Road Tests

Drive Review: Length is the USP for Lexus RX 350L

This is not the first time Lexus has fielded a 7-seater SUV but the flagship LX hasn’t received an update in the last three years and with the announced fuel increase, the colossal V8 feeding permanent all-wheel drive remains terribly incongruous with Lexus’s clean-conscience hybrid image. The RX 350L is therefore introduced as the relevant road-biased understudy that’s going to be bought on the notion of a 5-seater SUV with inconspicuous third-row seating.

Choice in the RX range bulks up from a lean two-model line-up, separated by R200 000, to three models with the RX 350L’s pricing pulverised to fit into a gap that suggests hybrid technology is worth the premium over seating for seven.

From any angle though the long-wheelbase RX 350L still resembles a regular RX, masking the extra 100mm length with steeply tapered glass running along the waistline. Without having to lengthen the rear overhang and sans the thicker C-pillar, the shape remains taut and manoeuvrable.

Unfortunately the rakish exterior doesn’t magically transform into practical geometry and while the third-row seats fold and lock from their recessed position with the smooth purr of electric motors, it does provide context as to why a Land Rover Discovery’s bulging rear styling looks the way it does. Saying the seating is suited for children is damning it with faint praise and boot space behind the third row is just about enough for four overnight bags so the RX 350L doesn’t hammer home its advantage over the standard model with conviction.

In fact each row of seating comes with its unique set of idiosyncrasies. No individual control for second-row passengers so you end up ameliorating temperature with the heated or cooled seats. You don’t notice the body sway from behind the wheel but you do as a rear passenger with the RX jiggling and wobbling even on resurfaced roads – body control is nowhere near the same realm as some of its air-sprung equivalents. It’s a car that always feels like the ballast is a few feet off, but it improves from the driver’s seat with the weight of the V6 up front. Not declaring that it’s a fun thing to broach the limits – whether it’s the smaller NX or the RX – the feedback and control never asserts itself. It doesn’t matter which of the three driving modes you’re in, the engine accelerates away noisily and I can’t help but think – with some RX-specific upgrades to output – the 2.0-litre turbo charged would be a nicer engine.

Lexus claims that many of its buyers opt for the higher-spec’d versions. Confusingly though the RX’s architecture feels older than the NX’s, retaining the infotainment’s fumbling mouse controller versus the NX’s refined trackpad. The RX’s spec is easily eclipsed by rivals that offer a glut of autonomous features or customised displays – even if the latter comes at a cost there’s something to be said for being able to take a medium-sized SUV and pepper it with flagship technology.

So the RX 350L remains a bit of a dullard to drive which builds a case for the autonomous technology it doesn’t possess. The 7-seater SUV has always been victim of a dystopian alchemy; for R300 000 less a Toyota Fortuner does it better. ANDREW LEOPOLD

SPECIFICATION

  • R949 300
  • 3456cc 6cyl, petrol, AWD, 216kW, 358Nm
  • 9.6l/100km, 223g/km
  • 0-100km/h in 8.0secs, 200km/h
  • 2150kg
  • Verdict: From the outset RX wasn’t built to be a seven-seater and there’s no disguising the fact
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