Twenty years ago, Lexus created a new segment:Â the luxury crossover. That 1998 RX 300 was a revelation â€” buyers with means who wanted something with a higher seating position were previously relegated to traditional, truck-based SUVs. Those old-school machines generally had poor on-road behavior due to their trucky roots.
Not the RX. In eight short years, Lexus had ascended from nothing to the pinnacle of plush. The division eyed customers buying high-trim Ford Explorers and never exploring, and from this the RX was born. Two decades on, the RX still leads the segment it created.
With the Lexus RX 350L â€” the â€œLâ€� means long, I assume â€” that class-dominating RX should be able to coddle a driver and up to six passengers in quiet, leather-wrapped style. Will this three-row, extended-line extension stretch the customer base?
Driving the RX 350L is exactly what one would expect from a Lexus â€” composed and isolated. Road and wind noise is minimal, and there is little feel from the steering wheel. Seats, at least in the first and second row, are all-day comfortable. Passengers and drivers alike will arrive refreshed, but those who enjoy driving will be dissatisfied from the numb driving experience.
The outboard rear passenger shoulder belts are a long, difficult reach for those in the second row, as they are anchored well rearward of the seat. That third row isnâ€™t suitable for adults save for short distance, emergency situations â€” while the second row does slide forward, the legroom saved in the third row is eliminated in the middle if the folks up front are anywhere above average height.
The trade-off? If you are indeed using the third row â€” say, for small kids â€” the cargo area is quite spacious with that third row in use. Iâ€™ve spent time in several three-row crossovers, and few have as much depth behind the third row as this RX 350L. A luggage-heavy road trip with six or seven â€” again, assuming small kids are in the mix â€” is possible.
Iâ€™m warming to Lexusâ€™ control mouse/nubbin for the infotainment system. While I generally prefer a touchscreen, Iâ€™m finding that as I age, reaching for a screen takes my eyes away from the road a bit too long. No, I havenâ€™t hit anything, nor have I had any close calls â€” Iâ€™m just realizing the limitations that go with my rapidly greying beard. Anyhow, the square nubbin behind the gear selector gives tactile feedback as selections are made for navigation or audio.
Styling of this RX 350L, while bolder than the half-dissolved suppository look of the early RX, still isnâ€™t pleasant. The long front overhang and minimal distance between the front wheel well and front door cutline are awkward. The folded creases placed haphazardly about the body are just plain weirdÂ â€” and look painful, if you consider my earlier suppository suggestion.
One nice thing: the lengthening of the body to accommodate an extended third row has been nicely integrated. I have to look hard at it â€” or glance at the badge on the tailgate â€” to distinguish between this and the two-row RX.
Further, Iâ€™ll disagree with many of my colleagues on one point. I donâ€™t hate the â€œfloating roofâ€� trend. On this RX, it seems to visually lower the roof, while not overwhelmingly lengthening the look.
In all, I find that this Lexus RX 350L is maddeningly meh. Itâ€™s a Camry, only in wagon form â€” it has seven seats, and seven percent better interior materials than a Camry. Iâ€™d love to have a Camry wagon, really, just not at a Lexus price.
Looking at how incredibly good the very similar Toyota Highlander is, Lexus can be so much more. It SHOULD be so much more, because it once was. Bubble economy be damned, that first Lexus LS was one of the best cars ever made at any price. Even today, incredible cars can come from Lexus, such as the LF-A and the LC.
Lexus, please. Unshackle your engineers and product planners. Let them make a true volume model that bests everything the world can offer. While this extension of the wildly successful RX will surely sell, it could be so much better.
[Images: Â© 2018 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]