I used the flight level change feature for all climbs and descents, and it does a great job, even in up- and downdrafts over the mountains. If vertical speed mode (which it and a lot of other autopilots have) is used, the airspeed will vary. But that is not the way we fly. In FLC mode, airspeed is held constant and the vertical speed varies with the ups and downs, as it should. The Columbia is one tough Utility Category airframe, with a positive limit load factor of 4.4 Gs and a maneuvering speed of 158 knots, so even in the bumps while descending I had the FLC on 158 and there it stayed as the vertical speed ranged from barely down to 1,500 feet per minute down. For more descent rate, the speed brakes can be used.
Then there is all that other stuff that we have come to know and love, such as an active traffic system, an approved ground prox and complete XM Weather. Jepp charts will be available for viewing sooner rather than later. There is an airspeed limitation with altitude (above 12,000 feet) that used to be on a placard. It is now automatically computed by the G1000.
You remember how, when asked what equipment was in an airplane, we would rattle off a long list of KLNs and KXs and GNSs and KFCs? Now, G1000 covers it all. Ads in Trade-A-Plane will certainly get shorter.
Columbia production is at one airplane a day and most are currently 400s, which brings an almost $100,000 premium over the normally aspirated 350. Who buys the airplane? A lot of new pilots as well as experienced pilots, especially twin owners who want to step away from some expense with no performance penalty. Some nonpilots are buying the airplanes and hiring someone to do the flying for them.
At the end of a nice day with it, I rather felt like I had flown a G1000 to I69 and back. It was part of a fine airplane that is propelled by what is probably the best and most advanced turbocharged piston engine that we have ever seen for this class airplane.
Now that what is going to be the ultimate in avionics for quite a while is in place, what might Columbia do to provide a next level? Retracting the landing gear probably would not be worth the added weight and expense. I'd like to see a minimum of two pounds of pressure in the cabin, which could probably be easily done. That would get the airplane up into the mid-teens, above the low-level traffic and below the turbines, without any oxygen requirement. Someone asked me if I could come up with one word to describe the G1000 Columbia 400. I thought about "neat" and "cool" and "complete" and "integrated" and "fast" and "pretty." Then I dismissed them all and decided on "airplane," because the Columbia 400 is truly what an airplane should be.