Good Night Sweet Six-Seat Sedan

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

The Freep’s Mark Phelan identifies yet another vanishing automotive phenomenon: the six-seater sedan. He notes

The Chevrolet Impala is the only six-person sedan you can buy. Other sedans — regardless of how big they are — have front bucket seats rather than the three-person front bench seat that was once common…

Chevrolet is weighing whether to build a six-seat version of the next Impala. Weighing against it, the car will probably be narrower than the current model. It’s based on GM’s Epsilon II global platform. It’s roomy, but probably not enough to fit three comfortably across up front.

About a quarter of Impalas sold last year were six-seaters…It probably makes sense for Chevrolet to concentrate on giving the next Impala a comfortable and attractive front seat that appeals to the other 75% of its buyers and wins some new customers.

I’m sure that front benches bring back a host of memories for TTAC’s Best and Brightest (mine is of grabbing the Hurst floor shifter in my dad’s 1966 F-100 with both hands and clunking from gear to gear on the way to the dump), and yet somehow I’m guessing that not many will agitate for its return. Like tape decks and carburetor tune-ups, the nostalgia of sitting between two other people in front seat might have a certain appeal in reminiscences, but anyone who actually transports six people regularly these days just buys a crossover. And guess what: the kids might be robbed of valuable future nostalgia (replaced by reruns of Spongebob Squarepants on the rear-seat entertainment system), but neither they nor their parents are likely to choose to go back. And so, we march onward, into an unfamiliar future…

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  • Outback_ute Outback_ute on Jun 26, 2011

    The 1994 EF model Ford Falcon sedan had an airbag specially shaped to protect the centre-front passenger, despite having a lap-only seatbelt at the time. I think they dropped the bench seat in sedans in 2002 as only the few taxi drivers who bought new cars instead of at auctions might have bought them by then, and it would not have been worth engineering an integrated lap-sash belt for that small number. The bench seat & column auto is still available in the utes today with lap-sash belt (since ~2000) although the seat is now fixed between two buckets and I'm not sure on the current airbag configuration. That is the same seat configuration I have on my manual trans ute - no it is not comfortable but beats walking on the few times I've had a second passenger.

  • Bryce Bryce on Jun 27, 2011

    Manual shift on the column is a nightmare to set up Ive spent most of today sorting the 4speed column shift in my old Hillman and yes it works perfectly its just a bloody awful thing to use Im chasing a remote floorshift conversion for it.

    • Car_guy2010 Car_guy2010 on Jun 27, 2011

      Bench seat swill be missed only because they would allow a couple to make out up front instead of in the rear. Especially if the cars themselves are wider.

  • Obbop Obbop on Jun 27, 2011

    Trix aren't for kids... trunks are for kids.

  • VanillaDude VanillaDude on Jun 27, 2011

    What we see today is the results of bad seat design. There has been a evolution away from a functional bench seat for both the front seats, and the rear seats. Front bench seats were not always bad. At one time, cars were designed for three front passengers. To do this meant more than just putting in a middle seat of seat belts. It meant designing the dashboard so that it did not dip down in the middle. It meant designing a column shifter. It meant designing a bench seat capable of seating three comfortably and securely. This was done easily fifty years ago before the advent of the computer age and modern engineering. The idea that it cannot be done today shows ignorance and flaccid thinking. What happened was a generation raised with bucket seats as "sporty" and consoles with shifters as "sporty" have replaced those earlier, older buyers. When full sized cars were threatened with personal luxury and with pony cars, manufacturers offered full sized cars with center consoles and bucket seats to meet this trend. For buyers still in the market for a full sized bench seat, this trend meant fashioning the front bench seat so that it was styled as a set of bucket seats. We ended up with bench seats that lost a comfortable middle seating position, due to fashion. Dashboards also mimicked this trend towards "sporty" cars. The four seater TBird made having a huge console running through a car a design plus, although it's appearance was due to a lack of an ability to engineering a flatter floor. Ford too a problem and turned it into a marketing plus. We have front bucket seats, floor shifters and consoles because of marketing, not because of engineering. We lost three across seating in the front because of marketing, not because of engineering. Today the front three across bench seat is dead, and if you take a look at the back seat - you see the same failed designs turning the rear seat into buckets with a penalty box middle. So after killing the front bench, the back bench is about as dead as the front seats were just a decade ago. Look at the ads. How many auto makers are selling their four door sedans as four door sports cars? The idea is that six passenger cars cannot be considered sporty. Honestly, that is just not trying. What we have here are full sized cars merely mimicking the seating arrangements of smaller cars that are considered sporty, not full sized cars designed as full sized sedans with a clearly differing engineering purpose. I see this trend as a FAIL. A real front bench seat, a dashboard designed to accommodate three front passengers, and a column shifter creates a more spacious interior. Cars were not just wider fifty years ago, this design made them seem wider. Even Japanese cars made their narrow interiors appear more spacious by putting in a front bench. As a guy with more than a touch of claustrophobia, the trend to the closing up of cars in order to meet a styling fashion fad, sucks. My phobia assists me in outing the canards used to justify designing a less efficient auto interior. There are no real reasons why front and rear seats cannot be designed to accommodate more than two passengers. The lack of interior versatility needed to accommodate six passengers on occassion forces buyers into larger, heavier, less fuel efficient vehicles that waste resources. If this trend continues, expect a future posting declaring the rear bench seats dead. We already see the same FAIL back there today.

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    • Outback_ute Outback_ute on Jun 27, 2011

      Don't forget that transmissions have gotten a lot larger (cf. powerglide mentioned above) which hugely impacts the useability, not to mention safety standards which would require at least a lap-sash belt (as would a sense of self-preservation) and airbag.