The prototypical Malibu pilot steps up from a Saratoga, Cirrus, or a Cessna 210. All want more speed, most want pressurization, and none want the aviation budget to be stretched too far. Any multi-engine airplane will break the budget insofar as operational costs (comparatively speaking) especially any multiengine that is pressurized, turbocharged, or a turbine. So, what airframe is comparable to the Malibu? Honestly, nothing. But, the closest airframe is probably the Cessna P210. Notice I’m using the term “Malibu” and not Mirage, Jetprop, or Meridian. The Mirage, Jetprop, or Meridian all cost more than a comparative Cessna P210, and should not be compared. But, a Malibu can be purchased for under $300k, and that is the closest purchase price to a Cessna P210. Someone looking for a Cessna P210 might look at a Malibu.
I flew a Cessna P210 for about a year, so I’ve got a couple hundred hours in the Cessna P-210 and feel like I can leap into the gap and make some comparisons. Although the P210 is a fine airplane, a P210 and a Malibu are two very different animals. Here’s my analysis and reasons to consider one over the other for purchase.
Pressurization: Huge advantage to the PA-46.
The biggest difference between these two airplanes is the pressurization, and the fact that the Malibu was made for pressurization. The P210 pressurization is a rather poor system (Max Diff of 3.35) that was adapted to a highly successful unpressurized airplane. At best, the P210 pressurization is weak. Consequently, the Malibu pressurization is the absolute best part of the airplane (IMHO), as the airplane was designed originally for pressurization. It rarely breaks, is highly reliable, and, at 5.5 max diff, is substantial. A comparative flight at FL200 demonstrates that the Malibu has a cabin pressure of about 5000 while the P210 will have a cabin pressure that will crowd 10,000, nearly high enough to require oxygen. You’ll rarely if ever fly the P210 over the mid-teens. You’ll fly the Malibu in the upper teens and low 20’s all the time in comfort.
Performance: Huge advantage to the PA-46.
The P210 is really heavy for its airframe. While the T210 is singularly fantastic (for an unpressurized airplane), the P210 is a bit of a pig concerning performance. Many T-210 pilots move up to a P210 thinking everything will be better, but it is not. The P210 is heavier, has a wing that is made for lower altitudes (and doesn’t perform well up high), and is much slower. The range on a Continental-powered Malibu is nearly DOUBLE that of the P210. This translates into a pilot having the ability to load the Malibu with 1/2 fuel, leaving the additional payload for people and stuff. So, a Malibu pilot can load up 5 people, a bunch of bags (in both the front and back baggage areas), and go WAY farther than a comparably loaded P210. The additional range means that a pilot almost never has to push fuel limits on a long cross-country. The Malibu is far more capable.
Cabin size: Huge advantage to the PA-46.
The Malibu is far better for your passengers. There is no comparison between the two in terms of passenger space and amenities. The Malibu is a true 6-place airplane cabin-class airplane, and the P210 is certainly not. The Malibu is quieter, larger, has more shoulder room, and far more baggage space.
Ease of flight controlling: Neutral advantage.
You don’t have to be Chuck Yeager to fly either of these airplanes. They are both easy to fly. Neither has “nasty habits” or an “achilles heel”.
Support: Slight advantage Cessna P210.
Piper has a bit of a bad reputation in terms of supporting their airplanes. But, this must be buoyed by the fact that the PA-46 is still in production. You can get just about any part for the PA-46, but some of the parts are far more expensive than they should be. There’s probably plenty of gold-plated P210 parts out there too, but Piper seems to have a gold-plating machine in their parts department that is used extensively.
Holding value: Advantage PA-46.
The simple fact that the PA-46 is still in production makes it hold its value. Read this report from VRef, a popular aircraft valuation service. Don’t miss the part of that report that discusses the importance of current production for aircraft value.
Icing capability: Huge advantage PA-46.
The Malibu has really good icing capability. Although I don’t recommend a pilot fly in moderate icing, the PA-46 is rated to do so. The system is robust and reliable. Not all P210’s are FIKI capable. Some are, but none have nearly as robust a system as the PA-46.
While all of this sounds like I’m biased toward the Malibu (and I am as it is a better all-around airplane) there a few reasons I’d get a P210 over a Malibu.
* If you are an extremely large person, you may have trouble getting into the Malibu. The space between the front seats is small and large people have trouble fitting through the opening. Plus, there’s a spar that must be negotiated. You’ll need to be of reasonable stature and reasonable flexibility to fit into a Malibu. Once in the seat, there’s plenty of room. But, getting there can be a problem. I’m 6’4″/195 lbs and fit acceptably, but I am on the edge. If you are over 230 lbs or over 6’5″, make sure to get a test flight in a Malibu before taking the plunge and buying one. Remember, the Continental-powered Malibu has seats that DON’T recline. Mirage seats (that recline) can be installed, but at a price. The wide doors of the P210 make is easy for big/tall people to fit.
* Another good reason to get a P210 is acquisition costs. The P210 will cost you less to purchase (if you buy an “N” Model, “R” Models can crowd $300k), but about the same to operate. If you don’t have a $250k budget for acquisition, go for a P210N over a Malibu. Although purchasable at less than $250k, this sum will only purchase a Malibu that will need expensive maintenance soon (needs engine overhaul, TOH, crappy aesthetics, etc.). A P210 can be acquired for less, but only so because it is a lesser airplane, and the market has validated this accordingly.
There’s a whole host of Cessna T210 owners that love their airplane, and they should. The T-210 (not the P210) is one of my favorite airplanes on the planet. But the T-210 is in a different category altogether than a PA-46. The P210 was a rather poor attempt by Cessna to compete with the Malibu, and it didn’t work out so well. We know this because the P210 is no longer in production and didn’t sell in great numbers. I’m cool with anyone buying a P210, but just don’t do so thinking it is as capable an airplane as a PA-46. They really are two different breeds.