- What’s Good: Ride, interior build quality
- What’s Bad: There’s a third row, but…
My oh my, how excited I was to give the Lexus RX-L a try. You may think I’m crazy, but I was; I’ve heard Lexus’ hot-selling mid-size luxo ‘ute called “boring” by my colleagues at the best of times, and “an appliance” at the worst. Thing is, I’ve never really believed that. As far as I’m concerned, the RX does a great job doing what it’s meant to do, and that’s ferry its occupants to and from in a relaxed, comfortable and at least somewhat efficient manner. Plus, while I agree that older generations were a little ‘vanilla’ on the styling front, this latest generation has moved the needle in that department in an altogether positive way.
And now, there was a new one; a bigger one, with room for six or seven depending on configuration (you can choose a three-person bench seat or two captain’s chairs for the second row) but still with that cool styling, strong V6 power and interior goodies. I was keen to find out if that extra length (110 mm over the standard RX, if you’re asking) would be felt a lot, a little or not at all.
What surprised me was how while 110 mm doesn’t sound like much (The almost $10,000 it commands over a non-“L” RX350 sounds like a whole lot more, however), you can see it if you look at the RX L from the side; it was even more evident to me once I saw it in the wild than it was when I first saw it revealed at the LA auto show in ‘17. What’s funny is that it’s the styling detail whose job it is to make the RX seem a little lower and sleeker that gives away the fact that it’s a 3-rower. I speak of the blacked-out d-pillar, which you can see is way longer than a standard RX, even if you see it without a standard RX to compare it with. It’s actually a little awkward, if I’m being honest and you have to think it would be less of an obvious change if they’d kept the d-pillar the same colour as the rest of the car.
Unfortunately, it appears that the length added doesn’t quite neutralize the effects the third row has on the rest of the cabin: there’s less legroom in both the first and second rows, and less cargo space behind the 2nd row seats, too. Hmm.
The rest of the styling package – like the standard RX – I rather like. It’s got handsome yet athletic lines, a few panel creases and cutouts for a little added flare, a proud grille, some of the meanest headlamp lenses you’ll see in the segment and even some sharp two-tone wheels, though even at 20 inches, look a little small considering the large fender panels that surround them. The rears especially, which have that extra length around them to contend with.
Speaking of the grille: one thing you don’t get with the L model is an F Sport option, which means you won’t be getting the wacky spindle grille that F Sport models get. There are those that likely won’t mind that as it’s quite aggressive even considering the latest RX’s sharp lines, but I am a little dismayed as I found it to be a unique touch that nicely separates the RX from the competition. The Acura RDX and its blacked-put grille now looks a little more extreme from the front.
Inside, it’s standard RX/Lexus fare: 12.3” widescreen display with a jeweled analogue clock just below a slightly convoluted and button-rich HVAC and infotainment system, and of course, the joystick to control it all, mounted just ahead of the car-like shift lever. As many of my ilk, I find Lexus’ infotainment system to be too finicky; the cursor controlled by that joystick is tuned to “snap” to the on-screen button it thinks you’re trying to access. Trouble is, all too often, it “thinks” wrong and you’re left having to start all over again. It’s weird; a system of this type should work better than this. Luckily, my tester’s optional Mark Levinson 16-speaker audio made it a little easier to live with; just get your playlist going (through Bluetooth or USB; there is no support for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto) and all the rest of that melts away.
Overall, though, the cockpit is a properly luxurious place to be; contrasting stitching on the dash and seats, high quality materials everywhere and supple, real leather that belies the RX’s digs as a proper luxury SUV. It’s all in the detail, really. I’m especially fond of the way the real wood insert atop the transmission tunnel sweeps up to meet the base of the centre stack. Lovely. The Germans make fantastic interiors to be sure, but Lexus equals and often surpasses them when it comes to their interior accoutrements.
So, it’s time we address that elephant in the room: the third row. You deploy it by accessing a switch bank mounted to the walls of the rear cargo area. That’s all well and good. Trouble is, since this is essentially a retrofitted third row, the second row was never going to move enough to provide the same access as, say, an Infiniti QX60 or Acura MDX. It’s a tough clamber back there and once you are there, unless you’re prepared to sit with your legs completely splayed apart, it’s never going to be comfortable for adults. That’s to be expected from most mid-size three-row crossovers, but this is tighter than most. It reminds me most of the Lexus’ Toyota 4Runner sibling, whose third row was equally tacked-on. I’m sure that there are those that really do feel like they need that third-row back there – and if all you’re doing is hauling the soccer team, then it should be fine – but it’s not the way I’d go. Not for my RX.
It’s not just about the space, either; I sensed that some of its on-road manners were affected, too. It still has a nice, smooth V6 making just under 300 hp and just over 260 lb-ft fed to all four wheels via an 8-speed auto (no paddle shifters, though), so it does well on the powertrain front. It’s quick, even sounding a little purposeful if you really dip into the throttle.
It’s when you reach some bends that it starts to go a little squirrely. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the extra 110 mm coupled with the extra 100 kilos or so added by the third row made for a ride with a little more pronounced body roll. I don’t recall feeling that way previously, but the last RX I drove was the F Sport version with adaptive dampers, and they are on-hand to tighten things up a little. There are various drive modes – including a sport mode – but even in sport mode, I never quite had the feeling that I was moving along “as one” with the RX L. The RX450HL version that comes standard with Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management may be a little better behaved, but I can’t speak to that at this juncture. As it stands right now, I’m seeing more cons than pros when it comes to adding that third row.
Which is a shame, because as I said previously: I’ve always liked the Lexus and saw the addition of a third row as a neat bonus. You’ll want to make sure you make good use of that third row, though, else what you’ll have is a “more is less” situation.
Best Mid-Size Premium SUV: 2019 Canadian Car of the Year