Fans of the front bench seat in passenger cars have one final chance to buy what’s about to become a relic in automotive history. Starting with the 2014 model year, the Chevrolet Impala, the last holdout among cars offering a bench seat option, will go to offering front bucket seats exclusively. So get your 2013 Chevrolet Impala with a bench while you can.
If you were born before the era of 17-percent interest rate mortgages, chances are a car equipped with a bench seat was part of your family at one point. The configuration at one time dominated the car market, with only muscular or performance cars offering bucket seats. But as imports grew in popularity, and consumer tastes shifted, the front bench started its long, slow decline, ultimately being relegated to government and rental fleet specials.
For many, this development is a non-event, but for some, it is the end of an era that will be missed. Although bucket seats are considered “sporty” by stylists, and allow for the placement of more features and controls on the center console, the tried and true bench seat did have its advantages. It offered three-across front seating (in theory), although this was generally only a reality on the larger models, as when adapted to midsize and smaller models, it was more akin to a ‘time out’ than first-class accommodations.
Starting in the 1970s, the split-bench emerged, offering the individual adjustability of the driver and passenger seats, usually in a 60/40 split, but still had a hypothetical center seating position. Many split-bench configurations also offered a drop-down center storage armrest that could hold beverages or other items when down, and served as a backrest when in the upright position.
Alas, starting with the 2014 model year, the only vehicles to offer a front bench seat option will be trucks and some sport-utility vehicles. With the discontinuation of the bench seat option in the 2014 Chevrolet Impala, passenger cars in North America will have officially gone all-bucket.
But developments in the automotive world could see the bench make a comeback. As front-wheel-drive has become the predominant drivetrain configuration for passenger cars, and many more manufacturers are highlighting flat floors, consoles and floor shifters are no longer so much an engineering mandate as a stylistic preference.
Also, as urban-oriented vehicles with a “lounge” theme continue to pop up on the show circuit and influence production models with less of an emphasis on speed and handling, and more on comfort, tech integration, versatility and social interaction, swiveling front buckets or front benches could make a comeback.
What are some of your memories of bench seats in cars you grew up with or owned? Are you sad to see the bench kick the bucket on the 2014 Chevrolet Impala, or do you feel its passing is long-overdue?