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Were the Lambda-Platform SUVs the Most Ahead-of-Their-Time GM Products Ever?

Fault General Motors in the mid-2000s all you want. It’s not hard to sort through the company’s myriad lineups and pick out cars that shouldn’t have left the drawing table. Looking at 2005 alone, the Buick Terraza, Cadillac Escalade EXT, Chevrolet Uplander, GMC Envoy XUV, Saab 9-7x, and Saturn Ion are all deeply flawed vehicles that GM would rather you forget.

But there was at least one good idea that came out of GM’s glassy skyscraper headquarters in downtown Detroit before the automaker’s 2009 bankruptcy: the Lambda-platform SUV lineup. Ironically, lambda is the 11th letter in the Greek alphabet, and the Lambda crossovers launched just before GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009.

These crossovers were seriously ahead of their time — and they were remarkably good vehicles. They rode on a platform derived from the Chevrolet Malibu platform, albeit stretched to a 119-inch wheelbase and a roughly 200-inch overall length. That meant they took up about the same garage space as a Chevrolet Tahoe, albeit with far more car-like handling and ride qualities, better fuel economy from a smaller engine, and far more interior space than a body-on-frame SUV. Sure, the Tahoe could tow more, and it had some off-road chops, but for the average family in suburban Indianapolis, these were not important factors.

Large SUV

No car-based SUV was as big as the Lambda-platform GM models unless you consider the goofy (and expensive) Mercedes-Benz R-Class or the decidedly more wagon-like Chrysler Pacifica. The Lambda SUVs boasted around 117 cubic feet of cargo volume. In 2007, that space topped every SUV other than the Chevy Suburban and the Toyota Sequoia. Moreover, adults had plenty of stretch-out room in rows one and two. Even the third row could even accommodate 6-foot passengers in a pinch.

The first two Lambdas to arrive showed up for the 2007 model year: the Saturn Outlook and the GMC Acadia. In classic pre-bankruptcy GM style, not much actually distinguished the two, however.

No matter the badge on the front, these were good-value vehicles. A Tahoe started at $35,000 and was rather bare-bones at that level.

GMC charged about $30,000 for a front-wheel-drive Acadia SLE, while Outlook sliced about $2,000 from that price. In reality, dealers charged about the same for either SUV. Sadly, whatever remained of the once-superior Saturn dealer experience was limited. Find a GMC Acadia for sale or Find a Saturn Outlook for sale

Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse

Buick’s Enclave version showed up for 2008 with a $33,000 base price. It boasts a few more amenities and some extra sound deadening. Rounding out the lineup is the slightly less-expensive Chevrolet Traverse coming in 2009.

Though the Lambdas got off to a great start, there were some stumbles along the way. Saturn was sliced during 2010, and cash-strapped GM didn’t have the budget to do much to these SUVs after that. The Acadia was redesigned as a smaller SUV for 2017, but the Enclave and Traverse soldiered on another year. Their 2018 replacements — which are still available today — remain excellent choices, though the competition has started to catch up.

Rivals from Nissan, Honda, Toyota, Kia, and Hyundai are now nearly as large as GM’s biggest SUVs. Find a Buick Enclave for sale or Find a Chevrolet Traverse for sale

Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz is an author specializing in helping in-market consumers get the most bang for their buck -- and the best car, while they're at it. When not virtually shopping for new and used cars, Andrew can probably be found under the hood of a vintage classic that's rapidly losing fluids.

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