The original Lexus RX pioneered the upscale crossover, combining SUV versatility with carlike manners back in the 20th century. But little has changed with its five-passenger configuration over the past 20 years, causing the RX to lose buyers to competitors that have three rows.

By adding a third row of its own, the RX hopes to win some of those shoppers back. The Lexus RX L is a midcycle addition to the current RX lineup, and it stretches the SUV enough to squeeze in that extra row.

The RX L rides on the same wheelbase as the RX, but the body is 4.4 inches longer to create enough space for the third-row seats. We purchased an RX 350L with all-wheel drive to evaluate that third row and the impact of those changes to a high-scoring SUV—one of the most popular two-row models among our members.

On the surface, the all-wheel-drive RX 350 L’s $49,070 sticker price is $4,400 above the RX 350 AWD, or about $1,000 per inch. But this RX L also includes more equipment (leather and memory seat/steering/mirror positions, and a cheaper option for a sunroof) than the base RX.

Our RX is still accumulating break-in miles before it begins its journey through more than 50 tests at the CR Auto Test Center. See our first impressions below, with a full road test coming soon.

2018 Lexus RX L driving

What we bought: 2018 Lexus RX L
Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V6 engine, eight-speed transmission
MSRP: $49,070
Destination fee: $995
Options: $6,453, including blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert ($1,065), upgraded infotainment system with navigation ($2,120), 20-inch wheels ($1,170), Premium Package with moonroof and wood interior trim ($810), heated/vented front seats ($640), power rear liftgate ($200), and heated steering wheel ($150).
Total cost: $56,518

How It Drives

Like the regular RX, the RX350 L has the soft, quiet ride of a luxury vehicle. However, its handling lacks the precision found in its European competitors, with notable body lean when taking corners.

The smooth, refined 290-hp V6 engine, combined with an eight-speed automatic transmission, provides brisk acceleration and delivers plenty of passing power. The transmission is responsive and smooth. In other words, this new model very much feels and performs like the RX we know.

We expect the 0-60 mph times and fuel economy for the RX L to be close to those measured with the five-passenger version. When we tested the original RX, it made the sprint in 7.5 seconds and returned 22 mpg overall. Of course, the new RX L packs on an extra 220 pounds, as measured on our scales, and that may affect its performance when we test it. Stay tuned.

2018 Lexus RX L interior

Inside

All the comforts and quirks of the RX are found in the L version. The interior is swathed in soft materials, and our test car is dressed up with attractive two-tone upholstery, accent stitching, and wood trim.

The wide, plush front seats are comfortable but have only two-way lumbar support adjustment, which is stingy at this price. There's generous head, leg, and knee room. A power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel helps drivers find the right position, but the heat elements are only at 9 and 3 o’clock rather than the entire steering wheel.

The controls are a mixed bag. There are abundant rectangular buttons for audio and climate controls. However, detailed selections within the infotainment system are typically accessed through a mouselike controller that moves a cursor around the screen. As detailed in our RX road test, this process can be frustrating for drivers in motion. It often takes more attention and second attempts to make up for missed selections than is required from other automakers systems.

The middle row also provides good comfort and space. It is split 60/40, allowing each side to slide forward and back with a manual release. The center armrest conceals two USB ports and cup holders. When the 60 percent side is folded forward, or when a child car seat is installed in the middle, those features can't be accessed.

Access to the rear favors the spry; there's a narrow path created by sliding and folding a middle-row seat. The third row is an intimate space. Sure, the second row can slide forward to provide more legroom, but even then it's still tight, and the middle-row passengers also have compromised legroom. Don’t expect adults to be comfortable there even for a short dinner hop with friends. At least the rear riders have climate controls and two vents. Clearly, this seat is best suited for children in elementary school.

When the third-row seat is upright, the cargo space behind it is limited. But fold that row down using the convenient power controls at the rear or by the passenger-side rear door, and there is a large cargo space. For some shoppers, this added cargo space may be a more compelling reason to consider the RX L than using that third-row for passengers.

Safety & Driver Assist Systems

The RX models comes with the Lexus Safety System+, which includes forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist. Further, both the RX and the RX L include 10 years of Enform Safety Connect, a telematics service akin to OnStar that provides emergency assistance, automatic collision notification to emergency services with the vehicle’s location, stolen vehicle locator, and enhanced roadside assistance.

The rearview camera includes dynamic guidelines that show where the vehicle will travel in Reverse, based on the steering input.

Blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning (with rear emergency braking) are available, bundled with parking sensors.  

Bottom Line

The RX L adds more versatility to the RX lineup without taking away its other assets. Ultimately, the third row is best suited for occasional use, say, when you need to transport an extra child or two in pinch. However, the additional cargo space available when the seat is folded marks a clear improvement over the original RX.

If third-row transportation is an important purchase consideration, there are roomier upscale alternatives, such as the Acura MDX and Buick Enclave. Should your need for functionality trump your need for prestige, the Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander offer more third-row comfort for less money.

We will know more about how this enlarged RX performs in a few weeks, once testing is complete.

2018 Lexus RX L rear