2018 Lexus RX 350L first drive review: playing catch up in a game it created

March 30, 2018

Sometimes two rows just isn’t enough.

Strollers are getting bigger, car seats are bulkier, and nuclear families may as well need a battleship to go out to the movies for a night.

Lexus gets all that. Meet the “U.S.S. 2018 Lexus RX 350L”—or at least it feels that way.

With Lexus best-selling crossover as its muse, the RX L features a third row planted into the familiar RX shape for bigger families. The net is a small, cramped third row; 25 percent more cargo room, with the third row folded flat; and a $4,400 price hike for the privilege.

Welcome to parenthood?

2018 Lexus RX 350L

2018 Lexus RX 350L

Token third row

To fit a fold-flat third-row seat in the current generation RX, Lexus tacked 4.3 inches onto the rear overhang while giving the rear hatch a steeper rake for more head room in the third row.

The result is a fold-flat third-row seat, but it’s not usable for an adult, and only the smallest of children will fit back there. Parents won’t be able to fit a car seat in the third row with a human in the second row ahead of it.

With all three rows in place, the Lexus RX L sports 16.3 cubic feet of cargo room, which gets filled quickly once you account for strollers, diaper bags, juice boxes, soccer bags, backpacks all at once—otherwise known as the stuff that kids need.

Its closest competitor, the Acura MDX, offers 5 to 8 inches more leg room in both the second and third rows depending on which position it’s in compared to the 23.5 inches of leg room in the RX L’s third row and 30.9 inches in the second row. The MDX nearly the same cargo room behind the third row, too. Math majors and parents will know that the numbers matter.

Lexus raised the bottom of the second row in the RX L two inches so third-row occupants could slide their feet under the seat but it didn’t work. There’s just no room.

Third row leg room isn’t the only issue. Average-sized adults will find their heads hitting the roof as they sit on the synthetic leather-covered seats—the first two rows are covered in leather—provided they can get back there in the first place. At least third-row riders can control their own air conditioning.

2018 Lexus RX 350L

2018 Lexus RX 350L

It’s the RX you know

The longer RX 350L—and its hybrid companion, the 450hL—drive just like the shorter two-row already available in dealers. Both have steering that requires little effort, relaxed transmission programming that upshifts quickly, and an isolated driving experience that the RX is known for.

The standard RX 350L’s soft suspension provided a cushy ride that absorbed America’s failing roads over the course of over 100 miles on both desert highways and downtown Phoenix. Opt for the F Sport model and things get firmer and road imperfections make themselves known with an adaptive suspension.

Whether setting the cruise control to 70 mph on the highway or running from Starbucks to Whole foods the cabin is hushed like Grandpa’s study.

2018 Lexus RX 350L

2018 Lexus RX 350L

Adding the extra length to the RX 350L and 450hL saddles the luxury crossovers with a few hundred extra pounds, which in turns taxes the 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 and 8-speed automatic transmission more than the nearly identical powertrain in the two-row models.

Regardless of whether the RX L is front-wheel or all-wheel drive, Lexus claims acceleration off the line is 0.2 seconds slower than the shorter RX, and that seems about right.

The RX L’s increased heft, of which all of it is in the rear third of the vehicle, makes handling a tish sloppier than the two-row RX.

That increased heft knocks fuel economy down a mpg or two across the board according to the EPA, and in mixed driving over the course of over 100 miles the AWD RX 350L tested nailed the EPA-rated 21 mpg combined according to the onboard trip computer.

2018 Lexus RX 350L

2018 Lexus RX 350L

Is it enough?

Priced from $48,665--add $1,400 for all-wheel drive--the RX 350L and its hybrid companion offer families exactly what they’ve grown into: a three-row RX.

At $4,400 more than a two row RX, one has to wonder whether the small third row is worth the premium for peace of mind for parents in a pinch.

Lexus provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive bring you this firsthand report.

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