I had a chance to check out the new Lexus RX 350L at the recent local car show. This is the new stretched variant of the very popular Lexus RX that will fit 3 rows of seats. Since my parents have a regular length RX, I’m familiar with the interior and how relatively small it is so I’ve been really curious to see how Lexus would go about stretching it and making it fit three rows. The reason for Lexus to do this is pretty clear: the 3-row non-truck-SUV or CUV (for crossover utility vehicle) segment is wildly popular with cars like the Audi Q7 and the Volvo XC90 and Acura MDX. In fact, looking around the car show, Lexus and Subaru appear to be the last two major car brands to produce a vehicle to fit this slot. (Subaru’s Ascent is arriving imminently.) The Lexus RX 350 (without the “L”) is too small for three rows. The next largest Lexus is the GX which is undeniably a truck (shares a platform with the 4Runner and is built body-on-frame) which excludes it from this category. Therefore, Lexus has a hole and stretching their most popular model to fill the hole makes perfect sense. How did they do?
It is a complete failure. Well, everything about the new RX is just as good as the regular RX which is to say that it is a perfectly fine vehicle. But in the one mission the RX 350L has over the non-“L” version, the third row, it is a complete failure. First, the 3rd row motorized seats take for-freakin-ever to go up or down. I think it was about 20 seconds to stand still holding a button down to watch the seat raise up. Neat that it is motorized but no Lexus owner is going to want to spend 20 seconds standing around – maybe you can check e-mail with the other hand? Once the 3rd row has been raised, you realize that the seat bottom cushion is nearly in contact with the back of the 2nd row seats. So you move the 2nd row forward to make room for knees in the back – and now the second row is nearly touching the backs of the 1st row! That’s the most amazing thing about this RX. The second row slides so you can determine how much knee room the 2nd row has vs. the the 3rd row. But the sum total that the two rows get to share is the same amount that the non-“L” RX has for the 2nd row – maybe 10 inches? Or put another way, the stretching for the “L” version only made room for the seat bottom and didn’t add any space for the 3rd row knees. So if you are driving a current Lexus RX but need space for 2 additional people who don’t happen to have legs, the RX 350L is the perfect vehicle for you. Everyone else should go to their nearest Lexus dealer to laugh at the failure.
What’s most surprising to me is that Toyota doesn’t have this hole in their Toyota lineup, only in their Lexus lineup. For Toyota, there is the Toyota Highlander which is very popular and has 3 useful rows of seats. And in fact, the RX and the Highlander are both based on the Global Architecture K platform so there’s proof that the platform can support a 3-row vehicle where all 3 rows are for people with knees. So did Lexus really think that the RX 350L was a long term solution or maybe it is only a stopgap until a brand new car comes out in the not too distant future? Maybe something along the lines of the Limitless?
Back to me at the car show with my father investigation this new Lexus RX, I was not discrete. Another car show visitor and my father and I were discussing the failure and I realized that I was getting pretty loud and animated about it. And when the Lexus “brand specialist” approached me, she asked if I wanted to be sent a brochure. I answered “For this car? No, definitely not!”. It comes off sounding mean, but I was smiling, she was smiling, everybody there knew the problem. And as I spouted off about how it just wasn’t practical and that it was a waste to bother stretching it and how the GX is a truck so that doesn’t fit the bill and that there’s a Highlander so we know Toyota can build it, and so forth, I realized she was writing it all down. She smiled and said that it was good feedback and she wanted to capture it to share with Lexus. I doubt that one person’s rants will make a difference to Lexus’s product decisions but I do believe that she was going to use those notes in a brand specialist meeting to ask how to answer when other people come to the car show to find what I found.
It will be interesting to see how this thing sells. My guess is that the buyers will be people who like the idea of the third row and either don’t really need it in practice, or who will buy the car unaware of the failings and just endure the complaints from the people who get stuffed in the back two rows. The questions are how many would-be RX buyers fit into those categories and what kind of damage to the Lexus brand will result from this poor design.