► New Lexus RX L reviewed
► It’s a seven-seater RX SUV
► Two more seats for £2400 extra
There’s an interesting trend-spotting backdrop to our new Lexus RX 450hL review: the full-size premium SUV marketplace is tilting towards seven-seater options, which will make up 40% of sales by the end of the decade, according to Lexus’s forecast. The ‘utility’ bit of the SUV moniker has never been more important.
The Lexus riposte to the seven-seat, segment-leading Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 and BMW X5 is to launch this, the new RX L with an extra row slotted into the stretched rump. The wheelbase is unchanged, but the boot is extended by 11cm, the middle bench is raised and the rear wiper assembly moved from the top of the screen to the bottom to make space for a pair of third-row seats that pop up or down at the flick of a switch.
Browse Lexus RX for sale
Is adding two extra pews enough to make us reappraise the sensible, goody-two-shoes Lexus RX? Read our review of the new 2018 L model to find out.
Is the Lexus RX L a proper seven-seater now?
Yes. The changes detailed above have delivered a pair of rear chairs that are very much on the money in this marketplace - they’re not as big as a Land Rover Discovery’s rear thrones, but they’re perfect for young kids or emergency-running adults on occasional trips back from the pub or somesuch. They’re similar to the accommodation offered in the XC90 and X5, but grown-ups will find head and legroom tight and the view out quite restricted.
Each rear chair folds flat and we were impressed by how much boot space was left behind when set up as a seven-seater, with ample room for several overnight bags (some three-row SUVs leave barely any room for luggage when all positions are called upon).
Boot space is 495 litres as a five-seater, extending to 966 when in two-seat mode. It’s worth pointing out that the 150mm-sliding rear bench lets you juggle the space for bags and bodies, and each middle-row backrest can be reclined for comfort too.
Lexus RX 450hL specs and prices
We recommend the L model since it costs a modest £2400 more than the five-seat version and significantly extends the car’s appeal. Adults will be cramped in the rear row, but it’s perfect for occasional forays into the taxi world for kids and younger family members.
UK prices start at £50,995 for the entry-level SE trim, climbing to £54,095 for the likely best-selling Luxury grade and £61,995 for the loaded Premier model.
There is only one powertrain option: it’s RX 450hL or nothing for Great Britain, whereas buyers in Russia and other markets have an additional choice of straight petrol power - making this a simple range to understand.
The standard equipment list is long, with leather, three-row climate control, electric rear seats, pan-European sat-nav and keyless entry and ignition fitted to every model.
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What’s it like to drive? The Lexus RX 450hL review
The wheelbase and fundamental engineering are unchanged, remember. So to all intents and purposes, the L feels incredibly similar to the regular five-seat RX, which remains on sale unchanged and will hoover up the majority - around two-thirds - of purchases in the UK.
The 450hL is pretty long at 5000mm exactly, but never feels intimidating on the open road. It’s no lightweight at 2.2 tonnes, but its hybrid powertrain keeps up with the flow of traffic.
To recap, it’s the familiar 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine boosted by two electric motors (one up front, and one driving the rear axle) and fed by a nickel metal hydride battery stored under the rear seats. It’s not a plug-in hybrid and it’s telling that Lexus has recently started calling it a ‘self-charging hybrid’ to clarify that you’ll never have to seek a socket.
The power management is exceptionally slick, algorithms juggling the power flow to eke out every mile of range. Lexus doesn’t quote an EV range, but the NiMh battery ain’t that big so you’ll be lucky to get a mile or two on pure electric drive if you prod the EV button.
But that’s unimportant, for the car is constantly - and discreetly - switching back and forth between ICE, e-drive and regenerative braking, and it works a treat. Only under full-bore acceleration for an overtake or plugging up a steep hill does the old CVT wail and soaring revs become a bind.
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Refinement, peace and quiet
Truth is, the Lexus RX has always been a dish best served chilled and if you are of that mindset, you’ll get on very well with the new L. At a sedate cruise, it’s brilliant: jolly refined, whisper-quiet with acoustic double-glazing and laid-back like a true Lexus should be.
Don’t bother thrashing the RX 450hL as that soaraway CVT will quickly infuriate you and there’s nothing in the chassis for keen drivers anyway. The ride is - quite correctly - comfort-oriented and twiddling the driving mode selector has little bearing on the throttle response, transmission map and (on adaptive damper equipped Premier models) body roll and bump suppression.
If driving the door handles off a seven-seat SUV is your thing, may we suggest you look at the BMW X5 or Range Rover Sport instead?
Lexus RX L interior and quality
More brownie points inside. It’s another Lexus masterclass in modest, underplayed quality with a depth of engineering and solidity of build to all the major surfaces and functions. If you want to buy a car for long-term reliability, this is pretty much class-leading.
However, the typically Japanese interior design holds some pitfalls. The cabin is well built, yes, but some of the detailing is below what you’ll find in the classiest Germans. Some switchgear is surprisingly plasticky and basic. The infotainment media system, in particular, remains an absolute horror. We can’t think of a worse multimedia system on sale in the premium sector - the left-hand operated mouse system feeling very behind the curve. Commands that’d take a few swipes and prods in an Q7 or XC90 can take several times longer in the Lexus, as you aim a cursor wonkily like playing a 1980s arcade game.
But this is a fundamentally high-quality interior that’s beguilingly well made - and the large 12.3-inch central digital display is much better than earlier Lexus efforts (even if the graphics are, again, quite flakey). The seats are comfortable and space in rows one and two is generous in the extreme. Particular mention to the totally flat rear floor, making three adults passengers a reality in the middle row.
Lexus RX 450hL verdict
In many ways, the new seven-seater RX is bang on the Lexus trend: beautifully built, sensible with sound eco credentials and a penny-pinching tax status (though imagine how much more efficient it could be with a downsized three- or four-cylinder engine in place of a V6…). The RX L places comfort and wellbeing above corner carving. And that hybrid powertrain is at once soothing and extremely refined most of the time.
You’ll make your own mind up about the Japanese styling inside and out, but - outdated infotainment aside - there’s little to stop us recommending the Lexus RX L as a rational, sensible seven-seat SUV option.
Read more of our Lexus reviews here