Best Choice for a Family Carrier
SUV: the traditional soccer-mom vehicle
We know there has been a growing hate for this type of vehicle in recent years, mostly because of their below-average fuel economy and their above-average size. We perfectly understand the flipping-the-bird attitude most road-clogging humongous vehicle that only carries its driver gets, but this position is not always accurate. Some SUVs do get good fuel mileage (the Ford Escape Hybrid jumps into mind as the perfect example, with a 34/31 mpg highway/city EPA estimate), while others don't carry that much useless metal (think about the compact Honda CRV or the Volkswagen Tiguan).
When thinking about buying an SUV for family vacations, apart from the allocated budget you should take into account facts like fuel economy, exterior size over interior space ratio and ergonomics. You shouldn't jump at buying a 16mpg Chevrolet Suburban just because it can carry your family of five and have enough room for the next-door neighbors, plus their pets. Plus, some SUVs are more family-oriented, while others are more of a status-symbol (Hummer H2, Caddie Escalade and Lincoln Navigator anyone?). Base your buying decision on what you really need from an SUV, and don't forget thinking about its downsides.
Initially just family-friendly vehicles derived from vans who usually carried cargo, the minivan has become a crucial part of modern family transportation. Now we have car-based minivans who offer the space and ergonomics of an airport shuttle but the handling and safety of a medium sedan. The range of choices is slightly larger than that of the SUV category, as well as the “public's acceptance” on roads.
The regular downsides found in these vehicles are similar to those of the SUV, most of them occupy too much space on the road and don't exactly have decent fuel economy (inherent to their overall size). On the other hand, the exterior size over interior space ratio is probably the best of any family hauler. If you don't have a huge family there are compact minivans also, like the Volkswagen Touran or the Honda FR-V (neither available in the US though).
Station Wagons have almost disappeared from almost all family's buying choice in recent years, and mostly because of the sales rise of crossovers, compact minivans and small SUVs, which offer almost the same fuel economy but are safer (All-Wheel-Drive SUVs) and roomier (minivans).
Still, they remain a more than logical choice considering they are the closest thing to a normal car from the bunch, while offering sufficient cargo space and ergonomics to entertain a family of four or five. The car-like handling, exterior size and fuel economy are still strong sale points, plus, some of them are even available with all-wheel-drive (Volvo V50 AWD rings any bells?).
In the end, the choice remains yours, but please take into account more than just looks and price when thinking about buying a third car that is most likely to be used only on long-trips and vacations with your family.