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Budget BuysBudget Buys

Bottom-Line Four-SeatersBottom-Line Four-Seaters

Feature-loaded models for a budget BOTTOM LINE No customers have requested steam-gauge instruments in the panel of any of Piper's models since 2003, a spokesman said. The low number of SRVs built each year indicates that the average buyer, first attracted by the SR20-SRV's price tag of $199,990, quickly decides during the sales process to move up the line.

Feature-loaded models for a budget

BOTTOM LINE

  • No customers have requested steam-gauge instruments in the panel of any of Piper's models since 2003, a spokesman said.
  • The low number of SRVs built each year indicates that the average buyer, first attracted by the SR20-SRV's price tag of $199,990, quickly decides during the sales process to move up the line.
  • Of the four listed in this article, the Cirrus promises the highest true airspeed, thanks no doubt to its 200-horsepower engine, 20 horsepower more than the Diamond or Piper models and 40 horsepower more than the Cessna 172R.

Two things are apparent when you look at the least expensive new four-seaters offered by the major manufacturers: (1) Glass cockpits have nearly completed their march to the bottom of the model lines, but (2) delivery may be delayed for a few of them.

Three of the aircraft reviewed here are considered trainers, and manufacturers prefer to sell them in batches of at least three or larger. (The Piper Archer sells mostly to individual owners.) But in all cases it's only a short step up to get a more capable cruiser. The base model four-seaters include, in addition to the Archer: the 160-horsepower Cessna Aircraft 172R, the Diamond Aircraft DA40-FP (fixed pitch), and the Cirrus Design SR20-SRV.

The four range in price from $200,000 to $250,000. Bank of America, the company used by AOPA to finance aircraft, estimates your monthly payments will range from $1,412 a month to $1,733 a month, after you pay 10 percent down plus sales taxes. The AOPA Insurance Agency estimates, using a typical AOPA member profile, that annual premiums (based on estimates by several companies) will vary from $1,800 to $3,750 depending on model and hull value.

Cirrus SR20 SRV-G2

The "V" in SRV stands for VFR, making the Cirrus SR20 SRV-G2 the only non-IFR model in our group. It is marketed mostly as an economy model for the individual owner who wants to fly only in VFR conditions, but it is attractive to flight schools that want the lowest overhead possible. The low number of SRVs built each year—six to 10—indicates that most buyers, initially attracted by the SR20 SRV's pricetag of $199,990, decide during the sales process to move up the line. The SRV has an Avidyne Entegra primary flight display and an EX5000C multifunction display like other Cirrus models, and of course a recovery parachute.

The SRV includes a Garmin GNC 420 GPS/com, which, unlike the Garmin 430, does not have VOR, ILS, or glideslope capability. It also comes standard with a Garmin terrain awareness system.

Want to step up? For $257,045 you can get an SR20, without the SRV initials, which adds as standard equipment a dual alternator system, a front wheel fairing, a Garmin GNS 430 GPS/nav/com plus a Garmin GNC 250 XL VFR GPS/com, and an S-Tec 55SR autopilot. Cirrus claims the SR20 will go 155 KTAS as opposed to the SR20 SRV's 150 KTAS.

Of the four listed in this article, the Cirrus SR20 SRV-G2 promises the highest true airspeed, thanks to its 200-horsepower engine, 20 horsepower more than the Diamond or Piper models and 40 more than the Cessna 172R.

As this was written there were only two SRVs at the factory. One was in a crate and headed for Australia, while the other was a 2005 model that happened to be at the factory and was photographed for this story.

Spec sheet

Cirrus Design SR20 SRV-G2
Range 620 nm at 8,000 feet at 75 percent power (includes 45-min reserve)
Speed at 75 percent power 150 KTAS, 11.6 gph
Endurance at 75 percent power 4.0 hours
Price $199,990
Engine 200-hp Continental IO-360ES
Max gross weight 3,000 pounds
Payload with full fuel 614 pounds
Avionics Avidyne Entegra PFD and MFD, GNC Garmin 420 GPS/com. VFR only.
Takeoff over a 50-foot obstacle 2,064 feet

Piper Archer

This year it appears 14 will be delivered, although about 30 have been delivered per year for the last five years. The true base model is the 160-horsepower Piper Warrior, but Piper only builds it for fleet orders. Your order would be added to the group, and that could take months. Chances are somewhat better that you can receive relative quick delivery of a 180-horsepower Piper Archer. At the time this was written, an East Coast dealer had sold one in the past three months, but there were none on the factory floor, a spokesman said. Six were delivered in the first half of 2007.

The price is $229,200, but that is for an Archer with standard instruments, rather than a glass cockpit, and a Garmin GNS 430 GPS/nav/com. That means you still get an IFR-capable aircraft, but no customers have requested steam-gauge instruments for any of Piper's models since 2003, the spokesman said. All Archers today are sold with an Avidyne FlightMax Entegra flat-panel display system, a $50,600 option, for a final price of $279,800. The display system includes the primary flight display, multifunction display, autopilot, standby instruments, and a second GNS 430. Or you can order the top of the line Premium Select Avidyne Avionics package for $68,400. It includes, in addition to the Entegra flat-panel display system, a $6,200 EMax engine indicating system, XM weather ($9,300), and a leather interior.

The profit margin on the Archer, and in fact all smaller piston-engine models, is low, compared to the large six-passenger piston-engine Mirage and turbine-powered Meridian models. It took Piper two years to get 50 orders for those two popular high-performance models when they were introduced, but only six months to get 180 orders for the new PiperJet, the spokesman said. It's easy to understand why Piper's hopes are pinned on the turbine market.

Spec sheet

Piper Archer III
Range 444 nm at sea level at 75 percent power (includes 45-min reserve)
Speed at 75 percent power 128 KTAS at 7,900 feet, 13.5 gph
Endurance at 75 percent power 3.0 hours
Price $229,200
Engine 180-hp Lycoming O-360-A4M
Max gross weight 2,558 pounds
Payload with full fuel 590 pounds
Avionics Garmin GNS 430 GPS/nav/com. IFR capable.
Takeoff over a 50-foot obstacle 1,608 feet

Diamond DA40-FP

The DA40-FP, which comes with a fixed-pitch propeller, is equipped with a Garmin G1000 glass panel and is priced at $245,570. Thanks to the G1000, you are getting an IFR-capable aircraft.

As is the case with the Cirrus SR20-SRV, less than a dozen of the FP models are made each year. The closest DA40-FP to AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland, that could be used for photographs for this article was based at a flight school in Florida. Most customers buy it strictly as a four-seat trainer rather than as an individually owned aircraft. Like the Piper Warrior, the two-seat DA20-C1 occupies the entry-level slot in Diamond's model line and costs $170,000.

As this was written, Diamond was preparing to announce a new "stripped-down" model of the DA40 for individual owners, which retains the constant-speed prop and fuel-injected engine features of the higher-end DA40 model, but sells for $260,000 (down from $339,695 for the DA40-XL). In order to meet the lower price, you'll lose a few niceties compared to the XL, including the leather interior, wheel fairings, and the Power Flow tuned exhaust. According to manufacturer's specifications, the DA40 FP is 16 knots slower at 75 percent power than the DA40-XL.

Since the FP is a trainer, you may have to wait until a flight school makes a large purchase before your aircraft is built.

Spec sheet

Diamond DA40-FP
Range 517 nm, 75 percent power
Speed at 75 percent power 134 KTAS, 9.2 gph
Endurance at 75 percent power 3.9 hours
Price $245,570
Engine 180-hp Lycoming O-360-A4D
Max gross weight 2,535 pounds
Payload 667 pounds
Avionics Garmin G1000. IFR capable.
Takeoff over a 50-foot obstacle 1,800 feet

Cessna 172R

Cessna now offers only the G1000 in all its piston-engine models, including its trusty trainer, the 160-horsepower Cessna 172R. It is likely your local flight school has 172Rs in like-new condition and only a few years old, but with round-dial flight instruments. But the only round ones you'll see in the future are the backup instruments to the G1000 integrated flight system.

Cessna shipped 87 of the models last year, as opposed to 322 of the 180-horsepower Cessna 172S models, so chances are good that if you really want a $219,500 172R you will receive one faster than some of the other four-seater airplanes in this article. This year Cessna will build 140 172Rs, with 90 percent going to flight schools. The next step up, the 180-horsepower Cessna 172 SP, costs $254,500.

The differences between the 160-horsepower Skyhawk and the 180-horsepower Skyhawk SP are few. Both have fuel-injected engines, the SP cruises only two knots faster, and takeoff distances are nearly the same. But with more power, the SP has nearly 80 pounds more useful load and a faster climb rate. Of the four aircraft listed in this article, the IFR-capable Cessna 172 is the slowest and has by far the lowest payload (with full fuel). But it is one of the most familiar to the average pilot and to flight schools, and that may contribute to its greater popularity compared to the other three.

No one is suggesting these are bargain-basement airplanes (although they are quite capable), but if saving money on a new airplane is the goal then bottom-of-the-line models may be the best way to help your financial bottom line.

Spec sheet

Cessna 172R Skyhawk
Range 580 nm at 8,000 feet and 80 percent power
Speed at 80 percent power 122 KTAS, 9.2 gph
Endurance at 80 percent power 4.8 hours
Price $219,500
Engine 160-hp Lycoming IO-360
Max gross weight 2,450 pounds
Payload with full fuel 440 pounds
Avionics Garmin G1000. IFR capable.
Takeoff over a 50-foot obstacle 1,685 feet

E-mail the author at [email protected].

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