In order to get a fifth seat in there, Cirrus didn’t have to change the airframe. It instead modified the interior side panels, making them slimmer and more tapered. This created a number of extra inches of effective width in back, which allowed Cirrus to perform a bit of magic by creating a bench seat with an extra small seat in the middle.
Whether or not this is a big deal depends on the customer. It’s unlikely that many existing late-model Cirrus owners will be trading in their current rides for a five-seater, unless, that is, they have a need for a five-seater like the new SR22, a four-plus-one. The new option does allow room for five, but not for five adults. You can seat four adults and a small child, or two adults up front and a couple of midsize children and a smaller child in back. For three super-midsize kids, it might be a squeeze in back, but it’s doable and legal, and for short trips, sometimes that’s enough.
Though it’s a common approach in the auto industry, the way that Cirrus designed the rear seating in the 2012 model is new by light-airplane standards. The seat backs are divided into two sections in a 60-40 split. Either or both can be folded forward, and while they don’t lie quite flush with the lower seat surface, they provide a fairly flat space on which to lay soft bags or, if you lay both forward, even larger items like bicycles. (We remind pilots to carefully secure all bags and other objects in any open-space baggage compartment, such as that in the Cirrus SR22.) So you can fold down the smaller side and be left with two seats, or the larger one and be left with one seat in back. The layout gives you a tremendous amount of real loading flexibility.
It came in handy on a few trips. For the first trip, which took us out to central Florida for a gathering, it was just Cirrus sales representative Adam Hahn and I. For that flight, which we completed nonstop at an average groundspeed of 230 knots, we simply tossed our duffels in the baggage area and put our flight bags on the back seat, loading it as we would any other Cirrus.
On the way back, however, our needs were very different, and the new seating option was a godsend. We had, in addition to Adam and myself, a passenger who would be riding back to Austin, Texas, with us plus all of his stuff, including his bags and some work materials. The load meant we could fuel only to the tabs, and the fact that we’d be flying into a stiff headwind meant that we were going to need to make two fuel stops, one in Destin, Florida, and a second one in Louisiana — our eventual choice due to weather, timing and scheduling need was Baton Rouge. It was a long trip, but one that we accomplished in comfort. And the views along the Gulf Coast were gorgeous, which made the headwinds just a little easier to take.
Our stop in Baton Rouge underscored the utility and safety available. We had originally intended to go to a small town in central Louisiana (served by a nice small-town airport) for an early-evening business meeting, but things weren’t looking promising. On the XM’s radar we could see bands of moderately powerful thunderstorms making their way east, moving across our intended destination. There were big breaks in the bands, so traversing them wouldn’t be a problem, but the forecast at our destination, which we derived using a forecast from a nearby regional airport, again via XM, was for storms upon our arrival. From the right seat Adam used the Global Connect phone (through his headsets and without disturbing my flying) to call his contact and let him know our plans had changed because of the weather. On the other side of the MFD, I was busy finding an alternate, Baton Rouge, which was clear and forecast to be so. I called the en route controller, negotiated the change in flight plan and entered it all into the Perspective flight management system using the keypad.