From a business perspective, General Motors' strategy of re-trimming a basic platform and selling it across lines should be commended. It cuts research, development and assembly costs, and, theoretically, spreads a good vehicle across a wide spectrum of buyers. But, as we've learned in the past, it can sometimes spread the automaker a little too thin.

GM has been doing this for ages, perhaps most notoriously in the 1980s with the J-platform Buick (Skyhawk), Cadillac (Cimarron), Chevrolet (Cavalier), Oldsmobile (Firenza), Pontiac (2000/J2000/Sunbird). Even the most died-in-the-wool GM enthusiast has a hard time telling them apart from 10 feet.

So it was with some trepidation that we approached GM's latest Lambda platform SUV, the Chevrolet Traverse (pronounced Truh-verse, not Tra-verse, unlike the Michigan resort town). First launched as the GMC Acadia, the platform spawned Saturn (Outlook) and Buick (Enclave) variants before the General slapped a bow-tie on the grille and called it a Chevy. For what it's worth, the next-generation Cadillac Escalade will almost certainly ride on this platform.

What's notable?

The Traverse is the least expensive of the four Lambdas, starting a hair under $29,000 for a front-wheel-drive model, about $400 less than the next-closest Outlook. GM says it is aimed squarely at soccer moms, but we suspect the GMC and Saturn demographics are about the same.

Traverse gets unique interior and exterior trim, as well as specific suspension tuning. We had the opportunity to drive the Traverse and Outlook back-to-back and our seat-of-the-pants impressions suggest that the Traverse might ride just a little softer than the Outlook, but the difference is really negligible.

Firm, accurate steering surprised us, though the body leans heavily in corners even for a large crossover. The Traverse has no problem getting up to speed and seems to be geared for acceleration. Its 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 is as sweet here as it is in the Cadillac CTS. GM claims that the Buick Enclave is the quietest of the quartet, but despite back-to-back drives, our ears detected little difference.

Where the Traverse will likely conquer cross-shoppers is its combination of unique style and its low base price. Traverse takes its interior and exterior style from the Malibu - not a bad starting point if you ask us. A similar "in your face" grille and sporty tail lamps give the Traverse more flair than its simpler Saturn and GMC cousins. Like the Saturn and GMC, however, the Traverse does a poor job of masking its length from the side. Long doors and short overhangs make it look a bit like a stretched limo, a trait we noticed during a Quick Spin in the Saturn Aura.

Climb aboard - it's not too high of a step - and the Traverse greets you with an interior again inspired by the Malibu. A two-tone, dual-cowl-style fascia adds some style to a class of bland-by-convention interiors. The materials choices won't make you think you're in a Maserati, but they're fine for the price and seem durable enough to hold up to the abuse likely to be inflicted by the rugrats of the aforementioned demographic.

The view out the back is unnecessarily obscured by a wide D-pillar and short last-row windows. Blind-spot rearview mirrors - like the kind we've seen sold at truck stops for ages - help the situation a lot and we hope GM spreads the feature across its lineup. Either that, or we hope automakers stop designing family cars with massive blind spots.

The middle seat is roomy and offers an optional center console that will almost certainly be coated in Juicy Juice by the time the odometer clicks four digits. A surprisingly roomy third row is easily accessible thanks to one of the best folding seats we've encountered. One lever flops the middle seat up and moves it forward, revealing a wide path to the third class seats. Adults should have no problem getting in and out and the space is sufficient for short trips. That last bench is sparsely padded, however, and wouldn't be comfortable for anything more than a 15 minute ride. The seats fold out of the way easily when not in use, revealing a flat and wide cargo space. Even with the third row up, there's room for groceries and small duffel bags full of soccer equipment.

Traverse strikes us as the best of the Lambdas - due primarily to the fact that it costs less than the others. The Saturn and GMC have a hard time making a case for the extra cash they demand. Dealership location and certainly sales practices are probably enough to pursuade many buyers into parting with a few more Benjamins by buying the Outlook and Acadia.

Still, the fact that all three are so close to each other in price and design makes them obviously redundant in our eyes.

Fortunately, unlike those J-Bodies, most of which have rusted away, the Lambdas are impressive vehicles that make way more sense for most families than thirstier, poorer-handling and riding big SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe. Compared to their peers from other manufacturers, the Lambdas are top-notch efforts highlighted most by the latest value-laden entry, the Traverse.

2009 Chevrolet Traverse LT AWD (2LT Package) base price, $38,025. As tested, $39,495.

Rear DVD player, $1,470.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.