Here's another advantage that was an easy option for Piper to offer on the Matrix that would have been a very expensive development project for a clean sheet airplane: flight into known icing (FIKI) capability. Now, FIKI is an option ($55,000), but Piper says that every dealer and retail customer so far has ordered it. The package provides boots on the wings and tail to go along with the prop and windshield heat, heated pitot, ice inspection lights and more.
Our original plan had been to cruise up to Tallahassee, head over to St. Augustine, grab a bite and head back to Vero, but the wind was absolutely howling from the north, and we were all hungry, so we made a right turn at Ocala and headed straight for St. Augustine.
On descent you get another handful of big airplane advantages to the Matrix. For starters, you can get speed brakes as an option, which, again, just about every customer has ordered. The "blades" give you about 20 knots of slowdown and can be deployed right up to VNE. The gear, too, is an excellent speed control device. The gear can be lowered and the first notch of flaps deployed at 165 knots, by which point getting slowed to approach speed is a given. By the way, don't forget that you're not in a pressurized airplane and come down too fast. Neither your ears, nor your passengers', will approve.
For an airplane of its size and wingspan (43 feet), the Matrix is a pleasant enough airplane to hand fly. I asked for and got the GPS Runway 31 approach at St. Augustine and let the 55X fly the T-configured approach all the way to the final approach fix, which it did quite precisely. There was a stiff crosswind, so I got to see how the Matrix handles when cross-controlled - very nicely, it turns out - and we needed not much more than 1,500 feet of the 8,000 available, and that was with minimum braking.
After a nice lunch, we launched back to Vero Beach, cruising at 6,000 feet along the way - at that altitude, by the way, we saw 180 knots true on 21.5 gph (high-speed cruise).
Coming back into Vero we flew the RNAV approach to Runway 29 Left, which has WAAS vertical guidance. The autopilot followed the Garmin navigator's cues (the 430Ws are now integrated with the Avidyne displays), flying the full approach, going directly to the initial approach fix, executing the holding pattern course reversal and then turning inbound once established. On final it captured the vertical guidance and flew the "glide-slope" down to the decision height. (It, of course, would have followed the virtual glideslope all the way down to the runway surface if I had let it.)
I was solely responsible for the one-bounce arrival.
How will pilots stepping up to a Matrix do with it? Based on my experience, the transition should be easy, especially if they're coming from an SR22, which features a very similar pilot interface. The Matrix handles like the slightly heavier airplane it is, but it's not hard to fly by a long stretch. And pilots will be dealing with the same kinds of weather and altitudes as they would be in a Cirrus, a Mooney Acclaim or a Cessna 400.
Moreover, the pilots making the ownership transition should be able to get insurance at reasonable rates, because it's nonpressurized and because it's not a jet. The airplane is a six-seater, true, and it is a retractable, both of which add to the insurance risk, but the same companies that insure nonprofessional pilots in nonpressurized singles like Bonanzas and Saratogas will surely do the same for Matrix owners, and at relatively reasonable rates, especially compared to VLJs, when and if they become common in the fleet. Those factors are huge.
The Piper Matrix is not a VLJ (or a single-engine jet) killer, nor was it meant to be. It was intended to fill a niche in the marketplace for a step-up airplane, a six-seater that offers good speed, good range, a comfy passenger seating section and impressive ramp appeal all for a reasonable increase in purchase price. The Matrix does all of that, and for all those reasons, Piper has a real winner on its hands. I just wish I'd seen that right off the bat.