By Chuck Mai, AAA
Steering column mounted gear shifters disappeared a long time ago, except on some pickups, and now front bench seats in passenger cars are about to also pass into automotive oblivion. Yes, they’re getting kicked by the bucket.
The 2014 Chevy Impala carries the distinction of being the last production car since the days of the horseless carriage to offer a front bench seat. Until recently, bench seats were also standard equipment on the Ford Crown Victoria and the Lincoln Town Car until those vehicles were both discontinued in 2011.
Will we miss the bench? Apparently not. During 2011/2012, only one in 10 Impala buyers chose the $195 option on the LS and LT models. General Motors says they expect the preference for front bucket seats to continue.
“A lot of people prefer bucket seats because they’re sporty, even in models that aren’t sports cars,” said Clay Dean, GM’s director of design. “Our customers also appreciate having the center console as a convenient place to store their phone and other personal use items.” Plus, it appears we’ve become used to those center console cup holders.
The first Chevrolet ever manufactured, the Series C Classic Six of 1911, featured a front seat bench and for decades, American cars were typically equipped with benches. In the days of larger families and one car families, they made sense because they allowed three passengers to sit comfortably albeit cozily in the front seat.
Bucket seats first came into vogue after World War II on small European imports. Not only did they do a better job of keeping passengers in place when making sharp or quick turns, they were necessary to accommodate floor-mounted shifters and parking brake levers in small cars.
By 1962, more than one million U.S.-built cars were factory equipped with bucket seats. Buckets really took off with the “pony cars” of the mid-sixties, cars such as the Ford Mustang and the Chevy Camaro.
Today, the need for six-passenger sedans is largely being met by SUVs or crossovers, which offer seating for up to eight. Chevy, for one, will continue to offer bench seats on pickup trucks and sport utilities.
But who knows? There’s a certain nostalgia for bench seats. Hard to snuggle up with your sweetie at the drive-in movie while sitting in bucket seats. Some experts say we may see bench seats re-emerge someday, possibly in very small cars like the EN-V urban mobility concept vehicle, in which the feeling of open space may be very desirable.