One of the inevitable trappings of family life is the beloved family vehicle. Though definitely not a two-seater sports car, this kids transporter can take many shapes, with two of the most popular being SUVs and minivans.

    Within the SUV genre, there is wide variety, from some car-based smaller SUVs to truck- based large behemoths. Over the last few years, especially since the days of $4 a gallon gas, the former have become more popular, with good reason. One of the latest entries in the smaller, more fuel-efficient and car-like SUV market comes from Volkswagen: the Tiguan, whose name is a mix of the German (and, apparently, English) words for tiger and iguana.

    The Tiguan is a relatively small vehicle, with a length of just 174 inches, but it offers quite a bit of interior space, especially in the passenger compartment. Up front, driver and passenger are treated to heated front seats and dual automatic climate control with easy-to-use rotary dial controls. The leather-wrapped steering wheel includes audio controls. Interior materials and layout are top-notch, and the cabin is quite pleasant. An optional navigation system is relatively easy to use once you get familiar with it and an available rear-view camera is a great safety feature when reversing.

    Back seat passengers have a surprising amount of room, especially leg room, and even get their own air vents. The large sunroof opens wide over the front and rear seats. What gets shortchanged on space is the cargo area, which is fairly modest with the rear seat up. With the 60/40 folding rear seat down, however, there’s enough room to handle most hauling duties, and the rear seat can be adjusted front and back to allocate passenger and cargo room.

    Driving the Tiguan is a pleasure; the 200 horsepower-turbocharged, 2.0 liter four-banger provides plenty of zip with just a hint of turbo lag. The Tiguan is available with two-(front) or four-wheel-drive and with a six-speed automatic or stick. Handling is very good for an SUV, and the suspension has a nice Teutonic feel. Electronic stability control is standard. Thanks in part to direct fuel injection technology, fuel economy is an impressive 19 city, 26 highway. Power steering is only slightly overboosted, and the brakes assure smooth, sure stops.

    Dean Team VW salesman Shane Jennings says of the Tiguan, “It’s a true, German-engineered SUV, handling and driving like a true German car.” Prices start about $25,000 and can reach the mid $30,000s with options.

    For those with a larger family, a minivan is the ideal vehicle, offering comfortable seating for seven passengers in three rows, plus a decent amount of cargo space. Amenities such as power sliding doors, rear hatch, sunroof, memory seats, three-zone automatic climate control, heated leather front seats, lots of leg room in the second row, rear-seat DVD player, 60/40 third row that folds into the floor, and other modern electronic and luxury options make the Toyota Sienna an easy car to live with, day in and day out. Cargo room behind the third row of seats is decent with the rear seats up, and massive with the third row folded down or the second row removed. A parabolic mirror that swings down from the front roof console affords a wide-angle view of the angels sitting in back.

    The Sienna, too, is easy to drive. Although its power steering is overboosted and a bit vague, there’s plenty of power and the suspension provides a comfortable ride and decent handling. Turn indicators in the side mirrors, sonar parking aids, and steering wheel-mounted audio controls are just a few of the safety features. The 266 horsepower, 3.5 liter V-6 engine drives the front wheels through a five-speed automatic. Fuel economy is 17 city, 23 highway. A newly redesigned, next-generation Sienna is coming this spring and should be in Toyota showrooms soon.

    According to Glenn Ritter, sales manager at Pappas Toyota, “The Sienna is the best all-around minivan available today, and if you can wait a month, it will be even better when the 2011 model makes its debut.”

    Prices for the 2010 Sienna start at about $25,000 and can reach the high $30,000s with top-of-the-line options.

Robert W. Paster is also an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.