Interior Hits and Misses
Though the third row is a major downer, the rest of the interior apes much of what you’d find on the standard RX 350, and that’s just fine by me. Lexus has a proficiency for crafting quiet, high-quality cabins, and the RX 350L is no exception. The RX 350L does get standard leather upholstery over the RX 350’s faux leather, and the Noble Brown version on my test vehicle was a highlight for me.
Up front, the center console is pretty wide and slightly invades leg space, especially on the driver’s side. Luckily, it’s padded to make your right knee more comfortable, but taller drivers should ensure they fit comfortably before buying.
The cabin’s overall quality and comfort are pluses, but the big minus for the RX 350L is the same problem that plagues the rest of the vehicles in Lexus’ lineup: the Remote Touch interface. The available 12.3-inch screen that sits atop the dashboard is fine, but the only way to interact with it is through a mouselike control sitting between the front seats. It’s an unnatural, difficult way to use a system that’s also plagued by an overabundance of menus and hard-to-settle-on controls. Our staff is starting to sound like a broken record on this, but as long as Lexus insists on trotting out this substandard system, we’ll call it what it is.
How It Drives
The RX 350L’s driving experience is comfort-oriented. It smooths out road imperfections nicely, and I didn’t detect much tire or road noise. In fact, there wasn’t much noise at all; cabin isolation is a strength. The counterpoint is that the car languishes in corners, with plenty of body roll and an aversion to quick changes of direction. But I think the tradeoff is one this vehicle’s likely buyers will be willing to make for its comfort and composure over rough roads.
Under the hood is a 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The RX 350L comes with front- or all-wheel drive, which commands a $1,400 premium. RX 450hL models come only with AWD and pair the 3.5-liter V-6 with a continuously variable automatic transmission and an electric motor to produce 308 hp total.
I tested only the gas version, which has decent acceleration — enough grunt to keep the luxurious feeling, but not enough to get you into any trouble (or fun, as I like to call it).
Fuel economy for the RX 350L is an EPA-estimated 19/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined for FWD models and 18/25/21 mpg with AWD. That’s 1 mpg worse than the RX 350 across the board. The RX 450hL is rated 29/28/29 mpg, which lags the regular version by 1 mpg combined.
Safety Remains a Strength
The RX 350L comes with a strong set of standard safety features wrapped in a bundle Lexus refers to as Lexus Safety System Plus. The technology includes forward automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control that works all the way down to a stop. Also standard are rain-sensing wipers and 10 years of Lexus Enform Safety Connect, which offers emergency assistance and can send responders to the vehicle’s GPS location.
For those who want more, there are also available LED cornering lamps, a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic automatic braking (not just alerts), a windshield wiper de-icer, parking sensors and a 360-degree camera system.
The systems all worked seamlessly in my testing, though the lane keep assist does have a propensity to bounce the car from one side of the lane to the other. A more effective lane-centering system, which Lexus calls Lane Trace Assist, has appeared on some models, but not the RX.
RX 350L competitors include three-row luxury SUVs such as the Audi Q7, Acura MDX and Infiniti QX60 (compare the RX 350L with those models here). While none of them have what I would call “expansive” third rows, they are larger than the tiny one found in the RX 350L and can be used for at least short journeys without too much trouble.
The RX 350L’s entire reason for existing is kind of a letdown, and that influences the rest of my feelings about the vehicle. If Lexus wants to add a city-friendly three-row SUV to its lineup, it would be better served by coming out with a new model instead of trying to shoehorn a third row into an existing one.
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