Around The Bay Auto Weekend Wheels

Weekend Wheels: Lexus RX 350 L is a bit of a stretch

Luxury Living Tampa Bay

The Trekkies said it best: Space, the final frontier. I guess that was the mantra Lexus designers used when they came up with the spacey, seven-seater RX 350 L. 

That’s “L” as in L-o-n-n-n-g. 

Well, not that long. Compared to the regular RX 350, the “L” gets an extra 4.3 inches added to its bodywork. Enough — barely — to squeeze in an extra row of seats.

Trouble is, the original RX was never designed to have three rows and seats for seven. But when RX owners started moaning about the lack of seven seats, Lexus had to act fast. 

So, a couple of years ago, they took the RX, and like a big piece of Play-Doh, stretched it out. It worked — Lexus lovers became happy campers and the RX L is now Lexus’s best-selling model.

After spending a week with the just-out 2020 version — a $63,330 all-bells-and-whistles Lux version with all-wheel-drive (L prices start at $47,300) — I have to say I was, at first, a little confused. 

Trouble is, no limbed human over the age of say, 6, is really capable of sitting back in that third row. Knee room is pretty much non-existent, and with the seats mounted flat to the floor, even 6-year-olds would sit with their knees under their chin.

But I quickly come to the conclusion that this isn’t really a seven-seater; it’s just an RX with more load space. And that the third row provides perfect emergency accommodation for contortion-friendly young kids or furry friends. 

Now it starts to make sense. Keep the third row folded flat and you have 33.4 cubic feet of space to play with. Now drop the second row seats and the space balloons to a Home Depot-friendly 70.7 cubic feet.

Yup, space: the final frontier.

As for the changes for 2020, think of them more as evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

Yes, that polarizing, love-it-or-loathe-it, spindle grille is still there in all its eyebrow-raising glory. But some of the sharp edges have been softened, the grille insert switched from horizontal blades to a funky 3-D pattern, plus slimmer headlights with optional LEDs.

More significant is what’s going on under that Jetson-like bodywork. The entire underbody is now much stiffer, thanks to a ten-fold increase in amount of structural adhesives used. There are also twice as many welds.

The result: a more Rambo-like platform, which allowed Lexus engineers to stiffen the shocks and roll bars for tauter handling. 

For 2020, there’s also the option of a 12.3-inch infotainment screen on top of the dash which can be operated by touch. Which is a good thing, seeing that Lexus has stuck with its nasty, over-sensitive, Remote Touch Control pad on the center console. 

The big news for smart-phone addicts, however, is the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. 

As for power, while rivals are switching to smaller, turbocharged four-cylinder engines, the RX thankfully sticks with its Teflon-smooth V6. 

The whispering 3.5-liter motor still cranks out a meaty 295 horseys, and coupled to smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic, delivers Usain Bolt-like sprinting with uncanny levels of refinement. 

I’m not sure that all the chassis-stiffening has made much of a difference to the RX’s handling; the focus here is still on a cushy-smooth ride, undemanding steering and civilized road manners. In other words, just what the target buyer wants. 

And target buyers still love the impeccable cabin fit and finish with all its shiny woodwork, hand-stitched buttery leather and boatload of standard equipment.

That said, if you’re looking for a mid-size luxury SUV with proper seating for seven, rivals like the Acura MDX, awesome new Lincoln Aviator, and even the new Hyundai Palisade may better fit the bill.

To test drive an RX 350 L, call-up Lexus of Tampa Bay in Tampa, Lexus of Clearwater, or Lexus of Wesley Chapel.

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