Lexus’ seven-seat RX adds practicality, but only for the smallest passengers
RX450h-L Hybrid gets extra seats in the boot, but they’re pretty small
The Lexus RX450h-L: the combo of big, smooth V6 and the extra torque from the hybrid electric motor means your journey will likely be effortless
Date Reviewed: November 7, 2018
I’ll not lie – it was not an elegant bit of physical movement. As a fan of Strictly Come Dancing, I reckon even if you tied sweeping brushes to Anton Du Beke’s legs and shoved him down a long flight of stairs, he’d still have looked more physically dexterous than I did trying to squeeze myself into the third row of seats of the Lexus RX450h-L.
This is, of course, partly because Anton is far slimmer, fitter and more naturally debonair than I. It’s also because the third row of seats in the RX is really quite small, and designed (at best) for only the smallest members of your extended family.
This is the car that, apparently, Lexus’ US dealers have been hollering for some time. Three-row SUVs are big news in the States (and indeed, everywhere now) and Lexus, for all its American successes, had nothing with which to compete against the likes of Audi’s Q7, BMW’s X5, and the Range Rover Sport. Clearly, this was a situation which could not be allowed to continue.
So, Lexus’ engineers set to work. They’ve stretched the RX450h by 110mm, almost all of it aft of the rear wheel, to accommodate the extra accommodations, and the angle of the tailgate has been altered, making it more upright, which gives a touch more headroom to those in the third row.
That extra length also means that the boot, when those third-row seats are folded away, is massive, with 652-litres of loadspace, compared to the regular RX’s 539-litres. Fold all the seats down and you have a 1,656-litre hole into which to cram things. Do Lexus buyers frequent such middlebrow shops as Ikea? With an RX450h-L, they really ought to.
The extra seats themselves are rather lavishly appointed, so those seated in the way back won’t feel left out. The same rich, Corinthian (with due deference to Ricardo Montalban) leather is the same that adorns those further forward. The middle row of seats has actually been raised up a bit to allow space for people’s feet in the back, and the boot seats even get their own separate heating and air conditioning controls. Oh, and cupholders.
What they don’t get is an actual lot of space. In spite of the re-profiled tailgate, headroom is at a distinct premium, and unless you’re prepared to make major compromises on legroom for those in the middle row, then there’s not much room for your knees either. Basically, if you’re more than 5ft tall, the third row is a no-go. While that’s true too of the BMW X5, it’s not of rivals such as the Volvo XC90 and the Land Rover Discovery, both of which can hold full-size adults in the third row in tolerable comfort.
Pretty darned good
On the plus side, the extra length has been blended really nicely into the RX’s styling. In fact, without a regular five-seat version alongside, I don’t think you would ever really notice. The rest of the car looks identical, and that’s no bad thing. Lexus’ gaping-maw radiator grille and hard-edged styling may not work quite so well on, say, the LS saloon, but here on the RX is looks pretty darned good.
Up the front, there’s much to like too. Quality, as you’d expect from a Lexus, is exceptionally good and so too is comfort. There are some miss-hits - the infotainment system continues to look a little old-fashioned (even though the tech underpinning it is actually cutting-edge) and the trackpad controller makes you long for an BMW E65 7 Series’ iDrive, so awkward and fiddly is it to use. The downside to the impressive levels of refinement is that you’ll more clearly hear the complaints of those squeezed into row three, but hey – Lexus always fits its cars with good stereos, so just turn up the tunes a bit. Our test car didn’t have the optional ear-bleeding Mark Levinson stereo, but the standard sound system is more than good enough.
Row two gets plenty of space, and a big, squashy sofa for a seat, and the RX makes for a genuinely compelling way to cross country.
The combo of big, smooth V6 and the extra torque from the hybrid electric motor means your journey will likely be effortless. Lexus (and Toyota) keeps making incremental improvements to its hybrids’ CVT transmissions, and while there is still some high-rev roar under full acceleration, it’s not as bad as it used to be. That’s partly down to the inherent refinement of the engine (which takes some beating) and partly because there’s enough torque in the system that you romp up to your desired cruising speed pretty quickly. Just don’t expect to match Lexus’ claimed 5.9-litres per 100km fuel economy. We managed 8.0-litres per 100km, which isn’t too bad for a big, hefty car with a 3.5 V6 petrol, and compares well to diesel rivals, as is the 136g/km CO2 figure. The better news is that you spend a lot of your time in town rolling around on silent electric power.
If the RX450h-L has an Achilles’ heel, it’s twisty roads. Handling is good, up to a point. The steering has pleasant weight, if not much feel, and the pliant ride quality means that country roads (as well as urban ripples) are more easily traversed than might otherwise be the case. The problem comes if you start pressing on with a touch too much vim – then the RX’s body control starts to fall apart a bit, and you soon realise that it just won’t corner with the alacrity of an X5. The again, the X5 can’t ride as comfortably as this, so it’s swings and roundabouts.
So while it helps to have the physical dexterity of a Strictly professional (and the height – have you seen AJ Pritchard? He’s either very small or always far away) to be able to use the third row, the RX450h-L hasn’t lost its core appeal (style, refinement, quality) and has at least added a modicum of extra usefulness to its repertoire.
The lowdown: Lexus RX450h-L
Price: €92,550 as tested; RX starts at €82,450.
0-100kmh: 8.0 sec.
Claimed economy: 47.9mpg (5.9 litres/100km).
CO2 emissions: 136g/km.
Motor tax: €280.
Verdict: Extra seats are pretty tight but the RX450h-L remains an appealing alternative to a diesel German fancy tractor.
Our rating: 3/5