New car review

Lexus RX L test drive

The seven-seat Lexus RX L proves hybrid can be a real diesel alternative

What is it?

Many large SUVs offer seven seats, either as standard or as an option. It makes a lot of sense in a family car, as even the smallest of rear pews can be invaluable if you need to carry unexpected passengers for a short journey.

This is the first foray into the world of seven-seat SUVs for Lexus – at least in the European market. The RX L is based on the popular RX, which we reviewed back in June.

What’s new?

It’s difficult to tell the RX L hides a pair of third-row seats inside, but put it next to the standard car and you’ll notice the blockier rear and higher roofline. There’s actually an 11cm increase in the car’s overall length, all behind the rear wheels.

There’s not much else to report, with the rest of the L being standard RX fare. That means the same combination of 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and electric motor, plus a tech-filled cabin.

How does it look?

It’s actually quite difficult to spot the extra bulk of the RX L over the regular RX – Lexus’ stylists have done a great job disguising the larger rear, and the sloping window line gives the impression of a rakish coupé roof without any of the associated practicality woes.

Up front, there’s the classic Lexus ‘spindle’ grille – an acquired taste, but it’s flanked with really smart LED headlights and a selection of other cuts and slashes. Lexus’ design language is nothing if not distinctive, and you certainly won’t mistake this for any other SUV on the road.

Next to a Range Rover Sport’s straight-edged styling, it’s equal parts gaudy and appealing.

What’s the spec like?

Our RX was in range-topping Premier trim – a pricey investment, but one that comes with plenty of equipment to sweeten the deal.

All RX Ls, regardless of trim level, boast some serious kit, including eight-way electrically adjustable front seats with heating and ventilation, a power folding third row, satnav, a powered tailgate and a raft of standard safety kit including lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and active high beam assist.

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Our car was kitted out with a brilliant Mark Levinson sound system as well as 20-inch alloy wheels, plus a sunroof, 360-degree camera system, heads-up display and heated rear seats.

What’s it like inside?

Lexus RX L interior and dashboard | The Car Expert
Superbly-built interior, but frustrating infotainment system

Lexus’ interiors are almost uniquely well-built – even the German brands can’t match how well the RX is screwed together. Most materials are superb, and so are the fittings – the high-resolution 12-inch display for the infotainment system is a real highlight.

There are two big dark clouds hanging over it, though.

The first is the infotainment – which after a week of use we still couldn’t grow accustomed to. It’s navigated through a sort of square mouse-pointer device, rather than the simpler and more effective touchscreen or scroll wheel of most rivals. The interface itself isn’t poor, but it’s immensely difficult to select the option you’d like, especially when on the move.

The second is space. Having a third row of seats is all well and good, but adults will really struggle to get into them – and once back there, it’s very cramped. The back row is really only suitable for children – a shame, as the middle row is roomy and comfortable.

What’s under the bonnet?

As mentioned, the RX L uses the same powertrain as the regular RX – a Lexus classic consisting of a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine running the efficient Atkinson cycle, and an electric motor and battery pack. Total system output is 312hp, which is a healthy amount even in a car this size. Petrol power is sent to the front wheels, while the electric motor takes care of the back wheels.

The overall effect isn’t the same as a diesel rival would be. While most diesel SUVs of this size concentrate on low-down torque, the RX is happier with some revs – which the CVT gearbox is only too happy to provide, sending the dials spinning at a prod of the throttle.

Outright performance is impressive, though – 0-60mph can be achieved in 7.8 seconds, though top speed is just 112mph. Claimed fuel economy is 47.1mpg and CO2 emissions are 138g/km, which are really good figures for such a large, petrol-powered SUV.

You will have to work hard to achieve these figures, though – long runs are less suited to the hybrid powertrain and you’re more likely to see figures in the mid-30s.

What’s it like to drive?

Lexus RX L on-road - rear
The big Lexus doesn’t really like being treated like a hot hatch

The RX L trades mainly on refinement, quality and comfort. It’s a big car with an imposing presence, and though that can make it difficult to park in cities the commanding driving position and beefy bodywork do garner a certain level of respect from other traffic.

When cruising along, the RX L is comfortable and cushy, riding over potholes and speed humps with ease. It’s also refined, with thick glazing and great soundproofing muting out most of the wind noise and road noise.

There’s little point troubling the Sport or Sport S modes, however. The RX is a huge car that’s not too happy to be thrown around like a hot hatchback, and the hybrid powertrain and CVT gearbox doesn’t exactly lend itself to thrilling performance. Keep the RX L in its happy place, and you’ll have a comfortable ride.

Summary

The RX L is somewhat of a quirky choice next to the established German opposition such as the Mercedes-Benz GLS or Audi Q7 – but then, that’s a characteristic most Lexus’ have.

The two tiny rear seats in the RX L aren’t quite enough to recommend it over the standard RX, though, and if you regularly carry seven adults, rivals will serve you far better.

If you’re after an imposing hybrid SUV and your focus is on comfort, though, the RX L will serve you pretty well.

Similar cars

Audi Q7, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Mercedes-Benz GLS

Key specifications

Model as tested: Lexus RX450h L Premier
Price: £61,995
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 hybrid
Power: 312 hp
Torque: 335 Nm
Top speed: 112 mph
0-60mph: 7.8 seconds
Fuel economy (combined): 41.7 mpg
CO2 emissions: 137 g/km

Tom Wiltshire
Tom Wiltshire
Articles by Tom Wiltshire are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.

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