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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  • 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?

  • Wjtinfwb Over the years I've owned 3, one LH (a Concorde) a Gen 1 300 and a Gen 2 300C "John Varvatos". The Concorde was a very nice car for the time with immense room inside and decent power from the DOHC 3.5L. But quality was awful, it spent more time in the shop than the driveway. It gave way to a Gen 1 300, OK but the V6 was underwhelming in this car compared to the Concorde but did it's job. The Gen 1's letdown was the awful interior with acres of plastic, leather that did it's best imitation of vinyl and a featureless dashboard that looked lifted from a cheaper car. My last one was a '14 300C John Varvatos with the Pentastar. Great car, sufficient power and exceptional highway mileage. The interior was much better than the original as well. It was felled by a defective instrument cluster that took over 90 days to fix and was ultimately lemon law' d back to FCA. I'd love one of the 392 powered final edition 300s but understand they're already sold out and if I had an extra 60k available, would likely choose a CPO BMW 540i for comparable money.
  • Dukeisduke Thanks Cary. Folks need to make sure they buy the correct antifreeze, since there are so many OEM-specific ones out there nowadays (Dex-Cool, Ford gold, Toyota red and pink, etc.).And sorry to hear about your family situation - my wife and I have been dealing with her 88-yo mom, moving her into independent senior living, selling her house, etc. It's a lot to deal with.
  • FreedMike Always lusted after that first-gen 300 - particularly the "Heritage Edition," which had special 300 badging and a translucent plastic steering wheel (ala the '50s and '60s "letter cars").
  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.