By on October 1, 2012

The days of the six passenger sedan are officially over; with the death of the current generation Chevrolet Impala, the front bench seat is now gone from the North American marketplace.

Only 10 percent of Impala customers ordered the bench seat option, at a cost of $195. Bucket seats are now the sole choice in all automobiles, but GM’s Clay Dean revealed an interesting nugget while speaking to Automotive News

Dean said bench seats carry a nostalgic factor, and he doesn’t rule out their return in smaller cars.

“There is certain nostalgia for bench seats, like being able to snuggle up with your date at a drive-in movie, and some customers still like them,” Dean said.

Maybe this is a previously-unknown part of GM’s Generation Why marketing strategy? If so, it’s a damn sight better than, well…everything else they’ve done.

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84 Comments on “RIP To The Front Bench Seat...”

  • avatar

    A friend rented a cube van for a move this past weekend – even these no longer come with a front bench seat.

  • avatar

    My father in law will be disappointed. Kinda sad, my kids won’t be able to stuff 5 of their friends legally into any car. Of course, I’ve got 16 years at least, maybe the bench will return!

  • avatar

    Did anyone really use the middle up front as a viable seating area? Growing up it was only used in a pinch, even then, Dad would prefer 4 wide in the back than have some kid jabbing him in the ribs. The only real use for a bench seat is when you want to be close to your lady. Personally I just hated not having a good armrest on the right side. Bucket seats and center consoles are much more comfortable IMO.

    • 0 avatar

      As a kid growing up in a family of bench seat sedans, we sat 3 wide in the front remarkably frequently. Usually mom and 5 assorted kids.

    • 0 avatar

      My 98 Blazer had a bench front seat and the armrest that doubled as a backrest for that middle seat was plenty comfortable (and had great storage since it was so big). And although it wasn’t the most comfy thing in the world, when we needed to bring 6 people somewhere at once, my car was the one that was chosen because I could legally do it.

      It was also very nice for getting close to your girl

    • 0 avatar

      I just bought a truck as a family vehicle specifically so I could get a bench seat. I hate, ABSOLUTELY hate centre consoles and can’t think of a bigger waste of space than a narrow, hard plastic cubby hole that can barely hold a pack of gum and a wad of kleenex tissue. My wife loves the bench seat because it provides a place to sit her purse rather than between her legs on the floor and I can’t believe more women don’t see the beauty in this. There is an extra seat if you’re ever in a pinch and the centre folds down to provide an arm rest if you want one.

    • 0 avatar

      While Dad would most likely prefer not to have a child in the front seat, it was often a default manuever to separate warring siblings. I expect that smaller families along with the proliferation of 3 row seating and in-vehicle entertainment systems have greatly reduced the need to resort to this solution.

    • 0 avatar

      Depends on the car. There was still plenty of elbow room in my Dad’s Chrysler Newport.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Date-snuggling is the #1 reason one would prefer a front bench seat instead of buckets. Of course with a “three-on-the tree” so one may have unrestricted access.

    • 0 avatar

      Alternatively, a column-shift automatic lets you keep your arm around your partner.

    • 0 avatar

      MY number one reason for wanting a bench seat is getting a column shift that gets rid of the huge center console. Accelerator pedal room is getting too small for anything over a size ten shoe, and there’s utility in being able to safely get out of the car on the passenger side. Face it, buckets are easier to install, and pre-empt the government nannies’ urge to require a third front seat air bag.

    • 0 avatar

      Cake has a great song about bench seats – here are some of the lyrics:

      Stickshifts and safety belts
      Bucket seats have all got to go
      When we’re driving, in the car
      It makes my baby seem so far
      I need you to be here with me
      Not way over in a bucket seat
      But when we’re driving in my Malibu
      It’s easy to get right next to you
      I say Baby, scoot over please
      And then she’s right there next to me
      I need you here with me
      Not way over in a bucket seat

  • avatar

    The bench seat died when drive-in movie theaters went away.

    • 0 avatar

      My 1974 Dodge Pick-up had one of the most comfortable bench seats I can remember. One of the advantages of a bench seat on long highway trip is that you can wiggle around a bit, and put you legs in several positions, and just keep driving! You were less “confined”, but that could be a good thing!


      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        What really makes modern cars feel confined are the huge center stacks and consoles. When the car companies began switching to FWD one of the selling points was the greater front leg room as a result of the flatter floors. This adavantage has been lost entirely because this extra floor space is now filled with a wide center stack and a wide, tall console.

      • 0 avatar

        I have found the same thing. I don’t mind driving long distances, but a bench seat allows one to shift around, bending your spine this way and that, moving pressure from here to there…it offers a lot of relief. Being in a snug bucket seat for 8 hours is medieval. That 1969 Imperial Coupe I had my eye on is looking better all the time.

  • avatar

    Don’t worry, until Cash for Clunkers or some other car confiscation initiative come along, there will be an endless supply of 90’s Buicks with the plushest front benches you’ve ever seen.

    I’ve owned quite a few front bench equipped vehicles and always made use of the feature from time to time. Front bench equipped vehciles I’ve owned from what I can remember:

    ’90 Taurus
    ’87 Olds Custom Cruiser
    ’87 Buick Regal
    ’88 Cutlass Supreme
    ’91 Cutlass
    ’94 Caprice
    ’97 Suburban
    ’87 F-150
    ’03 F-150
    ’96 Intrepid
    Several Ford Panthers ranging from ’83 to ’01
    Probably more but can’t remember.

    • 0 avatar

      ’65 Impala
      ’71 Chevy pickup
      ’72 VW bus (optional 9-pass version)
      ’84 Toyota pickup, center position worthless.
      ’88 Ranger pickup, same as Toyota due to floor shifter.
      ’93 Chevy pickup
      ’94 F-150
      ’05 Tundra

      Has the Avalon discontinued bench seating? I thought of that one before the Impala.

      I thought the whole point of FWD was increased room. Why do so many larger FWD cars have huge center consoles just to hold an electric shifter? I remember dad’s Olds Toronado had flat floors and huge white vinyl flat bench seats.

    • 0 avatar

      I was going to say, the current gen Impala has one heck of a nice bench seat – if you can find one.

  • avatar

    According to the GM web-site you can still get a front bench in the Suburban. With that monster you have a 9 passenger vehicle. So yes, it’s gone from the sedan world, but you and your date can still cuddle up driving a Suburban.

    • 0 avatar

      The Big 3 still offer them on pickups.

      The bench seat I disliked the most were the 50:50 split… At least when the front seats weren’t lined up.
      But when you’re a kid, you date not complain about that stuff, because dad is next to you and you’re first in the path.

      • 0 avatar

        As a someone driving a 1999 Toyota Avalon, I can say that split bench seats are the bee’s knees. I’m rather tall (6’3″) and the people that I drive with are often rather short. I suppose a split bench isnt hugely comfortable for the middle person, but frankly, if youre in the front middle seat youre not going to be comfortable anyway.

        I am a young person towards the official tail end of the Millenials. When I say I drive an Avalon, my peers say “what’s that?” But when I tell them that my car has front bench seats they emit an expression of awe and wonder why no other cars seem to offer it. I think that the front bucket seat got pushed as a sporty luxury, and as domestic automakers sought to become more sporty and European in image, they heaped the front bench into the dust heap. I think that if a manufacturer really puts their mind to it, they could successfully advertise front bench seats as a plus, not a negative. It would be pushed as an extra seat available on the fly – a more social car.

        Front bench seats could be the new bucket seats ;)

    • 0 avatar

      I was just about to chime in about the Suburban bench seat… of course, the last one I drove was my parents’ 1998 Suburban back in high school, and in the 6 years we had that lemon, the only time I ever remember the front bench being used was one day after swim practice when the bus didn’t show up and we ended up with 10 swimmers and bags going back to school (myself included, as the driver). It was tight, but with a 3-4-3 seating, and bags stacked to the roof behind the 3rd row, it was entirely do-able.

      The AWOL bus driver was replaced and we never had to do that again though.

    • 0 avatar

      While there may be a front bench in the Suburban, there’s still a huge protruding console with the radio and HVAC controls in the way. I’m not sure the seat is any more spacious than the one in the outgoing Impala.

      If I were to buy a column-shift W-body, I think I’d go used and buy the first new generation Impala, when GM renamed it from the Lumina. The front bench look usable in those cars.

  • avatar

    The bench seat never needed to die. The third and fourth gen models of the Taurus/Sable have a “fake” bench seat, which is really just the bottom of the center console when its flipped over. Fully upholstered, it essentially just connects the two bucket seats together. It is an amazing feature that has come in handy when I’m the D.D. (My daily driver is a 1997 Sable). I’m shocked no other automaker copied the design.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      I must say, that the bench seat you describe was a wonder of design. My mother’s 1996 Taurus had it and, although I did not care for that car much, I gotta admit that said bench seat design was indeed brilliant. I’m surprised nobody else copied it.

  • avatar

    “I need you here with me, not way over in a bucket seat. I need you to be here with me, not way over in a bucket seat.” – Cake from the song Stickshifts and safetybelts.

  • avatar

    Yeah, you’ve never lived until you had to ride a couple of hundred miles as the middle passenger, with another six-footer on your right, and the 5′ 4″ car owner driving with the seat pulled forward almost all the way.

    On the other hand, I will say that I appreciated the bench seat on my father’s 1950 Packard on date nights at the drive-in.

    • 0 avatar

      Nash “make out” seats were even better. The front seatback folded all the way flat. Dad’s ’63 Rambler still had that feature.

    • 0 avatar

      I know just what you’re talking about. I spent my childhood riding around with Mom driving(5’0″). I’m not extremely tall, but every ride after 12 years old seems like my knees were tucked under my chin,

  • avatar

    in 1997 i drove from kentucky to the yukon for work in a 2wd ford pickup (dont ask). i was absolutely amazed at how comfortable a trip that was because of the bench seat and no center console or damned stick coming out of the floor. just me, a bench seat and a transmission hump. this in a regular cab pickup – definitely not an extended cab. i could find any one of a number of comfortable positions to sit in because of the flexibility allowed by a bench seat and the ability to stretch out or put my foot up on the hump.

    if i was confined to a bucket seat with my feet always pointing forward i would have gone INSANE. no doubt about it.

    about a year after that trip i looked for a new vehicle that had a bench seat and a manual transmission. unwilling to suffer the mileage provided by a pickup i soon gave up that search and settled for a row-your-own and a bucket. to this day i regret that my choices were limited.

    • 0 avatar

      You could have got a Tacoma with a bench and manual, but I found mine to be very uncomfortable for long trips. Also the regular cab made me very claustrophobic. And shifting into 5th meant hand-knee contact with any passenger you might have. Okay, I can see why you didn’t get one.

      • 0 avatar

        My friend had a first gen Nissan Frontier with bench seat and manual. Only had to sit in he middle a couple of times. 5th gear didn’t bother nearly as much as 2nd and 4th.

        Had a rented F150 once in early 90s for 2 weeks while car was in body shop (thought truck would be fun)and loved riding with my dog next to me on bench seat. Many years later taking road trip in our minivan with new twins. Wife had to sit in the back to keep babies happy while dog road in the passenger seat. Got lots of funny looks at rest stops.

  • avatar

    What I loved about my recently-sold 2004 Impala was the 60/40 split front bench. I basically wanted dad’s 1966 Impala again, and that was the closest I could come to it. Column shift, too.

    My new 2012 Impala is buckets all the way, BUT – the center console is pretty narrow and allows me more than enough “wiggle” room on my lousy daily commute.

    I know in the TTAC community, there is little love for the W-bodies, but I love ’em and I will miss them, that’s why I bought a new one.

  • avatar

    I love bench seats. I love the amount of room they impart. In addition to the aforementioned advantages for the proximity of your significant other, you can also slide out the passenger side of the vehicle when parked on a busy and/or narrow street.

    Of course I also don’t carry a purse (or satchel?) and innumerable electronic gizmos, nor I do consume food or beverages in my vehicle, so I have no need for centre consoles or other grotesque appendages jutting into my driving position, which is the classic Spread Eagle.

    Now that this is a lost cause, perhaps we can attack the superfluous giant console shifter on vehicles. The dial on the 8-speed Dodges is a step in the right direction. However, for pure auditory and kinesthetic joy I still enjoy pulling up on the column shifter into P when I pull into a parking spot or the like.

  • avatar

    When I had my 05′ Dodge Ram, the bench seat was never really used; I always kept the center console/backrest/armrest down. I only did once when I picked up a piece of antique furniture, and it began to storm, so the back seat was taken up, and me and my two buddies had to use the front seat. It was very comfortable, minus having to use my buddy as an armrest for 2 hours. The bench seat will be missed here in America.

  • avatar

    I was under the impression that a with a third passenger in the middle, it was hard to get the airbag system to protect that person adequately.

  • avatar

    ““There is certain nostalgia for bench seats, like being able to snuggle up with your date at a drive-in movie, and some customers still like them,” Dean said.”

    OK….so where’s this mythical drive-in movie theater? They’ve all but vanished from the landscape for the most part.

    True there is 1 that is very close to me, with another being about an hour away. But in the age of Netflix and Redbox, the remaining drive-in’s will vanish just like the bench seat did…probably to make way for another subdivision (as if the current unsold houses are enough of an eye sore) or a strip mall with empty stores.


    Our last “family car” that had a bench seat was 1977 Impala 2 door “Aero Coupe”. I remember on a few occasions fitting 6 people in that car.

    My Dakotas on the other hand fit 6 people on more than one occasion. Man I miss those trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      There are a few drive-in movie theaters out there if you look for them. One example is Galaxy Drive-In south of Dallas in Ennis, TX.

      What really killed the Drive-In was daylight savings time. A drive-in needs hours of evening darkness.

      I’ve owned a car with a bench seat plus driven many others. The bench seats I’ve experienced lacked lumbar support and were generally uncomfortable for long trips. The big plus was having my date sit close to me.

      Cake “Stick Shifts and Safety Belts”

  • avatar

    I won’t miss it. I really only have one fond memory involving the split bench seats in a 77 Cougar XR7, and a very cute cheerleader named Sandy.

  • avatar

    1994 Contour got within about 6 months of being launched with a bench seat and a column mount auto trans selector, that is, until, product management realized nobody wanted such an arrangement. After that the PDL was revised to delete these features and have 100% bucket seats and center console.

  • avatar

    I suppose the bench seat is useful in the places where the roads have no curves in them. Here in New England, you end up hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life, especially with super-slick US-style plasticized leather. I find most all American car and truck seats painfully uncomfortable, and these couch seats 10X so. No support, and why would you want to be sprawled all over the place? You are supposed to be DRIVING!

    • 0 avatar

      +1. All things being equal, I prefer a good deal of side bolstering, both for comfort and to hold me in place.

      • 0 avatar


        My daily driver is an ’11 328i Wagon, so I think not. I have driven it up to 16hrs at a stretch (Berlin to Stockholm) and found the seats superb. Power and premium, but not sport – I don’t fit in the sport seats, nor do I have any need for them.

        The car I was refering to was my Grandmother’s God Awful ’85 Oldsmobarge 98 Pregnancy that I was cursed to drive my senior year of High School (when it was all of a year old). And a WIDE assortment of bench seat equipped rental cars. Note too that I am a rather large example of humanity, at a very long-torsoed 6’2″ and 350lbs on a good day. I fit about perfectly in a 3-series.

        Having owned 30-odd European cars, I have yet to find an American or Japanese car than can equal the worst of them for seating comfort. My Peugeots were simply in a class by themselves. And having rented cars 30+ times a year for nearly 20 years, I have driven about everything under the sun from America and Japan.

        Sounds like maybe YOU picked the wrong car. :-)

      • 0 avatar


        You mentioned: “Sounds like maybe YOU picked the wrong car. :-)”

        Yeah, you could be right. But that’s why I have 4 vehicles: each does its own thing best.

        And it seems to be common understanding that out-and-out sports cars are not necessarily the most comfortable for long-trip, highway driving. For example, I have a friend with a 997-verison 911 Carrera: he loves it for cornering and short adventures, but hates it for “over the river and through the woods” to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving….10 hours away on I-90!


    • 0 avatar

      krhodes1 and bkmurph…

      I used to drive all over eastern NY, western MA, and Vermont with several bench-seat cars (and trucks); and never had a problem sliding all over or “hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life”.

      Methinks you may be driving too enthusiastically for the type of car you have?

      I should note that I do have a BMW Z4 [see avatar], and fully enjoy being sardined for 1-2 hours of ruthless driving, but I DO NOT enjoy that car on 5-hour trips using major boring highways with cracked expansion joints or undulating concrete plates. Give me a squishy, sink-in-able bench seat and a big ol’ Buick Vista Cruiser any day for that type of trip – even if it has moderate curves! (^_^)…


  • avatar
    Volt 230

    As cars narrowed the front bench seat gave way to the overgrown consoles which negate any benefits of FWD configuration, I fondly recall the good ole days of bench seating on long trips where you did not need a van to carry 5 passengers.

  • avatar

    From what I understand, GM is planning to continue the manufacture of the W-Body Impala as a fleet queen–which makes sense when you consider the fact that this car has paid for itself hundreds of thousands of times over. So the bench seat has a chance of living on, unless GM decides to cut it from the options list, which seems likely…

  • avatar

    Never fear, with the ever expanding width of the average American butt there’s going to be market pressure for wider and wider seats until they evolve, like a duck’s webbed feet, back into a bench.

  • avatar

    I love bench seats, my last two cars had them (1996 Fleetwood and 2009 Grand Marquis), but, I now have buckets for the first time in 6 years. That said, in a Mustang, they’re fine, a car like this is supposed to have them.

    Bucket seats just seem like such a useless waste of space in a sedan though, especially since center consoles just seem to keep getting bulkier and bulkier, and in some cars, are starting to seriously intrude on leg room for the driver.

    A bench at least eliminates the temptation to stick an obese console in the way, guaranteeing the driver a modicum of personal space. Plus, you have the advantage of knowing that you can always take a 6th person along if you ever really need to.

    And don’t get me started on console shifters in automatic cars, especially ones that aren’t at all sporty or equipped with manual up/down abilities. A column shifter is perfectly fine if all you need to do is “set it and forget it” in “D”, and gets rid of the main incentive to pork up consoles.

  • avatar

    When I think ‘bench seat’ I always imagine busted-up, patched-up vinyl. Good riddance.

  • avatar

    If anybody mentioned dogs, I missed it. Even a good sized dog can be comfortable on a bench seat. Even two dogs. Bucket seats don’t work for dogs unless they’re the size of a large cat. Not many things make a dog, and caretaker, happier than riding together on a regular basis. Open the door, the dog jumps in and the pure joy begins.

  • avatar

    I was just thinking how nice it was before every car had a huge center counsel and a floor shifter. I want a bench seat and a column shifter.

  • avatar

    Unless something has changed, you can still get an F-150 Supercrew Lariat with a bench seat and column shifter.

  • avatar

    Hmmmmmmmmmmm a 2012 Impala with the 3.6VVT DI V6, bench seat, and column shift now seem like they’ll be a curiosity at a car show 30 years in the future.

    A vehicle with direct injection, thumb shifters, bench seat and column shift? It’s like the engineers from the 60s got to duke it out with the engineers of 2010+ and the Impala was the result.

  • avatar

    I will miss this. Although I didn’t use the one on my old ’02 Tahoe too frequently it had its uses. It cleared up room in the car so I could put a sweater or some object there.

    I know TTAC, being a car website, is mostly male, but I know women really liked the gap between the middle seat and dash, because they could put a purse there.

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Europe gets the Honda &FR-V the Fiat Multipla with 6 seats with 3 individual seats in both rows. Stick or Automatic, air bags and all. Why do we need to kill it and not do the same escapes me.

  • avatar

    I have a first generation (2008) Honda Pilot. This car is really a tall station wagon with AWD, even the shifter is in the steering column, just like station wagons from the 70’s, when I was a kid. I’ve always wondered why a front bench was never offered as an option in this car.

  • avatar

    “There is certain nostalgia for bench seats, like being able to snuggle up with your date at a drive-in movie, and some customers still like them,” Dean said.

    One of the two remaining drive-in theaters in Twin Cities proper just shut down the other day to make room for a Wal-Mart. I long for bench seats (in inexpensive large Detroit iron like old), but just as drive-ins, people would rather have a spot to hook up their iPod so they could watch a Netflix movie in 3G in traffic on I-494. Drive-ins (and it saddens me deeply to say this) are dead.

    I agree completely with the nostalgia aspect, but I just can’t imagine cudding up with the Mrs. watching Transformers 10 at the drive-in in a Spark with a front bench. Just sayin’…..

    • 0 avatar

      There’s at least one fairly successful drive-in in the Toronto area. Pretty much every weekend throughout the summer, cars line up down the road both ways waiting to get in, and all three screens fill up nicely. Given how it’s no more expensive than the multiplex, but with the second (or third) movie thrown in free, and the ridiculous concession stand prices aren’t an issue, it’s popular with families.

      I just don’t know if the Spark is the best example though. Hatches are pretty drive-in friendly if you turn them around. I’ve had my Accent there this past Labour Day – we flipped the back seats down, threw some cushions back there, and really got to stretch out. I’d still like a bench seat in it though, as the four inch wide console is useless.

      • 0 avatar


        The Spark was just an example (as opposed to Impala). Personally, i’d rather take my ’12 Accent hatch, pop it open, fold the seats flat and…well…:)

  • avatar

    Have my 2001 Avalon with leather bench seat & column shift safely tucked away in the garage. Inherited from my mom when we had to take the keys away from her. All the old guys at work want to go “cruising for blue haired old ladies at the Senior Living complex” in it.

    When I drive it down the highway, its like riding on a cloud. The best Buick that Toyota ever made.

    Want a new Avalon with bench seat? Too bad, the bench option went away with the 2005MY Gen 3 Avalon.

  • avatar

    How much of this is a result of seatbelt laws? Locally the cops are rabid about enforcing them. What’s the point of having room to stretch out, if you get hit with a ticket whenever you do?

  • avatar

    I still remember asking a guy why he bought a LS-6 Chevelle with a manual and bench seat.

    His exact words were.

    “You can’t F.*.*K with bucket seats”

    Original owner stories, gotta love ’em.

  • avatar

    I too will miss the bench (particularly the split bench) as its just more practical than a bucket seat. My previous vehicle, a Roadmaster Station Wagon had one and it came in handy in a number of situations. I thought about ordering one for my Suburban, but GM wouldn’t let you option the bench seat with leather interior, so I got the buckets. At least the Suburban still retains a column shifter so the center console is still useful for storage.

  • avatar

    Side bolstering on F-150 benchseats make them a perfect fit without feeling crowded by a console that my knees would knock against. I can’t remember ever carrying a center passenger, but a center console with shifter is just out of place in trucks.

  • avatar
    Rick S

    I can’t help but see this as one more strike against the ‘family sedan’. People like the convenience of knowing that they can fit 6 people in their car, but now must buy a crossover/suv/minivan/truck to do so.

  • avatar

    Guess I’ll never buy a new car. I currently have a ’93 Town Car which is very comfortable and I really hate bucket seats. They have never been comfortable in any car I’ve driven.

    • 0 avatar

      I hear you, loud and clear.

      The most comfortable seats I ever had weren’t even in a car: they were the bench seats in a 1974 Dodge Truck!


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