It's just about so late to the seven-seat party that all that remains is a tired cleaner sweeping up confetti and cake crumbs, but Lexus has at last launched an SUV with a third row of seats.
Well, technically it hasn’t so much launched a new model as it has extended its existing large SUV, adding a 110mm extension behind the rear wheels to squeeze in two extra seats and form the RX L
Lexus shifted around 2000 units of its five-seat RX last year, and the brand’s local executives reckon 20 per cent of premium SUV shoppers are chasing a seven-seat car. If those numbers stack up, it could mean a 400-strong annual sales boost for the RX range.
A big deal for the Japanese premium brand, then. But what about the rest of us? Is bigger really better for the RX?
Lexus RX350L 2018: SPORTS LUXURY
Premium Unleaded Petrol
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 7/10
First, the bad news. There's a price punish for opting for the seven-seat RX. How much, though, depends on which trim level you decide on.
The RX L arrives in 'Luxury' and 'Sport Luxury' trim levels, and with two engines; a petrol-powered V6 or a hybrid option that adds an electric motor. Luxury prices start from $84,700 (a $3280 increase over the five-seat car), while the Sport Luxury models start from $101,500 (a $1630 rise).
Opt for a Luxury car ($84,700 for the 350L, $93,440 for the 450hL) and you'll find leather seats in rows one and two, and artificial leather in the third. You'll also get heated and ventilated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and tri-zone climate control.
The Luxury RX 350L gets heated and ventilated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and tri-zone climate control.
Outside, expect proximity unlocking, 20-inch alloys, LED headlamps and DRLs as well as standard roof rails. Technology is handled by a nav-equipped, 8.0-inch display that pairs with 12 speakers. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though, and the entire system is operated via the 'Lexus Remote Touch' mouse pad thingy that I can't get used to no matter how hard I try.
Spring for the Sport Luxury ($101,500 for the 350L, $110,240 for the 450hL) and you'll add a colour head-up display and moon roof, as well as adaptive suspension, heated second-row seats, a nicer interior treatment and LED headlights with adaptive high beam. Your screen is bigger (now 12.3 inches), and it now pairs with a 15-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, too.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 7/10
All the action takes place at the back end here (essentially from the rear wheels back), with Lexus adding 110mm in length to form the RX L, which sits on an identical wheelbase to the five-seat car.
They deserve credit for not making this seven-seat version feel like a behemoth, with the extension in keeping with the style of the five-seat car (same 'floating roof' sitting above a kinked pane of glass), with only the more vertical and extended boot line hinting at the third row inside.
Lexus has added 110mm of length to form the RX L.
Elsewhere, it’s business as usual for the RX L, with the bigger model sharing the sharply angled body styling, narrow headlights and ferocious-looking grille of the standard RX.
Inside, expect a premium-feel interior, with leather seats in the first and second rows (the third gets the man-made stuff), elegant wood finishing and a sleek and simple dash set-up dominated by a floating screen in its centre.
How practical is the space inside? 6/10
You know how there are some seven-seat SUVs in which, at a pinch, you can squeeze two adults into the third row? Well, the RX L isn't one of them.
For one, climbing over the second row (after pulling a manual handle that Lexus says is quicker than an electric set-up) requires some acrobatics. And once in the seat, my head (I'm 175cm) found itself in an intimate relationship with the roof. My knees were forced into the seat in front, and most worryingly, my presence pushed the second row far enough forward to make that passenger uncomfortable, too.
Still, how often are you really going to squeeze adults back there? There is certainly enough room for younger kids, or - as I suspect is more likely - for the third row to be used as an in-case-of-emergency option. It can house a child seat, too.
In the third row there is enough room for younger kids.
There's not a bad ambiance back there, though, with artificial leather seats, two central cupholders and tri-zone climate with vents and temperature controls. Middle-row riders now get an extra 45mm of forward adjustability (to compensate for the third row), and there are two cupholders hidden in the pull-down seat divider and bottle room in each of the rear doors.
Up front, expect two cupholders, along with a pocket in each door, while the large central storage bin is home to two USB connection points and a power source, the latter matching a second power source underneath the air-conditioning controls.
And so, to the boot. All three rows in place, you'll find 176 litres of storage to the seat-tops (211 litres to the roof). Lower the third row, and that number climbs to 433 litres. Drop the second and third row, and you'll find 966 litres of storage.
With the third row down, boot space is rated at 433 litres. (RX 450hL model shown)
With all seats down you'll find 966 litres of storage. (RX 450hL model shown)
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
There are two engine options on offer here; the V6 of the 350L or the hybrid powertrain of the 450hL.
The hybrid option uses the exact same engine, just with lower outputs of 193kW at 6000rpm and 335Nm at 4600rpm. It's paired with an electric motor that lifts the total output to 230kW. That combination pairs with a CVT auto, sending power to all four wheels.
Lexus claims identical performance figures for both options, with a 0-100km/h sprint of 8.0 seconds and a top speed of 200km/h.
How much fuel does it consume? 7/10
The petrol V6 will require a claimed 10.6L per 100km on the combined cycle, with the hybrid predictably performing better, returning 6.0L/100km on the same cycle. Emissions of CO2 are pegged at 234g/km (V6) and 137g/km (hybrid).
The V6-powered RX boasts a 72-litre tank, while the hybrid shaves several of those off, offering 65 litres.
What's it like to drive? 7/10
Let’s start with the good news: having admittedly only been behind the wheel for a shortish stretch (and a lot of that was on a freeway) I’ll be damned if I can spot the difference from five- to seven-seater.
Its 110mm longer than the five-seat car, of course, and it's heavier, too. And a more thorough test might well reveal those extra kilograms from behind the wheel. But I suspect you'd have to be truly pushing the RX L around some serious corners to have any chance of noticing.
The steering feels a little vague and flat on-centre, but the ride is terrific.
Keep in mind, this isn't the sportiest option in the segment, and this L version isn’t either. The steering feels a little vague and flat on-centre, and neither engine offers face-peeling acceleration. But the ride is terrific, the cabin is comfortable and polished and both the Luxury and Sport Luxury are ferociously well-equipped.
We'll wait until we get the RX L into the office for a more thorough examination, but after our brief taste test, we reckon there'll be no on-road penalty in opting for the seven-seat option.
Warranty & Safety Rating
4 years / 100,000 km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 9/10
Lexus has a strong reputation on this front, and the RX L is predictably well-sorted from a standard safety viewpoint.
Expect 10 airbags (with the curtain bad extended to the third row), a reversing camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors. 'Lexus Safety Sense+' also arrives as standard, which adds active cruise control, lane-keep assist, auto high beam and an AEB pre-collision safety system the now includes pedestrian detection for the first time.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
Expect a four-year/100,000km warranty (that's 12 months longer than both Germans), and the RX L will require a trip to the service centre every 12 months or 15,000kms. Your first service is free, and total maintenance costs for the first 60,000km will run you $2031.31.
Lexus has seemingly added two extra seats to its RX range without any design or dynamic drawbacks. If you're a fan of the five-seat car, there's little doubt you'll be a fan of this one, too.
What it will come down to, though, is how often you use the third row of seats, and how big the humans that will be sitting in them in are. If they're for kids or for occasional use, the space will be ample. But if your child has undergone a Tom Hanks in Big-style growth spurt, you will likely find the space back there too tight for everyday use.
Does the addition of two extra seats put the Lexus RX on your luxury SUV radar? Tell us in the comments below.