Narrowing Down the Choices: Columbia vs. Cirrus

During my research in which plane to purchase, I quickly narrowed it down to a decision between the Columbia and the Cirrus.  Here’s a list of my initial criteria to help me narrow down the manufacturers:

  • Single-Engine Piston – With my experience level (new pilot), I knew I wanted a single-engine piston airplane.  Well, I actually wanted a dual-engine Jet, an Eclipse 500 would’ve done, but they tell me I can’t go to that from a Cessna 172.  So the choices were narrowed down to well-established manufacturers: Beechcraft, Cessna, Cirrus, Columbia, Diamond, Mooney and Piper.
  • New Technology – I wanted a plane that used composite materials for construction due to their strength, lighter weight and lets not forget, looks!  Composites are the future and it just didn’t make sense to purchase an aluminum-based plane with rivets and ugliness all over.  Not to mention the aluminum options didn’t provide any significant advantage, other than having a time-tested design, which I considered a disadvantage.  The looks of planes from Cessna, Mooney, Piper and Beechcraft haven’t changed for nearly 30 years!  This criteria narrowed my choices to Cirrus, Columbia and Diamond aircrafts.
  • Speed – I wanted an airplane that can go fast.  That’s why I’m buying an airplane in the first place: to go fast!  I want to get to destinations faster than if I were to drive there.  This criteria knocked Diamond out of the race.  Although Diamond appears to make great looking composite planes (which are extremely fuel efficient), the performance is just not there.  I don’t want to figure out that I saved an hour on a 4-hour car trip due to head wind.  The Diamond’s DA-50 (not yet in production) would have probably stayed in contention, but the Diamond folks told me it’s a minimum of 2 years away.

So with the choices narrowed to the Columbia and the Cirrus fairly early on, my research began.  Unfortunately, there are no unbiased sources of information on which plane is the better plane.  I tried discussion forums and talking to various owners and all the Google searches I could think of.  The closest thing to an unbiased article I could find is this article by Scott Dennstaedt who is now a Columbia instructor (formerly a Cirrus instructor).  From everything I can tell (including to this day, now that I have my Cirrus SR22), Scott’s article is very fair and thorough.  After reading his article, I became convinced that Columbia makes the better airplane and figured I had my choice narrowed down to the Columbia 350 or the 400.

Demo Flight with Cirrus

Then I scheduled the demos.  My demo with Cirrus was flawless.  I was given the opportunity to fly the SR22 G3 Turbo for a little more than an hour.  The sales rep was extremely pleasant, answered all my questions and had a packet of information that covered everything from insurance (which is ridiculously expensive) to financing (which is ridiculously awesome – 20 years and 6.65%!) to options and pricing.  He was also adamant that the SR22 Turbo was the way to go (more on that in a later article).   Flying the Cirrus had me in love.  It was just so easy to fly.  My only experience prior to the SR22 was around 60 hours in Cessna 152 and 172s, so flying the SR22 felt so responsive and natural.  It was how a plane should be!

Columbia’s Sales Disaster

Next up was a demo flight with the Columbia 400.  From my first contact with the Columbia sales rep, it was a disaster.  My emails went unanswered for days and when I would get a hold of the sales rep, he always had a lame excuse about how his Outlook was not working.  Eventually, we scheduled the demo, which he missed due to a “family emergency” and we rescheduled, which he missed again, due to a “bad mag.”  He informed me of his family emergency 3 days after our scheduled demo time.  Yeh, he stood me up, but hey, I thought it was a family emergency, so I gave him another chance.   About the bad-mag he had the courtesy to let me know 30 minutes after the demo time.  Plus both times, he informed me via email.  It just wasn’t meant to be.  To this day, I’ve never flown in a Columbia.  After the second time that he stood me up, I told him to forget about it.

My bad encounter with the Columbia sales rep wasn’t enough to push me towards the Cirrus.  I knew I wasn’t going to buy from that particular sales rep, but I wasn’t going to choose the wrong plane just because of a bad sales rep.  There were other reasons.  During my research, Columbia happened to have a major issue with their Garmin 1000 systems (although not their fault).  Production of the Columbia aircraft was completely shut down and many of their employees were temporarily laid off.  That didn’t look good.  Further research into Columbia made it apparent that the company’s future prospects were at best, questionable.  In fact, Columbia filed for bankruptcy protection less than a week after I bought my Cirrus.

There was one other reason I chose Cirrus: the Cirrus owners seem to be fanatical about their planes!  If you don’t believe me, take a look at COPA, the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association.  The group has 2600+ members (there’s only 3400 or so SR22s ever made) and the members are extremely active.  Having a group as active, friendly and helpful as COPA definitely helped narrow down the choice.  Just don’t ask them what they think of the Columbia.

Decision Time

When comparing the performance, payload and range, the Columbia had a slight advantage in all three categories, but the advantages are very small and the SR22 has the Columbia beat in a few other small areas, plus the SR22 has the CAPS system (the chute).  But more than anything, it was the company that convinced me.  Cirrus sells 500+ airplanes per year compared to 100+ for Columbia.  A 5:1 ratio.  They have more service centers, including one at my home airport.  The company seems to be far more solid, profitable and responsive.  Their sales rep showed up!  The Cirrus owners are fanatics and they have a great organization, COPA.

That’s why I picked Cirrus.  But it’s not all sunshine and roses.  Stay tuned!

4 responses to “Narrowing Down the Choices: Columbia vs. Cirrus

  1. andrew copeland

    PLEASE tell me more. I want to know the experience you have had now that you have OWNED the Cirrus. I am in the same position you were in, but hear that there are MANY problems with the Cirrus after 2 to 3 years of ownership.

  2. I also went through the same process and have now spent the last two years flying my cirrus. I did however go with the sr20 so I could put it in a leaseback program and of course I do miss the extra 50% of horsepower now and then. At the time I was also swayed by the corporation that backed each of the planes. Now however I wonder if it is time to trade up to a cessna 400 or just skip all that and move to a twin.

  3. we own a col3 and we like its size and range as well as the cabin space

  4. i am doing a project on the cirrus parachite and wonder if you can give me some information on its minimum altitude and its maximum speed restrictions

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