Three rows are the new holy grail for mass-market automakers.
The logic is unassailable: If five seats are good; seven must be better.
Well, yes and no. But either way, mainstream makers have a choice: add a three-row crossover to your fleet or watch customers head for the competition.
That’s the predicament Lexus faced until 2017. Its RX crossover dominated the midsize luxury segment, but had room for just five. Lexus loyalists needing more room either settled for one of the company’s big SUVs or went elsewhere.
So in 2018, Lexus debuted a larger, six- or seven-passenger version of the RX 350 and its hybrid variant, the RX 450h.
Smooth, quiet, composed
The new RX 350L/RX 450L ($48,000/$51,210) is identical in virtually every way but size to the standard two-row RX. It has the same forgiving ride, relaxed dynamics and impeccably finished cabin.
Every RX is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine (290 horsepower, 263 lb-ft) paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is optional.
The powertrain is smooth and quiet. The transmission makes soft, unobtrusive shifts on its way to a 7-second 0-60 sprint. An AWD RX 350L is rated at 21 mpg combined and can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
The performance-oriented F-Sport package, available on the standard RX, is not available on the L models.
The RX L rides easily on a compliant suspension that dials out the impact of most potholes. It’s composed and stable at speed and the cabin is hushed out on the open road. The steering is well-weighted and accurate and has a solid on-center channel.
To make room for the new power, folding bench, Lexus added 4.4 inches of length behind the rear axle. To optimize third-row seating and cargo space, it gave the L a more upright liftgate and a less aggressively sloped roofline.
The resulting seat is too small for adult use — or really for anyone much beyond the pre-school years — and is difficult to access.
However, there are rewards for anyone able to squeeze in back there; third-row passengers get their own HVAC controls, vents and cupholders.
Cargo space is a mixed bag; the cargo area is nicely finished and all RXs get a power liftgate. There’s scant room behind the third row, though, and rivals offer more total capacity.
The RX cabin is finished in top-shelf materials and just-so fit and finish. The front seats are large, supportive and well-contoured. Sightlines are good in all directions but over the driver’s shoulder.
For 2021, Lexus adds blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert to the standard features list, a welcome addition.
The RX family had been last redesigned in 2016 and has been the subject of the usual annual upgrade process. Last year, Lexus updated the infotainment system, adding a 12.3-inch touchscreen. The touchscreen reduces the driver’s dependence on the difficult Remote Touch trackpad.
The touchscreen is available only on RXs equipped with navigation. All others get an 8-inch display paired with the Remote Touch touchpad.
The new Lexus Multimedia system also now includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa.
Wireless smartphone charging is now available as well.
The 2021 Lexus RX 350L is sold in a single trim, with the availability of several key options packages and assorted stand-alone add-ons.
Standard equipment includes three-zone automatic climate control; rain-sensing wipers; LED headlights; power-adjustable steering column; power liftgate and leather upholstery.
The key package is the $1,580 Premium Package. It adds matte bamboo or open-pore walnut interior trim, Lexus Memory System, moonroof and aluminum roof rails and opens the door to other options, including Luxury ($6,000) and Navigation ($2,285).
For $3,365, Lexus will sell you the Navigation system along with the excellent Mark Levinson audio system.
Unlike luxury builders that reserve some driver-assist features for upper trims, Lexus dishes them liberally. All RXs are equipped with forward-collision mitigation; adaptive cruise control; lane-departure mitigation; lane-keeping assist; and blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.
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2021 Lexus RX 350L AWD Lux
Vehicle base price: $48,210
Trim level base price: $55,300
As tested: $63,525 (includes destination and handling)
Options: second-row captain’s chairs; wireless charger; windshield wiper deicer; headlamp cleaners; color head-up display; 12.3-inch navigation system with Mark Levinson premium audio system; hands-free rear liftgate; 360-degree monitor with intuitive parking assist and rear cross-traffic braking; carpeted cargo mat; mudguards; alloy wheel locks; roof rack crossbars
Tow rating: 3,500 pounds
EPA rating: 21 combined/18 city/25 highway
Regular gas specified