My first entrance into the PA-46 world was with a 1989 Mirage. I developed a love affair with the airplane because I am motivated by efficiency and performance. I loved the fact that I could take off in Texas and land in Virginia in less than 4 hours in cabin-class comfort. So…should you consider a Mirage? You can look at the performance and see if it meets your mission profile…I’ll try to relate some of the intricacies that may sway your decision accurately.
—-Also, you should probably read my post, “Thinking of buying a Malibu?” as it has a lot of info about the Mirage, especially since they have the same airframe. I’ve not re-hashed some of the information that applies to both airframes—
Upgrade from the straight Malibu: Obviously, the engine on the Mirage is a Lycoming. I’ll talk more about that later. The other major difference is the interior, which is a very nice upgrade, with a few exceptions. The windows have nice pleated shades that usually work well, the back seat is a bench seat that is more comfortable. I’ve never seen anything but leather in the Mirage. My favorite upgrade is the pilot and copilot seats which recline nicely for the taller guys (like me). The only upgrade that really was not an upgrade is the door mechanism. The Mirage has a cable system to let the lower door down and this system constantly breaks. The straight Malibu has two simple chains to raise and lower the door and it, being much more simple, has little to break. Recently the newer Mirages come with a system that does not use the cables and it is much better. All of this nice interior comes with a weight penalty, and this weight penalty deteriorates climb and takeoff performance as compared to the straight Malibu. Something to consider….
Airframe: The Mirage is the same airframe that was used in the straight Malibu, and that is a serious compliment. Unlike any other airplane in its class, it was designed specifically for this application, not adapted from a previous model (like the C210P). It is a wonderful, well designed, and performing airframe. The beefy structure with lots of fuselage ribs translates into a high pressurization differential, and also provides a high level of safety in a crash scenario. You simply have more aluminum to protect the the life capsule.
Engine: I’m not sure of all the reasons that Piper went from the Continental to the Lycoming engine, but I’m not convinced it was an upgrade. There is 40 more horses under the hood, but most people don’t use these horses except for takeoff. The early years had lots of problems, mainly with the crankshaft. All of the cranks have been changed by now, but the engine suffered a lot of bad press and cost a lot of owners a lot of money. The bad press for the Lycoming engine has lingered for many folks and today there are some that simply do not like the engine. I’ve had one engine failure in flight in a Lycoming (see other post), but I fly a Mirage regularly still and think the engine is solid, at least solid enough so that I would not steer anyone away from the engine. So…I’m not averse to this engine, but I’m not the biggest fan either. Lycoming and Piper have demanded a lot from this application; there’s a lot of engine stuffed under the cowl. The basic engine is used on other airframes, but those applications use less than 350HP. The Mirage demands a lot from the TSIO-540, and it delivers…usually.
The worst part about the engine is the efficiency. It is designed to operate a peak TIT, and the POH still recommends you do so, but literally no one in their right mind does this. If operated at peak, the TIT and CHT’s are just too high for any cruise power setting over 65% HP. So, it is an unwritten requirement that the Mirage be operated rich of peak, which results in fuel burns of 21-23 GPH or even higher at times. Compared to the lean of peak (14-16 GPH) operation of the Continental powered straight Malibu, the Mirage is a fuel hog. Compared to any multi-engine airplane of comparable speed and range, it is an efficient and strong performer.
Pressurization: Easily one of the best features of this airplane, the pressurization works wonderfully. At 5.5 psi differential pressure limitation, the Mirage can easily operate in the 20’s.
Avionics: The early Mirages came from the factory with steam gauges and individual avionics that were good for their day. Today, the ample room on the panel supports modern avionics for most Mirages from the early years. For those that have a more recent year model, the panels from the factory have evolved to glass and are absolutely incredible.
Late model conversion to JetProp: In case you have not figured it out, I like the Mirage, but love the straight Malibu. However, there is one airplane I love even more…the PA-46 JetProp conversion. This is such a beautiful conversion and every owner should keep an eye on the horizon for the day they may upgrade the engine to a turbine. The best airframes to convert are the late model Mirages. Considering conversion, you probably want an airframe that has low hours and an interior that you already like a lot. The late-model Mirages all have really nice interiors and most have really nice avionics. So, if you are shopping for a Malibu and think you may be able to swing a turbine upgrade one day, then you probably want a late model Mirage. This is one of the few times that I would pick a Mirage over a straight Malibu.