In 1999, Lexus RX 300 brought the word crossover into America’s automotive lexicon.
The upright near-luxury vehicle was based on a sedan’s unibody but looked like a truck-based sport-ute. It rode like a front-wheel-drive sedan, while available all-wheel-drive echoed an SUV’s utility.
The distinction was lost on most buyers, who snapped up the efficient and smooth-riding RX. Lexus had invented a new segment and the RX spawned a tsunami of imitators/competitors.
Over time, the RX has grown larger, more powerful and ever-more sophisticated. Until this year, though, it could not be had with three-row seating, a critical shortcoming in the midsize segment.
Lexus rectifies the situation this year with the 2018 RX 350L ($47,670). By adding 4.4 inches to the overall length of the standard-issue RX 350 ($44,465), Toyota makes room for a kid-friendly, power-folding third-row bench.
Mechanically, the L is a carbon copy of its smaller sibling. A 3.5-liter V-6 powers both, though for unknown reasons it makes 295-horsepower in the RX and 290-hp in the RX L.
Both rigs are front-wheel-drive by default, with available AWD. They run the same eight-speed automatic transmission. The L (for “long,” naturally) weighs 242 pounds more than the RX, so both acceleration and efficiency drop slightly.
The EPA rates the RX at 20 mpg combined/27 highway/23 city, the RX L at 19/26/22.
An AWD-only hybrid — the 450Lh ($51,615) — makes 308 hp and returns EPA numbers of 31/28/30.
The 3.5-liter six is smooth and quiet through its range, In the interests of economy, the transmission makes lazy shifts and looks to shift into a higher, more efficient gear at the first opportunity.
Expect the L to run the 0-60 sprint in the mid-7-second range. Properly equipped, it will tow up to 3500 pounds.
Despite its assertive sheet metal, the RX L is all about comfort, and not performance. Its all-independent suspension shrugs off road-surface blemishes, while allowing plenty of body lean in corners.
Steering is lightly weighted for easy mobility in crowded spaces and firms up progressively as the wheel moves from center. There’s a good on-center groove but scant feedback makes its way from the contact patch to the driver’s hands.
Cabin design is understated, purposeful and elegant. Soft-touch materials blanket the dashboard, console and door panels.
Standard features include leather upholstery, keyless ignition and entry, tri-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power-adjustable front seats, a power-adjustable steering wheel, automatic LED headlights and high beams, LED foglights and running lights, rear privacy glass and a 40/20/40-split rear seat. Wheels are 18-inchers.
Awkward infotainment controls
With its mouse-like controller, Lexus’s Remote Touch control system is difficult to use in the best case and nigh-impossible while driving. An 8-inch display is standard, as are Bluetooth connectivity and a proprietary smartphone-integrated navigation system and a nine-speaker sound system.
The system does not include access to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
The $3,200 Navigation package adds a 12.3-inch display, native navigation and an excellent 840-watt, 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.
Safety and driver-assist features include adaptive cruise control, emergency communications, lane-departure warning and intervention, and forward-collision warning and mitigation with automatic emergency braking.
Hard-to-access third row
To make room for the third row of seats, the first- and second-rows sacrifice some legroom. With all seats in their upright positions, cargo space behind the third row falls to just 7.5 cubic feet, from the RX’s 18.4 cf.
Narrow door openings and the RX L’s low roofline impede access to the third row. The second-row bench can be swapped for a pair of captain’s chairs, reducing total seating to five but easing access to the third row.
No matter who’s back there, though, they will enjoy their own climate controls and air vents.
Whether you choose to call it a crossover or an SUV matters little. If you’re seeking a high-quality, high-comfort 7-passenger rig with available AWD, Lexus just added another option to your shopping list.
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2018 Lexus RX 350L AWD
Vehicle base price: $47,670
Trim level base price: $49,070
As tested: $58,090 (includes destination and handling)
Options: heated and ventilated front seats; heated second-row seats; blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert; park-assist; panoramic view monitor; 20-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels; navigation system with 12.3-inch display; Mark Levinson audio; wood interior; moonroof
Tow rating: 3500 pounds
EPA rating: 21 combined/18 city/25 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified