The rich Nightfall Mica blue paint on this 2018 Lexus RX450hL appeared as deep as the Pacific Ocean; it also coordinated nicely with the blue “h” badges worn by all Lexus hybrids. The Stratus Gray perforated semi-aniline leather seats beckoned us inside the extended-length version of the Lexus RX hybrid, where we ran our hands over the padded dashboard and door panels and marveled at the dark Gray Sapele wood trim, replete with inlaid aluminum strips. This is one of the best-looking, best-equipped, and, at $60,015, priciest RXs ever to pass through our hands—and it made a strong first impression.
But like a dazzling Hollywood starlet waving from the red carpet who’s hiding a secret, this top-of-the-line Lexus RX450hL harbors an inner conflict.
For one thing, second-row captain’s chairs—usually a premium feature on three-row crossovers—are standard, which means you can’t get a second-row bench if you wanted one, and seating is for six passengers, maximum. (A second-row bench is available on the nonhybrid RX350L.)
That’s only one more than the two-row RX450h’s head count of five. But the thing is, the RX’s third-row seats are a total joke as perches for people. Their scant 22.6 inches of legroom effectively requires that second-row occupants scoot their seats forward if the third-row seats are to be inhabited by anyone but kids. Little kids. Sitting cross-legged. If the captain’s chairs are in their rearmost position, they literally butt up against the third-row seat cushions. At least there is a small HVAC vent with fan and temperature controls in the wayback, as well as a pair of cupholders.
Of course, to sit back there you have to get back there, which is none too easy given that the rear doors are roughly the same size as those in the two-row RX, save for slightly more upright window frames. Had Lexus stretched the wheelbase of the L rather than just adding 4.4 inches of rear overhang, it could have adopted longer rear doors and a larger opening to access the rearmost seats. The third row, the whole reason for the L’s existence, is severely compromised.
The Expected Space for “The Unexpected”
Lexus boasts that the RX450hL offers “even more space for the unexpected.” While there may not be much space for the expected (i.e. third-row passengers), there is more space for whatever chattel one might unexpectedly need to carry.
Compared with the two-row model, cargo space is up by a not inconsiderable five cubic feet to 23 cubes behind the second-row seats. That’s after folding the L’s 50/50-split third row, which is done electrically via a button on the cargo-area wall; annoyingly, a shrill tone blares unless the seatbacks are either folded completely flat or are completely upright—there’s no scooting the seatbacks forward a bit to make room for a bulky item. Fold all the seats and the RX450hL’s space grows to 58 cubic feet. That’s a less remarkable two cubic feet more than the capacity of the shorter RX.
Slower Going, Slower Slowing
The standard-length RX450h is already stunningly porky—the last one we tested tipped the scales at 4857 pounds—and the L’s longer tail and third-row seat add still more mass. This test example weighed 4960 pounds.
Not surprisingly, acceleration lagged a bit behind the nearly 500-pound-lighter (!) front-wheel-drive nonhybrid RX350L, despite the RX450hL’s 18-hp advantage and all-wheel drive. From a stop, 60 mph comes up after 7.4 seconds accompanied by loud moaning from the powertrain, 0.3 second behind the RX350L.
The extra weight also was felt during braking tests, with the RX450hL stopping from 70 mph in a lackadaisical 195 feet compared to the RX350L’s 183 feet. On the skidpad, the all-season Michelin Premier LTX tires wrapped around the RX450hL’s 20-inch wheels held on with the same 0.78 g as the Bridgestone Ecopia H/L 422 Plus tires on the RX350L’s 18-inchers—neither is a terribly impressive result, but the hybrid’s is even less so given its lower-profile tires.
But the hybrid should at least get stellar fuel economy, right? Eh, not in this case. Our 21-mpg observed fuel economy fell far short of the EPA’s 29-mpg combined estimate. We did only 1 mpg better (22 mpg overall) in our test of the two-row RX450h.
There are some upsides here, however. For starters, the front seats are sublime, trimmed in fabulously soft leather and featuring power-operated cushion extenders and four-way lumbar support, all part of a $3935 Luxury package that also includes the aforementioned interior trim, 20-inch wheels, automatically dimming outside mirrors, and more. The seats were also equipped with heating and ventilation for another $1080. The second-row captain’s chairs lacked the power gizmos but did feature a heat function and were superbly comfortable as well.
We still don’t love Lexus’s floating finger-pad controller, used to access its app suite and fine-tune the climate-control, the 12-speaker premium audio, and the navigation system—the latter two included as part of the $2120 Navigation package, along with a 12.3-inch center display—but the rest of the dashboard is pleasantly designed and rendered with upscale materials. Cool white light illuminates the door pulls and various places on the dash and door panels. And outward sightlines are excellent, at least for the 180-degree field of vision in front of the driver, thanks to thin pillars and large side windows.
On the road, the RX450hL’s waft game is strong, as this Lexus quietly renders most road impacts as nonevents. Driven calmly, the RX is entirely pleasant. But its dramatic body motions, the accelerator’s lack of linearity, and the noise at high revs make more energetic driving no fun at all.
The standard driving aids are generally welcome, with the lane-keeping assist in particular impressing us with its ability to maintain a precise position in the center of a clearly marked lane with an occasional firm tug at the wheel, but not one that would be noticeable to a passenger. Our test example also came with the useful $1065 blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and a $200 hands-free function for the power liftgate, although the latter is an expenditure we could probably skip.