Piston Slap: Design Talk On the Bench

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap design talk on the bench

TTAC Commentator Halftruth writes:

Hey Sajeev, maybe this has been covered before, but as I read thru new car reviews here on TTAC I see that every car maker has left out one of my fave features: the bench seat! I see these huge, gaudy, dust collector consoles in between the two front seats taking up leg and knee room! Am I the only one that misses the bench seat? And column shift? Say it ain’t so! I know they still exist on trucks to some degree but for me, my pref is a good ol’ bench seat. I prefer the 60/40 split and do think they are quite comfy (I am reminded of my years in a 96 Intrepid). I am sure the manufacturers are simply responding to market demands but what do you think? What does the B&B think? Am I sounding like a dinosaur here?

Sajeev Answers:

Oh, they are still out there. Take the Chevy Impala, Buick Lucerne and its Cadillac DTS sistership. (please) Except the Impala (for 2011) is now listed as 5-passenger only, ditto the once column-shifted Toyota Avalon. Plus we had Panther Appreciation week for a reason. Too bad all these vehicles are out of date: I have a hard time not wishing for “What Could Have Been.”

So are we screwed? Yes, at least in the short term. As a child of the 1980s, I remember when we had variety! American cars looked American, Japanese cars were clearly Japanese, and only serious performance vehicles were fitted with a console/floor shifter in their meager (yes, meager) interior dimensions. There was a vehicle for every taste, but alas, it couldn’t last.

I think the bench seat (preferably of the split/flight variety) shall make a comeback when space and value become a bigger concern. The challenge for Detroit, our bench seat flame keepers, is twofold: realizing that their seating history deserves a better home than their fleet queens, thus embracing the concept of making a platform–from the ground up–entirely in America for the American market. Hey, if it works for the American spec Camry and Accord, why not try it with a real American manufacturer with real American values?

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

And here’s proof. There was a middle ground for console and bench seat fans, perfect for anyone but the die-hard manual transmission enthusiast. Perhaps you need a smaller vehicle, good on gas with plenty of space for a family. And maybe you tote an extra kid (or three) during carpool season, but loathe the idea of owning a three-row CUV. Or you’re just a randy soul who wants your significant other right next to you at all times.

Behold: the cutting-edge design of the 1996 Ford Taurus. Yes, it looks like a catfish on wheels, but the design bones underneath targeted the high content vehicles made by Toyota at the time. So when the fishy Taurus hit the streets, it came armed with something rather awesome: a flip-fold center console with storage for cups, notepads, pens, cell phones, etc. It was an impressive piece of kit, winning an IDSA award to boot. Industrial Design gurus remember it well, even if they’d rather forget the sheetmetal.

And if Ford kept up this good work, there’d be a nice place for your iPod with a tasty little SYNC badge on a flip-fold console, folded away so your son and four of his friends can get a ride to school. But no such flip-fold console provisions existed on Mazda or Volvo platforms, so that piece of American ingenuity died when the American Taurus left us in 2006. And that’s a damn shame.

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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2 of 64 comments
  • MadHungarian MadHungarian on Nov 22, 2010

    I have owned some HUGE bench seat cars, like a '74 Electra and a '77 Town Car, but even then the front middle seat got very little use. However, those cars did feel a lot roomier to the driver and shotgun passenger. The best are the 1971-76 GM fullsize cars with "fuselage" body styling; the doors curve away from the seats right at elbow and hip level, giving you the same room to roam on the door side as well. Oh, and bench seats don't hold you in place in the corners? Get a 70's car with velour seats. Problam solved.

  • Mazder3 Mazder3 on Nov 23, 2010

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but couldn't the new Ford Taurus Interceptor or Dodge Charger Pursuit be converted into a bench, if buyer demand was there? Both are column shift.

  • Charles I had one and loved it . Seated 7 people . Easy to park , great van
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  • Alan I would think Ford would beef up the drive line considering the torque increase, horse power isn't a factor here. I looked at a Harrop supercharger for my vehicle. Harrop offered two stages of performance. The first was a paltry 100hp to the wheels (12 000AUD)and the second was 250hp to the wheels ($20 000 (engine didn't rev harder so torque was significantly increased)). The Stage One had no drive line changes, but the Stage Two had drive line modifications. My vehicle weighs roughly the same as a full size pickup and the 400'ish hp I have is sufficient, I had little use for another 100 let alone 250hp. I couldn't see much difference in the actual supercharger setup other than a ratio change for the drive of the supercharger, so that extra $8 000 went into the drive line.
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