2018 Lexus RX 350L Review - Go Long

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2018 Lexus RX 350L AWD

3.5-liter V6, DOHC (290 hp @ 6,300 rpm, 263 lb/ft @ 4700 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
18 city / 25 highway / 21 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
21.7 (observed mileage, MPG)
13.0 city / 9.1 highway / 11.2 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price: $50,065 US / $68,256 CAD
As Tested: $56,835/ $68,256 CAD
Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $2,205 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2018 lexus rx 350l review go long

Twenty years ago, Lexus created a new segment: the luxury crossover. That 1998 RX 300 was a revelation — 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 — the “L” means long, I assume — 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 — 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 isn’t suitable for adults save for short distance, emergency situations — 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 — say, for small kids — the cargo area is quite spacious with that third row in use. I’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 — again, assuming small kids are in the mix — is possible.

I’m warming to Lexus’ control mouse/nubbin for the infotainment system. While I generally prefer a touchscreen, I’m finding that as I age, reaching for a screen takes my eyes away from the road a bit too long. No, I haven’t hit anything, nor have I had any close calls — I’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 isn’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 weird — 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 — or glance at the badge on the tailgate — to distinguish between this and the two-row RX.

Further, I’ll disagree with many of my colleagues on one point. I don’t hate the “floating roof” 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. It’s a Camry, only in wagon form — it has seven seats, and seven percent better interior materials than a Camry. I’d love to have a Camry wagon, really, just not at a Lexus price.

[Get new and used Lexus RX pricing here!]

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: © 2018 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]

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2 of 57 comments
  • Stanley L Williams Stanley L Williams on Jan 15, 2019

    With all of the tech in this car, WHY do the folks who drive these always have their cell phones plastered to their faces while jumping in front of me on the highway? Hello BLUETOOTH, or is that too hard to master?

  • Stanley L Williams Stanley L Williams on Jan 15, 2019

    With all of the tech in this car, WHY do the folks who drive these always have their cell phones plastered to their faces while jumping in front of me on the highway? Hello BLUETOOTH, or is that too hard to master?

  • ToolGuy VW (marque not group) and Tesla very nearly switched positions on a YTD basis.
  • RHD Inexpensive gasoline appears to be a thing of the past. ILO is correct - we have enough sunlight, wind and emerging ocean wave energy to power the entire country and then some. Clean air is nice, and being free of the whims of OPEC, geopolitics and hugely profitable oil companies will do all of us a world of good.
  • Raymond Segura Can you tell me where I can get the rear bumper for 69 impala?
  • Art Vandelay some of the crazy numbers I get. Percentages look bigger with any fluctuations with low volume makes and brands leaving the market will see massive month over month changes. But what’s with Buick? I still see the occasional ad on TV and yet the drop is disproportionate even compared to all the other GM brands.
  • Master Baiter "There is no mandate for consumers to buy EVs, not in any country or state. That’s made up."Right. And you are not mandated to purchase a toilet that only uses 1.6 gallons/flush. You could choose to not have a toilet--just go in the woods, like the bears do.