20 years after it first appeared, the Lexus RX SUV is back this year with a stretched version, the 2019 Lexus RX L. It’s an understatement to say this model is important in the scheme of things for the Japanese luxury division. The RX is the top-selling premium vehicle in North America.
Given the mandate of producing a seven-person variant of this core model, Lexus’ engineers put their heads and talents together and came up with two extra seats – though those two don’t quite provide the same level of space and comfort as the other five, let’s just say…
Massive exterior and premium interior
Love it or hate it, there’s no getting away from the aggressive trapezoidal front grille that leads the way for the RX L. Front to back and top to bottom of the vehicle, there are angles and sharp lines galore that put to rest Lexus’ conservative styling past. Which makes this vehicle distinctive - but not always in a good way. The more conservative of Lexus loyalists may not recognize themselves in this design and they might reluctantly make their way to competing models a little more elegant in appearance.
The only realistic way for the Lexus engineers to create a seven-person interior was to stretch the roofline and rear overhang to deepen the trunk. The wheelbase remains unchanged from the RX, and while that does mean it’s longer than the Toyota Highlander, it’s not really that apparent when you look at it.
The 2019 Lexus RX L gets, in addition to that stretched rear end, LED headlights and 20-inch wheels as standard equipment. Our tester was also fully loaded with virtually every drive-assist and safety function you can think of. One nifty trick is that simply placing your hand in front of the Lexus badge at the back makes the hatch open automatically. No more waving your foot around while balancing yourself on the other to activate the sensor that opens the hatch. Nice!
Inside, it’s true that you don’t get quite the degree of luxury you might find in some of the RX’s rivals, but we’re still talking premium interior here, make no mistake. The accents, of grey wood or matte bamboo, are top-notch, and the metallic elements add to the appeal of the environment.
While the base model’s seats come decked in leatherette, it looks and feels anything but cheap. This imitation leather is very convincing and you’d be hard-pressed to find much difference in comparison with the real leather of the other trims.
Choosing the F-Sport trim adds a strong element of aggression to that interior as well, for instance with a daring lipstick red colour that makes for a dramatic Lexus interior, leagues removed from the traditional Lexus interiors of years past.
The telescopic (and heated) steering wheel can be inclined, and it features audio buttons and paddle shifters. An option you might not even want to consider doing without is the power panoramic sunroof.
The screen harbouring driver data shows each of the gauges separately, however it does strike us as a little dated when you compare to what the competition has been up to in this department – a common Toyota/Lexus quibble. Many rivals are now all about LCD screens, for example.
Ostensibly three-row, but…
In terms of comfort, this Lexus is like every other to carry the Toyota luxury division’s badge in that the seating is super-comfortable, with seatbacks that can incline and armrests that can be retracted. But this state of affairs largely disappears when it’s required to move the second-row seats forward to make it possible to fit humans into the third row.
Now, technically, the reason for being for this RX L is to meet consumer demand for a version with three rows. And technically, this is what Lexus has accomplished. The manufacturer can now claim to offer a real live luxury three-row people mover alongside the likes of the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Volvo XC90, but I’m not so sure that third row will be such a major selling point for this variant.
Why? Well because it’s a third row in name only. Not only does it eat into the cargo space available, if you want to get real humans back there, they must be of the pint-sized variety. Anyone else you force back there will resent you, perhaps forever.
Meanwhile, the seats are power adjustable but they take what seems like an eternity to move to the desired position. It’s especially fun when you’re standing out in the cold or in the pouring rain…
Notwithstanding the pint-sized third row, it’s apparent in a number of details that this here is a premium vehicle.
Perhaps the biggest reason the Lexus RX has for so long set the pace in the luxury crossover segment, it that it offers a rich recipe of standard features, one that grows every year.
The interior of the 2019 thus now features wireless smartphone charging, and a Lexus 9-speaker audio system that can be opted out for a Mark Levinson 15-speaker system.
The standard infotainment screen is an 8-inch touchscreen, but it too be swapped for a massive 12.3-inch number. Also optional for the second row is a display system that can run two videos at once, in case you need help keeping the kids from fighting on a long road trip.
Now, while hat 12.3-inch screen is big and beautiful, its reaction time leaves something to be desired and it’s not as precise as it could be –making for an occasionally frustrating experience when using the navigation. In this regard, Lexus is still far behind its German rivals.
One glaring hole on the equipment list, even as an option, is the absence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Part of the long-running saga of Toyota and the makers of these apps struggling to get it together. Sigh…
In terms of safety, the Lexus Safety Sense + is included standard, so that you get active assistance functions like a pre-collision system, lane departure warning, automatic high beams and dynamic cruise control.
The 2019 RX L comes with two powertrain choices. The first is a V6 generating 295 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque with all-wheel drive by default and a 9-speed automatic transmission. The other is a hybrid system powering the RX 450h; it gets a similar V6 backed by two high-torque electric motors, with a total output of 308 hp.
On the road
The RX L is undeniably an excellent everyday driving machine, one that delivers a super-smooth ride.
The model also comes with different drive modes to adjust the driving experience at least a little to your preferences and different driving situations. These are Normal, Eco and Sport – self-explanatory. Take note though the F-Sport version comes with an extra Sport + mode.
That F-Sport configuration also brings with a livelier roar from the exhaust system, noticeable within the cabin, and it’s unexpected when you first hear it. Still, though, it doesn’t really change the character of this very quiet SUV.
The steering is light in the hand, but oddly it feels more alive when you drive in Comfort than in Sport mode.
Eco mode, which is found in every iteration of the 2019 RX, certainly helps reduce fuel consumption, at least a little. But it also impacts power and the responsiveness of the vehicle, so get ready for a much more sleep-inducing driving experience!
So those miniature extra seats we discussed earlier? They come at a price! While the regular RX starts off at $57,920, the price of entry for the stretched version is $68,820. Pick the hybrid and you’re looking at $71,150 for the 5-seater, but a whopping $80,170 for the 6- or 7-seats configuration.
We’re harping on the issues with that third-row seating, and it’s merited (otherwise we wouldn’t do it!). But that doesn’t negate the fact that the Lexux RX L is much more versatile than the RX has ever been before. Overall, the interior of the 2019 RX is up-to-date with today’s premium-vehicle standards and expectations, with the one caveat being the infotainment system that could perform better. Still, this is a vehicle that impresses with its high-end interior and with that super-smooth ride you’ve come to take for granted from a Lexus.
Its new, more imposing look
That comfort level is maintained in the L version
We like less
The infotainment system could be more reactive
A third row of limited utility – unless you fold them down