First Drive

First Drive: Lexus RX L

The story:
Lexus launches its first ever seven-seat model, with the new RX L expected to take almost a third or RX sales.
Category:Large Crossover
Key rival:BMW X5
Lexus RX 450hL Luxury
Price:£54,095
MPG:47.1mpg
Emissions:138g/km
On sale:Now

Lexus is breaking new ground with the arrival of the RX L. The addition of the final letter designates the seven-seat format of the new model, which joins the five-seat sibling that was launched in 2015.

First Drive - Lexus RX L - Image 5The addition is much more than simply bolting a pair of seats suitable for tiny people into the boot. Lexus has redesigned the rear of the car, extending the body to ensure there’s enough headroom for third-row visitors, while growing the car’s length by 110mm over the regular RX to accommodate the additional pair of passengers. That raises boot space from 453 to 495 litres, and the middle row adjusts on a 120mm slide, something Lexus claims is class best.

The L costs £2350-£2450 more than the five-seat RX, depending on specification, with the extra money also buying third-row climate control, USB chargers and electrically folding rear seats.

There is a running-cost penalty with the bigger car. It’s 4g/km worse, which means its sits one benefit-in-kind band higher than the five-seater, and there’s a 4.3mpg difference on the official NEDC-correlated test figures. The five-seater has a slightly higher residual value on top of the cheaper price, so that means the seven-seater is 5.5p per mile more expensive. But emissions of just 138g/km are well below diesel seven-seat SUV rivals.

The combination of 3.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor generates 308hp, and the RX L is capable of running on battery only for up to a couple of miles, although Lexus won’t be specific on range. It recharges itself under deceleration, so the brand has recently taken to calling it a “self-charging hybrid”, to differentiate from plug-in hybrids.

Kit levels are almost identical between the two sibling models, and the RX L range kicks off at £50,995 for the SE model that is predicted to take just 2% of sales. Step up by £3100 to the Luxury spec – expected to account for 58% of sales – and it brings a 12.3-inch screen First Drive - Lexus RX L - Image 3rather than the 8.0-incher of the standard car, as well as 20-inch alloys rather than 18s, LED front and rear lights and a powered tailgate with a no-touch sensor that will open the boot if the keyholder hovers a hand just in front of the Lexus badge. The top Premier spec is a hefty £7900 further, and brings features such as panoramic roof, 10-way electric front seats, Mark Levinson audio set-up and adjustable suspension.

The third row of seats is, predictably, not for adult use over long distances; Lexus describes them as “ideal for children on any journey, and comfortable for adults on shorter trips”.

Move the front two rows of seats to optimal positions, and seven adults of reasonable size could all be squeezed in, although the rearmost two may complain about headroom more than legroom. Getting in and, particularly, getting out isn’t the most elegant of manoeuvres, despite the middle row sliding forward.

To drive, the RX L is, like the regular RX, unremarkable. The hybrid system works well at low speed and, although massively improved over older systems, is still minded to offer at least as much noise as forward movement under harder acceleration.

It’s comfortable, very quite at cruising speed and the interior is very nice, but the mouse-pad-style infotainment system remains horrible to try and use while driving and is a long way off the set-ups that German premium brands have been offering for many years.

Paul Barker

The verdict

Lexus has always been a brand to make more sense on paper rather than in the driving experience, and the RX L very much conforms to that. Excellent emissions, operating costs and low-speed running compensate for a forgettable driving experience and poor infotainment control system.