Cessna Citation XLS+
Cessna Citation XLS+ in flight.

Review: Cessna Citation XLS+

It's not the latest model or the fastest, but it's still a winner on several important counts.

Cessna’s plan for the midsize Citation Excel, an aircraft first announced in 1994, was to combine light jet economics and runway performance with a comfortable, stand-up cabin. That wasn’t a new idea; the manufacturer was sticking to its time-tested potion of evolutionary development based on simple and robust systems.

In other words, it went to the parts bin.

And some of those parts were very old. Cessna lifted the fuselage from the Citation III, which first flew in 1979. It basically borrowed the airfoil and horizontal stabilizer from the smaller Citation V, which first flew in 1987 and has its design roots in the Citation II, which first flew in 1977. The aircraft’s Honeywell Primus glass-panel avionics also date back to the Citation II era. The Pratt & Whitney PW545A engines were a tad newer. 

Most Excel customers already were firmly in the Cessna camp and were trading up from a Citation V, Ultra, or Encore. The Excel hit the sweet spot, and the market responded: Cessna delivered 308 between 1998 and the end of 2002 and at the model’s peak produced more than 100 a year. The rush to get airplanes out the door led to some quality-control problems regarding the paint and interior. But these issues faded with succeeding iterations of the aircraft, including the XLS (2004) and the XLS+ (2009). 

Building a “parts plane” is no mean trick. Learjet infamously tried it in 1983 with the disappointing Model 55, known for its long-runway addiction, anemic engines, and weak brakes. It was not a commercial success.

The Excel has fared better. Pilots call it the “Fat V,” which suggests the reason it hit its target market so successfully: its straight wing allows it to use much shorter runways than the Citation III (and follow-on iterations, including the Citation VI and VII) with its 25-degree sweep. The III needs at least 5,000 feet of pavement while the Excel can get in and out of places with just 3,600. And that makes many more airports accessible. Granted, the straight wing renders the Excel 40 knots slower than the III, but on typical missions of one to two hours that speed difference is de minimis and fuel economy is marginally better. 

Between 1998 and 2004, Cessna delivered 370 Excels, and a follow-on model, the XLS, sold 329 copies between 2004 and 2009. The main difference between the Excel and the XLS is that the latter provides updated avionics, a 200-pound gross weight increase, and more engine thrust via the uprated PW545B engines, thus eliminating the need to “step climb” to the aircraft’s 45,000-foot maximum cruising altitude. 

The Excel and XLS remain popular. Fractional-ownership company NetJets at one time operated more than 100 of them, and membership jet service Wheels Up uses them as the mainstay of its jet fleet. Numerous upgrades are available for the aircraft, including retrofit of the Garmin G5000 digital glass-panel avionics system. 

Cessna Citation XLS+ cockpit
Cessna Citation XLS+ cockpit

The latest iteration of the model, the XLS+, debuted in 2008 and features Collins Pro Line 21 glass-panel avionics with large eight-by-10-inch displays, and fadec-controlled engines that have again been uprated, this time to 4,119 pounds of thrust per side (engine designation PW545C). The XLS+ also gets the longer, more tapered nose cone of the larger Citation Sovereign, marginally improving aerodynamics and ramp appeal. Beefier carbon brakes are less prone to wear. The brakes, combined with wing-mounted speed brakes and big thrust reversers, make the XLS+ a short-runway champ and trailing link landing gear softens what can sometimes feel like abrupt touchdowns. Range with four passengers is nearly 1,800 nautical miles. With the XLS+, Cessna increased the annual inspection interval from 12 months or 600 hours to 12 months and 800 hours. And if any bizjet can take 800 hours per year—or more—it is this one. 

While short-runway performance, range, and durability are obviously important, what most sells this airplane, albeit at declining rates, is the cabin. The XLS+ cabin adds LED lighting, 110V outlets, optional Wi-Fi, slightly wider seats, and refreshed styling with a new color pallet. But the cabin’s special sauce remains constant: seating for up to nine passengers in a space that measures 18.5 feet long, 5.7 feet tall (in the trenched center aisle), and 5.7 feet wide, yielding 461 cubic feet. That’s just slightly more than you get on a Learjet 60, which offers 447 cubic feet, though less than on a Hawker 800, whose cabin measures 551 cubic feet. The XLS+ offers 90 cubic feet of luggage space (80 of that is external).

Separating the cockpit from the main cabin door is an ingeniously designed refreshment center. It provides more than enough room to keep the party going with light catering and heavy beverages: you’ll find snack and sandwich drawers, an ice drawer, and a waste compartment, along with room for more than 30 mini-bottles of booze, four or five six-packs, and two full wine bottles. Aftermarket microwaves and warming ovens are available. 

You can opt for a two-place divan opposite the cabin door or a side-facing single seat and extra cabin closet. The forward cabin features a club-four grouping of slide/swivel single seats with fold-down outboard armrests and a foldout sidewall table for each half club. The sidewall ledges contain short cupholders, storage for small snacks, cabin-management controls, and plug-ins for video monitors. Two additional single seats are behind the club-four grouping, albeit with less legroom and limited recline. The aft lav features an externally serviceable belted potty and a small hanging wardrobe closet. 

Cessna Citation XLS+ cabin
Cessna Citation XLS+ cabin

Despite declining sales numbers, Cessna continues to build the XLS+, which it sells for $13.6 million. The company has established an assembly line in China for the aircraft and will continue to produce it there for local consumption until at least 2021. A used 10-year-old XLS+ in good condition retails for $5.8 million, according to the Vref valuation service. 

The XLS+ isn’t the fastest aircraft in its class. Its styling is of another era. It has parts that were designed when Jimmy Carter was president. It requires two pilots. There are lots of subjective reasons to not like this airplane and three undeniable ones to love it: great short-runway performance, a well-designed midsize cabin, and light-jet operating economics. 

2010 Cessna Citation XLS+ at a Glance 

Crew:                          2

Passengers:                 9–12

Engines:                     2 Pratt & Whitney Canada PW545C, 4,119 lb of thrust each 

Avionics:                    Collins Pro Line 21 


            Height:           68 in 

            Width:            66 in

            Length:           18 ft, 6 in 

Baggage capacity:     90 cu ft 

Range*:                      1,750 nm 

Max cruise speed:      441 kt

Takeoff distance**:   3,560 ft 

*four passsengers, NBAA IFR reserves

**at maximum weight

Source: Textron Aviation