Fiat Multipla with bench seat.
1979 Chevrolet El Camino with bench seat.
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The bench seat was the traditional seat installed in American automobiles. This seat featured a continuous pad running the full width of the cabin. The second row of most sedans is usually a bench, unless a console is installed in a luxury model such as the Chrysler Pacifica, as is the third row of most SUVs and minivans, which may be forward, or rear facing.
The front bench typically allowed three people to sit abreast, or six passengers to car, nearly the same passenger load as a three-row SUV or minivan, though with less comfort. The bucket seat arrangement leaves a space between the two front seats, usually occupied by a shifter and hand brake. Originally, bucket seats were associated with imported cars in the 1950s and 1960s. The Volkswagen Bus was originally available with three rows of bench seats seating up to nine passengers, but since then most minivans have been configured to seat seven or eight with front bucket seats.
Even in the United States, the bucket seat has largely replaced the bench seat; the bucket is viewed as "sportier", and smaller cars have made the middle position less viable. For high performance cars, bucket seats help keep the driver in place during high accelerations. Some larger cars are still available with bench seats, as are some trucks, which would only be able to seat two if bucket seats were fitted.
Part of the success of the Chrysler K-cars, the Dodge Aries and the Plymouth Reliant, was that by retaining front bench seating rather than adopting bucket seats usually fitted to compacts, they could still function as the six passenger cars they were designed to replace and compete against.
Because the shifter and parking brake cannot be mounted between the seats, the transmission selector or shifter is moved to the steering column, and the emergency brake is activated by a pedal in the driver's footwell.
Bench seats are still common today on pickup trucks. Until recently, they were still favored on large premium sedans, but even in this market they are becoming rare. The Toyota Avalon is among some of the newest models to drop availability of this feature, and models such as the Buick LeSabre replaced by new models such as the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS in which it is offered as an option. They remain standard equipment on the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car. They are optional equipment on the Chevrolet Impala.
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