The Lexus RX series is built using a recipe that’s been refined for two decades, and has set the bar for what a mid-sized SUV should be. For 2018 Lexus sought to punch it up a little with the Lexus RX350L. What is the RX350L? Essentially, it’s a seven passenger version of the trusty RX. They added 4 inches to the car, a third row seat, and tacked an L to the end of the name. But is more always better?
The RX sports a hard-edged futuristic aesthetic thanks to a facelift in 2015. 20 inch wheels fill out the geometric wheel openings. This car was coated in Lexus’ Atomic Silver paint, a handsome color that allows sunlight to play on the hard lines of the RX body. A sculpted rear side window gives the illusion of a floating roofline that tapers toward the back of the car. The LED headlights peek around corners when you turn the steering wheel after dark. Love it or hate it, the car’s looks are cohesive from front to back. There are no mismatched design elements.
Even though the RX 350L grew by a little over four inches, legroom actually dwindled all around. Space in the front and second row was sacrificed for the addition of third row seating. In Lexus fashion, the interior materials and build quality are all high quality. I especially liked the treatment the console received. The inlaid wood curves up on the right side of the gear selector. It looks like something that you might see on an Italian yacht.
The driver is treated to a very clear heads up display projected on the windshield. In the dash, a large infotainment screen displays stereo, nav and vehicle information. The lovely console is home to a not-so-lovely, wholly Lexus tech interface. It’s a dead horse, but I’ll beat it again. It’s bizarre and impossible to use while driving. There are other, more practical ways to communicate with an infotainment system. That concludes this rant, if you’d like to read more you may do that here, here, here or here.
An armrest in the second row seats is home to charging ports and a pair of cup holders that unfold origami-style. Legroom in the second row is an issue. At the push of a button, the cargo floor transforms into the third row. Once unstowed, the seats offer zero legroom. The second row seats must be moved forward to allow the rearmost passengers any semblance of space for their lower extremities. Unfortunately, this compromises leg space for second row passengers. What you’re left with is not a solution for fitting more folks, but that a debacle of discomfort; a balancing act of constriction.
Acceleration is strong and smooth thanks to a 290 horsepower V6. An eight-speed automatic distributes power to all four wheels. Cornering is predictable and the ride quality is very good. Smallish windows and substantial sail panels make it difficult to see out when changing lanes or backing up. A $1,800 gaggle of sensors feed the driver information about what’s surrounding the car.
Since its inception in 1998, it’s been really good at being a midsize SUV. And up until now, it has set a precedent for what a luxury SUV ought to be. However, more and more brands are building excellent, comparably-optioned midsize SUVs, with a more approachable sticker price, I wonder how long Lexus will stay at the top of the stack.
Let’s face it, even when priced at $10,000 above similarly optioned non-luxury competitors, there will always be a market for this car. Under the flashy skin beats a venerable Toyota heart. Despite the leg room issues and silly infotainment interface, this is still a well-sorted, comfortable midsized SUV. People are willing to pay for that L on the front and back of their car. It’s been around long enough to become a staple in many driveways. For many folks, nothing else will do.
It’s no secret that Kia has stepped up their game where quality and comfort are concerned. And with six trim levels to choose from, it’s likely there’s a version of this midsized, three-row, seven seater for nearly any budget. So, how does this top of the heap Sorento SXL measure up in such a competitive segment?
From the outside, the Sorento looks good. It’s conservative and well-proportioned. The chunky hood lends an air of gravity to the front end and makes the car look slightly nose heavy and even minivan-ish from some angles. The B and C pillars are blacked out to give the illusion of one large window along the side of the vehicle. It’s nice to see that KIA’s design team hasn’t gone with some iteration of the floating roofline that’s so popular today.
19″ chrome wheels don’t look oversized on this car thanks to the high window sills. The back of this car looks especially well thought out. The transition between the quarter panels and the rear hatch’s curved glass is a smooth one. Oversized tail lights bookend a relief in the “hands free” liftgate that looks like it could have been borrowed from a Lexus. The clever liftgate opens automatically after three seconds if you stand next to it.
Inside, the Sorento is clean and classy. The heated and cooled front seats are trimmed in Terracotta colored Nappa leather. They are as comfortable as they are handsome. The console and controls are logically arranged and there’s an eight inch touchscreen in the dash. The touchscreen is a display for everything from the Harman Kardon stereo, to the navigation and surround view monitors.
The SXL’s navigation interface is easier to use than many of the systems in other vehicles. Apple Carplay and Android Auto come standard on all Sorentos. Bluetooth connectivity and multiple charging ports make it convenient to stay plugged in.
The second row seating is spacious enough for adults and is car seat capable. It’s probably safe to assume most Sorentos will see service hauling kiddos. It’s nice to know there’s room for them and all their kiddo accessories too. If a road trip is on the agenda, the panoramic sunroof makes seeing the sites even easier.
As is the case with many mid-sized SUVs, the third row seating is cramped. It should be reserved for little ones and adults who are adept at yoga. There are airconditioning controls available to third row passengers so they’re not crowded and hot. The second and third rows fold flat to create an open cargo space.
The Sorento SXL has a 290 hp 3.3 liter V6 mated to an eight-speed automatic that will scoot the car to sixty in about seven and a half seconds. The transmission is not as crisp as the offerings from other brands. For nearly 300 horsepower I expected a little more when I flat-foot the accelerator.
Steering feel is good and the ride is smooth. There is noticeable body roll in the curves, but it’s not out of hand and it can be forgiven because this is an SUV after all. The ride is a little noisy for a vehicle in the SXL’s price range. And the power delivery is a little coarse and underwhelming from the V6 and it only gets 24 miles per gallon on the highway.
This car with these options will set buyers back $47,480. That’s comparable to other similarly optioned SUVs in its class. However, lackluster fuel economy and somewhat grainy driving characteristics make it a questionable value at this trim level. That said, should anything go wrong with it, Kia’s 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty can’t be overlooked.
The base model Sorento L starts at $26,000. It has a more efficient engine, Apple Carplay, third-row seating and the great warranty. This could be the better value. Relative to previous Kias, this marks a level of comfort and sophistication that many would have doubted Kia would obtain.
In such a competitive segment the Kia Sorento can’t just be a good Kia, it must be good value too. When optioned up the way this one is, it feels like it’s a little too closely priced to the competition for what it delivers.