheel, leather upholstery, drive-seat memory settings, rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, Bluetooth, an eight-inch display and a nine-speaker audio system.

The Premium package adds a sunroof and wood trim and the Luxury package adds the Premium package features along with 20-inch wheels, a heated steering wheel, upgraded leather upholstery and a four-way lumber adjustment and thigh extension for the front seats. The integrated navigation system offers a larger 12.3-inch display, and a 12-speaker sound system. Our test vehicle also came with the upgraded 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.

Also on our test vehicle were second-row captain's chairs, heated and ventilated front- and second-row seats, a blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert and a color head-up display. Bottom line of our test vehicle was $60,458.

Base price: $49,045; as driven, $60,458
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 290 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 263 pound-feet @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
Length: 196.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,619 pounds
Turning circle: 38.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 16.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 58.5 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 19.2 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 18 city, 25 highway, 21 combined
Also consider: Acura MDX, Kia Telluride, Infiniti QX60

The Good
• Many safety features standard
• Smooth, luxury ride
• Quiet, quality interior
• Increased cargo capacity

The Bad
• Annoying infotainment controller

The Ugly
• Tight rear-seat quarters