Mountain Wheels: Doin’ the Texas two-step in the three-row Lexus RX
I recently spent a couple of weeks in Austin, Texas, both to see what happens when one sweats like they have malaria (social ostracization, plus weight loss) and what out-of-control growth does to a community arguably more progressive than our own Boulder.
Of course, there were cars, as well, and my latter days were spent tooling around the truly nightmarish Interstate 35 as well as cruising the Hill Country in a 2019 Lexus RX 350L, the stretched version of the standard RX luxury midsize crossover/SUV. My all-wheel drive model listed at $54,185 but came to $63,485 with upgraded leather, LED headlamps and an upgraded navigation and audio package.
The RX L, which debuted at the 2017 L.A. Auto Show, answers the question I can imagine more than a few Lexus owners asked: How can I get a three-row Lexus SUV but not have to shell out for the ungainly and really too-big-for-their-own-good GX or the Land Cruiser-based LX models?
To that end, RXL adds about 4 1/2 inches of body and cabin space atop the RX’s standard 109.8-inch wheelbase, producing a 196.9-inch-long, three-row machine that I felt was maybe just a little too big for its own good. Overall, I’d say it’s a slightly misguided effort to provide that just-right, three-row sizing without the unfathomably boxy size gain of its boxy bigger brothers.
Power is also not exactly explosive, as the engine has a 5 horsepower deficit from the standard RX’s 3.5-liter V-6 – producing 290 HP overall, with a pretty slow 8.1-second 0-60 mph time.
This was not a huge issue in Austin as one does not go anywhere particularly fast, given the city’s atrocious traffic, but I did wish for a little more oomph during a jaunt down to San Antonio and their more obvious Texas driving style: full throttle, followed by full brakes, followed by full throttle.
I did have a few Texans earnestly apologize to me for the driving style they demonstrate while doing a sudden nine-point turn on Main Street in Breckenridge – Colorado being a very swell destination for our southern counterparts. But the concerted and systematic paucity of regard they take toward driving, among other facets of daily living, did leave me flummoxed.
So maybe it was good I was in a big, moderately poky Lexus, complete with Texas plates (still got tailgated, nearly run into and flipped off — that’s a universal).
RX is still a very nice choice in the luxury SUV department, and this slightly enlarged configuration promised a higher-capacity compromise, but again came with a few operational issues.
Primarily, the two fold-flat third-row seats needed a complicated set of preconditions to actually work. They’re remote controlled by rocker switches in the rear of the cabin, and mine absolutely refused to lift or return into position without the warning chime being stuck on at full volume — I guess the sliding second-row captains chairs have to be way, way, way out of the way for them to work.
Also, they’re positioned directly under the stowaway tonneau cover and are incompatible, meaning you either get third-row seating and no cover for all that ice cream and Topo Chico in your cargo area, or you can’t use the third-row seats.
That additional body real estate also added a noticeable level of uncertainty to the ride, though I think this particular RX L had indeed seen many miles and miles of Texas over its operational life.
I got a lot of aimless weaving, and holding a lane was sometimes a challenging prospect. Oversized window shades in the longer second-row doors also provided a minor visibility issues while shoulder-checking, which is a thing you do while driving. Bummer.
My slightly disappointing experiences in this 2019-model-year version of the RX also need to take into account the recent arrival of a considerably updated 2020 edition, which will be available by fall.
Up-front and rear fascias have been tweaked to give the RX more of the increasingly aggressive style found on vehicles such as the LC — that is, really aggressive and absolutely massive spindle grilles.
The newer RX models will also have new 18-inch wheels as a standard option, plus available triple-beam LED headlamps, a massive 12.3-inch touchscreen and, oddly, become the first Lexus model to integrate Android Auto, in addition to Apple CarPlay.
The underbody changes are the parts I think I might be the most interested in, based on my mixed emotions regarding the 2019 RXL. Stabilizer bars have been hollowed out but thickened, shock absorbers retuned and dampers upgraded to produce what is said to be a better ride and steering response. More structural rigidity and Lexus’ version of brake-activated torque steering are also supposed to add to the experience.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at email@example.com.
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