In a bid to add more appeal and practicality, the new Lexus RX L gains a third row of seats. It retains the same proven and effective hybrid powertrain that makes it somewhat of a unique proposition when compared with other premium SUV rivals such as the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE.
In the metal
When it comes to exterior styling, Lexus isn't afraid to divide opinion. Sharp creases and angular lines certainly give the RX L a distinctive appearance. The brightwork that surrounds the huge front grille leaves you in no doubt as to what it is. Some might call it ugly, but in many ways, it all works well; the slender jewel-like headlights, solid stance and a sloping roofline (that appears to float thanks to a neat C-pillar design) all come together nicely.
If you want to tell this new RX L apart from its five-seat sibling, you'll need to walk around the back, as that's where the changes lie. From the front as far back as the rear doors, it's the same, with only the roofline and rear end altering slightly to accommodate that additional third row of seats. Overall, these changes add an extra 110mm to the car's length. Headroom for those at the back is helped by a roof that slopes less and meets a more upright rear window. It's this subtle redesign that still allows for 211 litres of boot space when all seven seats are in use. The boot space in five-seat configuration is 652 litres and can be increased to a total of 1,656 litres if required.
One element that gives the RX L an edge over some rivals is that those rearmost seats can be electrically folded individually, in addition to having their own air conditioning controls and cupholders. To add more versatility, the middle row splits in a 60:40 divide and can slide fore and aft by 150mm. Tumbling those seats forward is done in one movement by a lever on the back, making egress and ingress to and from that back row relatively easy. Adults of average height can fit into the third-row seats, but headroom is limited, and it's probably best only for short journeys. Realistically, these are best suited to children.
The rest of the interior is mostly well executed in both design and quality. All the materials used throughout feel top notch and the 12.3-inch display that crowns the centre console doesn't require you to take your eyes too far off the road, plus there's the option of a head-up display on higher grade models. There isn't a touchpoint in the cabin that feels substandard either; from the fine leather on the multifunction steering wheel to the laser-etched wood inlays produced by the same Yamaha craftspeople that make concert-grade pianos, buyers won't feel short-changed.
Some may not like the fact that Lexus only offers one type of powertrain in the RX L, but when it comes to hybrids, the company has considerable experience. The engine is a familiar 3.5-litre V6 petrol unit and that's mated to a hybrid system, which uses a CVT automatic to send power to all four wheels. It is focused more on efficiency and refinement than outright performance, which is something you need to keep in mind when driving it.
The hybrid system is a tried-and-tested setup that works best in urban settings. A slower pace and more frequent stop-starts allow the car's electric motor to ease it away from rest with nothing but a distant muffled whir. With a sufficiently charged battery you can select the EV mode to exclusively power the car, though this is limited in both range and speed. As it's smaller in size than a plug-in hybrid's battery, it does recharge quite quickly, however.
Adopting a smoother approach to throttle inputs gets the most from the CVT automatic and keeps the engine speeds down. Do this, allow it to make the most of the torque that's available and you get a drive that's smooth and quiet. Refinement is very much the strong point of the Lexus RX and this rings true at higher speeds, too. Wind and road noise across a variety of speed and surfaces seems very well suppressed. Comfort levels, even on the 20-inch wheels (standard on the RX L), are excellent. The prospect of covering vast distances in a single bound seems anything but daunting. The armchair-like seating and relaxed cabin ambience certainly help.
The only time where the Lexus loses some of its sheen is when you try to drive it a little faster. It can leave the transmission struggling with how to deliver power best, making the engine to rev higher than it seems necessary. This is just something that most owners will quickly adapt to, and for most of the time the transmission is smooth.
Over a day of driving across a variety of different roads including some steep ascents and descents, the Lexus averaged a little under 8.0 litres/100 kilometres. That's shy of the official combined figure of 5.9 litres, though it's perhaps not wholly representative of what owners could expect to see returned over more extended periods. A 65-litre fuel tank helps driving range, so you shouldn't be visiting the fuel pump too often.
What you get for your money
The Lexus RX L comes in two specification grades in Ireland, ditching the entry-level Executive version that is available on the five-seat RX. Comparing like with like, the RX L carries a €4,400 price premium in return for those extra seats and larger boot capacity.
Equipment on the RX 450hL Luxury includes 20-inch alloy wheels, three-zone climate control and eight-way electrically adjustable front seats that are heated and ventilated. The electrically-operated tailgate features a smart controller that can open it by detecting hand movement.
Moving up to the higher spec Premium version costs €10,100 and adds the Adaptive Variable Suspension, a heated steering wheel, head up display, Mark Levinson stereo system, further levels of adjustability for the front seats, headlights with an adaptive high beam system and sunshades for the rear door windows.
With demand for seven-seat SUVs continuing to surge, the addition of the RX L to the Lexus range is welcome. Given that there is so little to visually differentiate it from the five-seat version, combined with the affordable price hop, it makes sense that most buyers are expected to choose the seven-seat model. Its hybrid powertrain works very well in urban situations and the refinement levels easily justify the price. Certainly, one to consider as an alternative to the diesel defaults.