So, The Best We've Seen So Far Is... The Cirrus SR20
Not Exactly What You'd Expect!
Our top bird of the year is not the wonderfully heavy-horsed 310 HP
SR22, oh no. Yeah, we love that thing all to blazes... and the
lovely kick in the ass you get when you drop the hammer on all
those ponies is certainly worth the price of admission.
But, we're trying to meet a lot of specs when we name the very
best in a field that is populated by some very good competition.
And as much as we like the SR22, there is no getting away from the
fact that it's little brother, the SR20, is a hell of a value and
our unequivocal selection as 'Plane of the Year.' Run all the
numbers, balance price and performance AND add to that the fact
that this thing now comes STANDARD with an Avidyne Entegra (the
very height of aeronautical coolness), and you are left with little
choice but to choose the SR20 as THE best "all-around" bird
available to today's airplane buyer.
The $229.9K SR20 does a lot for a 200 HP bird. It's off the
ground in as little as 1,341 ft and over the mythical 50 foot
obstacle in 1,958 ft. A max rate of climb of 920 fpm, matched with
a max cruise speed of 160 Kts and a polite stall (Vs1) comes on at
54 KIAS. With a useful load of 950 pounds, a 56 gallon fuel load,
the SR20 will cruise down (at 10.5 GPH) the road to a maximum range
of 831 nm... and come back to earth (over that same obnoxious 50
foot obstacle in 2040, needing 1,014 ft for the actual ground
Best of all, though, is the comfort factor. The side sticks open
up the cockpit to offer a roomy panorama from which to view terra
firma. Seating is comfy, spacing is downright generous, payload is
acceptable (OK, it could use a bit more useful load), the back seat
is NOT a torture chamber like so many other birds, the bird rides
rough weather surprisingly well for its wing loading, and the
stability profile is simply sweet... with extremely well defined
dynamic properties. Over the years, I've piled up the better part
of 20 hours in various versions of the Cirrus... from the early
experimental prototypes to a full-throated SR22 with every bell and
whistle known to the single-engine spectra.
These birds have shifted the price/performance paradigm in such
an aggressive fashion that everyone else hoping to compete with
these aircraft will have to scramble to keep up. Woe betide those
who continue to try and offer old technologies for today's
prices... That dog simply won't hunt anymore... not after what
Cirrus has done and not with several other companies trying to
knock them off where they are right now... the very pinnacle
of single engine design and manufacturing. If there's a better bird
for the money, I'd buy it... but for the moment, in our opinion,
nothing touches the SR20 in terms of bang for the buck.
New Year's Eve FINAL Addendum: This
selection still holds up... even after the Garmin announcement of
the G1000, and its aggressive adoption by Cessna and Diamond, have
visibly upped the ante. However; the SR20 still tips the scales in
the 'bang for the buck' department and adds the not-inconsiderable
bonus of the fact that Cirrus has cranked out 1000 of these puppies
now and is building one heck of a customer service rep that gets
better with every bird they deliver.
The airplane definitely tips the scales, for now, as the best of
the GA community... but the assets that the company brings to this
formula makes this bird's selection a lock. The Cirrus SR20 is a
damned good airplane... but Cirrus Design is turning out to be the
best GA manufacturer in the business--for now. With lots of
competition coming up the ladder, they're going to have to work
INCREDIBLY hard to maintain such dominance and that means that,
ultimately, the GA consumer is going to win big in the long run.
2003 has been a great year... but 2004 is looking even more
impressive... stay tuned.