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Does a lengthened version of Lexus’ luxury SUV have the means to upset its European competitors? We evaluate the new RX350L...

Let’s start with what we know: the current-generation RX has been with us since early-2016 and, at least in terms of looks, represented a revolutionary departure from its predecessor. The recipient of a particularly angular version of Lexus’ bold L-Finesse styling approach, the RX stands out in any luxury SUV identity parade with its riot of acute angles and creases, signature L-shaped lighting elements and a super-sized version of the Lexus spindle grille.

The inside, too, upped the ante over the previous generation, both in terms of its luxury appointments and interior décor, with swathes of high-grade leather, soft-touch rubber and a multi-tiered dash that borders on the architecturally avant-garde.

However, unlike their black polar-necked and artfully aged-jeans-wearing colleagues in the styling department, Lexus engineers adopted a far more evolutionary approach to both the drivetrain and the platform, and both were carryovers. The RX350’s 3,5-litre V6 and the RX450h’s V6/electric powerplant remained but were massaged for  more power and fuel efficiency. So what, then, has changed to form the RX350L?

Not a whole lot, and almost all of it at the rear of this Morello Red car. Firstly, it’s 110 mm longer (although the wheelbase is unchanged) than the RX, the roof is raised by 10 mm and the slope of the powered tailgate is steeper. That extra distance comes from a lengthened rear overhang designed to accommodate the third row of seats, powered pews that unfold from their floor position via two buttons in the boot. These 50:50-split seats, incidentally, are covered in a durable synthetic fabric better suited to regular deployment.

Access to any vehicle’s third row is inevitably an exercise for the supple and the youthful but ingress to the RX350L’s is better than most. One-touch levers on each side of the second row fold these seats and they can also slide forward by 45 mm. Unfortunately, third-row space is lacking and it’s only with the second row all the way forward that an adult will be comfortable enough back there. The problem, then, would be that second row adults are uncomfortably cramped.

Rivals such as the Volvo XC90 and Land Rover Discovery offer more second- and third-row space and you do get a sense that, unlike the Lexus, these two were designed from the get-go with seven seats in mind. For kids, though, the Lexus’ furthermost two chairs are fine. They will also be able to enjoy their own microclimate with a separate control panel and dedicated vents at the very rear of the vehicle.

In terms of safety, curtain airbags have been extended to protect third-row passengers, while an additional child-seat anchorage point has been included. Like all RX models, the RX350L has 10 airbags: dual-stage front airbags; front seat knee airbags; side airbags for the front and second-row seats, as well as curtain airbags.

Of course, all of this extra sheetmetal and seating does come with a mass penalty and the RX350L is 145 kg heavier than its shorter sibling. This is not helped by the fact that, although they do share an engine, in the RX350L the naturally aspirated, 3,5-litre V6 petrol develops 5 kW and 12 N.m less power and torque. According to Lexus, it’s because of the rerouted plumbing of the longer vehicle’s exhaust system.

Although we’ve not formally tested the lighter RX350, it’s unlikely you’re going to feel the difference, such is the languid and refined nature of the RX’s power delivery. A 0-100 km/h time of 8,33 seconds and commendable in-gear acceleration stats indicate the L is no slouch when hustled but that’s not what it likes to do, nor what it was designed for.

The CAR testers’ feedback was clearly cognisant of this, noting the comfort of the RX350L’s cosseting ride, impressive NVH – it’s so silent you’d swear you were in a hybrid – quality interior and generally polished demeanour.

There were some criticisms noted, too, and, again, they centred on an infotainment system that remains too finicky to operate with its overly sensitive controller and unintuitive navigation setup. What’s more, its detractors complain the RX350L is wallowy when cornering, offers no steering feedback and refuses to respond with any haste to throttle inputs. But that surely misses the point and fails to recognise a part of the market segment more interested in relaxed luxury than dynamic handling.

TEST SUMMARY

At just short of seven figures, the RX350L may be an expensive car but at this rarefied level and given the amount of standard spec it offers, this Lexus nevertheless represents excellent value for money. The sticker price includes the likes of LED headlamps and daytime-running lights, 10-way power adjustable front seats, a 12-inch infotainment screen, sat-nav, 12 speakers, 20-inch alloy wheels and rear privacy glass.

 

Sure, the RX doesn't offer the best resale value relative to its German rivals but, then again, there's a reason Lexus owners are such a brand-loyal bunch. This seven-seater RX carves an interesting and compelling niche for itself. If refined, near-silent, cossetted luxury is what you're after in a family vehicle — rather than performance dynamics or ultimate interior space — the RX350L will suit you perfectly.

 

*From the May 2018 issue of CAR magazine

 

ROAD TEST SCORE
RX Lexus 350L EX
75 / 100
  • Price: R968,600
  • 0-100 km/h: n/a
  • Power ([email protected]/min): 216 KW @ 6300
  • Torque ([email protected]/min): 358 N.m @ 4600-4700
  • Top speed: 200
  • Claimed cons. (l/100 km): 10.2 l/100 KM's
  • C02 emissions (g/km): 234 g/KM

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