The Cessna P210, on the other hand, was a big success. Cessna sold more than 800 of them, though it is not a cabin-class airplane, but rather a pressurized version of the 210, which was an outgrowth of previous Cessnas. And as much as folks like the P210 (and continue to like it), its speed and cabin paled in comparison to the Malibu, which was a clean-sheet design.
How Piper achieved those two critical goals — speed and cabin size — was not easy. The wing is beautiful, long and thin — 43 feet long in fact; be careful for signs and snow banks. The cabin was intended to compete with those of cabin class pressurized piston twins of the day, like the Cessna 421 or Beechcraft Duke, and it did just that, for single-engine pennies on the big-twin dollar.
The cabin is still recognizably a PA-46, but its barely-post-disco styling and sparse creature comforts make it look positively antique compared with the cabin of today’s airplane.
So it’s all too easy to forget what a trailblazer the Piper Malibu was. Today we take the concept of pressurized singles — even turboprop singles for granted, but in 1983 few pilots were ready to take that step. In his first review of the airplane in Flying, Richard Collins talked at length about the features a high-flying pressurized single would need to safely travel at the flight levels and he correctly identified several trouble spots for the airplane in the years to come — the exhaust and intake systems, the weather radar and the anti-icing system, which was de-activated on early airplanes waiting for FAA approval. Collins went so far as to suggest that if he had a Malibu, he might take it upon himself to get the system up and running pending FAA approval.
The airplane was outfitted with a beautiful King Silver Crown avionics package with full autoflight capability and flight director. The radar was indeed soon upgraded optionally to a wing-mounted pod from the unsatisfactory in-wing transmitter. Piper was listening. While the avionics system looks old fashioned by G1000 standards, it is still today a capable system.
The wonder of the Malibu was its economy. Collins reported that the airplane got nearly 200 knots on right around 17 gph. That was 20 knots faster on the same fuel flow as the P210 and with a much better cabin, the latter detail being my observation long after the fact.