The Lexus RX has been standard-issue equipment in mid- to upper-middle class neighborhoods. It’s surprising that it wasn’t sold with an HOA and membership dues.
Until now. Two years ago, Lexus struck out of the tract-home mold and wants to attract defectors who’ve left for sport-tuned German crossovers. The 2018 Lexus RX boldly asks you to consider every sharp shape and sharper F Sport intentions. It also wants you to consider using the new three-row RX L for family duty.
The RX is refreshing, eye-catching, and not quite as polished as in the past. We give it a 7.3 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
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The RX L is 4.3 inches longer, though it rides the same 109.8-inch wheelbase as the standard length RX. It is offered with six- or seven-passenger seating configurations, the latter with a second-row bench seat and the former with second-row captain’s chairs and a center walkthrough to the third row. Rear seat occupants get vents for heating and air conditioning and their own cupholders. The RX L is available with both the standard V-6 and the hybrid powertrain.
The jellybean-on-wheels meme is gone, and the Lexus RX has a jet-inspired roofline (though the RX L has a more upright rear window) and a crazy amount of detail, by old Lexus standards. Adventurous and sleek, it’s also unquiet to the eye, a constant visual interruption of itself. The cabin’s less so, but a couple of sweeping arcs and tony leather and wood trim pitch it to the architecture-as-lifestyle crowd without crowding out more casual users.
The Lexus RX 350 and RX 350L suit up with a 3.5-liter V-6 making 295 horsepower in the RX 350 and 290 hp in the RX 350L. An 8-speed automatic doles out power to the front or to all four wheels.
The librarian’s finger-wag that quieted the RX in the past has been retired. The RX burbles with life, and accelerates strongly. F Sports even amp up intake noises and pipe them into the cabin–the polar opposite of Lexus philosophy, circa 1990.
RX 450h and RX 450hL hybrids have a lower-output V-6, batteries, and motors that power the rear wheels for a through-the-road, all-wheel-drive powertrain. The continuously variable transmission saps the life out of its delivery, but it’s smooth.
Both models span a wider range of road manners, from plush luxury tuning to moderately firm, delivered in F Sports with remapped steering and attentive adaptive shocks.
The standard-length RX seats five, and has exceptionally comfortable front seats, as well as relaxing rear seats with split-fold-recline seatbacks. We haven’t tested the six- or seven-passenger configurations of the RX L. In both body styles, cargo space is plentiful, and fit and finish is good. Lexus applies some avant-garde wood and leather to the RX; the cockpit’s balance and outreach works better than the sheet metal.
All RX crossovers have forward-collision warning systems, adaptive cruise control, and rearview cameras. What they don’t have are identical crash-test scores. The NHTSA scores 5-passenger front-drivers at four stars overall, AWD models at five. The RX L hasn’t been tested, though its scores should be the same.
Lexus fits base RXs with synthetic leather, power features, and cruise control, though the RX L has leather in the first two seating rows. Most models come with real leather, and option packages add on navigation, premium audio, a panoramic sunroof, and rear-seat DVD entertainment. Lexus’ mouse-and-touchpad infotainment is inferior to systems from Volvo and Audi, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are nowhere to be found.