Review: Get to grips with the Lexus RX L seven seater
Ryan Hirons gets to grips with Lexus' new RX L seven-seater
Since arriving on the European scene in 1990, Lexus has never once offered a car with seven seats.
That's quite hard to believe considering key rivals - most importantly BMW, Mercedes and Audi - have done so for a number of years in the form of the X5, GLS and Q7.
The Japanese firm has decided to plug that gap on this side of the world by introducing the Lexus RX L.
As you can probably guess, it's effectively a seven-seat variant of the RX, which has been on sale since 2015. But this isn't a half-job, with Lexus making a number of changes to accommodate a third row of seating.
To accommodate the third row of seats, this larger version of Lexus' flagship SUV has grown in size over the regular car, with a 110mm increase in length, although wheelbase and height are the same. This extra metal gives it a revised look at the rear, although it's not a drastic redesign. There's little else new to report, with the car carrying its tech and petrol-electric V6 hybrid powertrain over from the current generation RX.
What's under the bonnet?
Just one powertrain is on offer in the UK. It's a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain that's also available on the five-seat variant of the car, consisting of a 3.5-litre V6 engine mated to a battery pack and electric motor. The package produces 308 bhp, while the engine and battery independently develop 335Nm of torque, sent to the front wheels by the petrol unit, with electrical power at the back. With that power sent through a CVT gearbox, 0-60mph can be achieved in 7.8 seconds, while a top speed of 112mph is possible.
Fuel economy is claimed at 47.1mpg, with CO2 emissions of 138g/km, which is not bad at all for a huge, heavy, petrol-powered SUV.
However, it's a combination that could do with a bit more punch at the lower end of the rev band. Engine torque takes a while to kick in, and running on electricity alone feels sluggish. It's not helped by the CVT gearbox, which tends to send engine revs spiralling at the prod of the throttle.
What's it like to drive?
If quality and refinement is your thing, the Lexus RX L presents an appealing package.
Thanks to its hybrid powertrain, it's quiet at a cruise. Despite its size, wind noise is pretty low too. Suspension is also supple when in Normal or Eco modes.
Don't think utilising the RX L's Sport and Sport S modes will make it a sporty handler, though. While the steering weights up fairly nicely, it wallows under hard driving and doesn't feel happy to be thrown about, especially with its lack of punch.
This is also not one of those big cars that feels much smaller on the road - it certainly owns its presence and you're left in no doubt about the size of the machine you're piloting.
How does it look?
At first glance, you'd be forgiven for not being able to spot the difference between the RX L and its five-seat counterpart. Up front, it retains the angular looks with that monstrously huge spindle grille that looks ready to eat up anything else on the road.
The changes out back are quite hard to spot unless you know what you're looking for. While the roofline doesn't taper off in the way the regular RX does, strategically placed design elements behind each rear passenger window create a floating roof effect that disguises the increased height.
Does it look good, though? That depends on your feelings towards extremely angular designs.
What's it like inside?
Sitting up front in an RX L is a nice place to be. Premium materials feature throughout, with leather in the cabin, while the dashboard is finished with a soft-touch feel.
What separates the RX L though is at the back; the third row of seats. While they may seem practical, realistically they're only useful if you have children. While adults will struggle to fit, the kids will be pretty happy in there, with dual-zone air-con along with a pair of cupholders for that ever-important fast-food run.
What's the spec like?
The Lexus RX L will be offered in three trim levels in the UK - SE, Luxury and the range-topping Premier, with prices starting at £50,995.
We tested the Premier model, which comes in £61,995. For that, standard gear includes 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive suspension, a reversing camera, heated and ventilated front seats, triple-zone climate control, five selectable drive modes, 'triple-eye' LED headlights and Lexus' Premium Navigation infotainment system displayed on a 12.3-inch display.
On paper, it's respectable value for money, but some of the tech feels outdated, especially the infotainment system. Rather than utilising a touchscreen or rotary dial, it's operated with a frankly frustrating mouse-like control, while its navigation display is difficult to follow with no 3D option.
The RX L makes sense if you're a previous RX customer looking for the ability to carry seven without straying from your current machine.
The differences, third row aside, are few and far between, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, this feels like a missed opportunity to update a model which hasn't set the SUV market alight.
That said, this is a capable long-distance cruiser and a very comfortable one for occupants in the first two rows - and for children in the third - with plenty of equipment to justify the cost.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model tested: RX 450hL Premier
Engine: Petrol-electric 3.5-litre V6 hybrid
Power (bhp): 308
Torque (Nm): 335 (engine), 335 (battery)
Max speed (mph): 112
0-60mph: 7.8 seconds
Emissions (g/km): 138