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2018 Lexus RX 350L: More Is More

Sometimes I look at an all-new car or a new version of an existing vehicle and say "who wants this?" The 2018 Lexus RX 350L is the exact opposite. As soon as I hear "3-row Lexus RX," I know everyone wants this — Lexus owners especially. Lexus owners are kind of weird in a way — they’re fiercely loyal, and they know the cars and SUVs they drive are related to Toyota vehicles in many cases, but they simply don’t want a Toyota. So it only makes sense that Lexus would offer a 3-row version of the very popular RX.

Stretched, But Not

But the RX 350L isn’t a stretched wheelbase version of the RX. Usually, when adding a third row, automakers expand the space between the front and rear wheels. Think Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV. But doing that changes the character of the car considerably. Instead, Lexus made the RX about four inches longer but kept the same wheelbase as the 5-passenger RX, raised the second row of seats and added a third row.

The RXL isn’t going to wow you with a massive third-row seating area; it’s really for short trips and mainly for kids. However, the L does add more cargo space, a feature I suspect many active baby boomers will get more use out of versus the third row. Still, the RXL is available with a 7-person seating capacity. If you want those little kids to gain easy access to the third row, I recommend the 6-passenger version, because it leaves a passageway between the two second-row captain’s chairs. There are even dedicated climate controls for third-row passengers.

Feels Like a Lexus

The real victory here is that the 2018 RX 350L drives exactly like the slightly shorter RX. With a 290 horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 and adaptive suspension, the RX L feels exactly like the luxury SUV you’d expect from Lexus. The beauty of the RX is that it isn’t overly sporty, it’s one of those "just right" vehicles that appeal to a wide variety of shoppers — especially those who are OK with the Ls near $50,000 base price.

A lot of reviews will likely focus on the small "way back" seating, but that kind of misses the point. The RX isn’t going to pull full-time working mom carpool to daycare every day. It’s more of a "just in case" option that’s good for parents of school-aged kids and grandparents who want to occasionally take the whole family out to dinner. The seating is tight, but the second row moves forward, and those second-row seats are raised to make room for the third-row passengers’ feet.

The in-car tech is the same as what you’ll find in the RX350. I could go on and on about the Lexus Enform system and the mouse-like controller. I could, but it’s kind of pointless. Like when I spend a good 20 minutes trying to convince my wife that a nice, sensible sedan is the best car for our family and budget. Her response is almost always, "Right … Jeeps are cute." And that kind of ends the whole discussion.

Is the Lexus Enform system stellar? No. But does it employ a simplicity that many Lexus owners will appreciate? Yes. It even has a kind of flexibility with features like App Suite and Destination Assist. Also, there’s a 12.3-in screen that looks amazing.

Considering kid and cargo hauling abilities alone, the 2018 Lexus RX 350L isn’t the best of the bunch. The Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Infiniti QX60 are better. However, that whole argument will abruptly end as soon as a husband, wife, parent or grandparent listens to those suggestions and immediately says, "But I want a Lexus."

To further broaden the RXL’s appeal, buyers can opt for a front-wheel or all-wheel drive version, and there’s a hybrid version coming soon.

And that’s kind of it for most shoppers of premium SUVs. Many are totally sold on the Lexus brand of luxury and utility, and many others skipped Lexus last time around because they didn’t have a carlike SUV with a third row. They do now.

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