The Cessna 180 has always been the answer since it’s introduction in the 1950's. Sure there’s been other planes that haul four people and the goods at speed but I would argue, honestly, that they just can’t do it as well as the 180, even though on the surface, things look terribly inefficient.
Quite a few planes can take four people but not with full tanks and luggage at the same time. 180 can. How many of them can cruise at 160+ mph all day long? That’s about 17-mpg. Sure a Bonanza or Comanche can match it or possibly best it slightly in this performance, but retractable gear adds $2,000 to the annual inspection due, um, every year...annually! That just doubled your annual fuel bill. The Comanche, Mooney, or Bonanza won’t do so hot popping on some tundra tires and hit a gravel bar for some camping.
Or, strap on the skis and go explore a bit.
Whatever your desires, it can do it and deliver all of your gear too. This is the un-compromised Swiss-army knife that suffers little from it’s universal abilities. Now someone astute may suggest a Piper Dakota and it’s big power engine, but it’s fuselage is too cramped to make use of it all. The Saratoga / cherokee-six? It’s 15mph slower as the air repels it’s ugliness, although a great industrial hauler in it’s own right. The Maule’s? The old ones aren’t as fast the the newer and faster ones don’t have the range and costs absurdly more than a good 70's and earlier 180.
when looking at that annual fuel bill you might think you’ve been exposed to a shellfish allergy rendering you unable to breathe. But look at what that can get you at that 17-mpg, as I have been calculating.
My mission is to travel to my parents house, 700 miles away, a few times a year. With the whole family in the car for a weeks visit, that’s two half-day drives and a hotel in the middle. And the same on the way back. Taking all of our stuff with us, we will spend about $400 in gas, hotel, food for the whole trip. Well, that’s the fuel bill alone for the plane but what’s it get us? We’re there for lunch on day 1. It get’s us a whole day extra on either end to stay and visit. It makes a quick weekend actually possible to go anywhere else. What’s that worth?
Well, quite a lot actually. One just has to justify the expense. Engine overhaul/prop/instruments maintenance costs averaged in there to the hourly fuel bill can water the eyes, because you still haven’t started to breathe properly again and your lips are turning blue. But given the extra spending of probably $12,000 + a year to own it and fly perhaps 30 hours a year (roughly 5,000 miles) this becomes a discretionary hobby. Imagine how many Miata’s you could have and what you could do with them all - every year.
Kit built hotrods? Sure they save lots of gas money but you spend so much more to build it, plus the cost! Wayyyy more. Nope, the 180 hits all the marks for actual affordable utility. Just pony up $80,000 for a nice one with a fresh engine and instruments and pay for it over a 20 year loan (planes are mortgaged like a house)
Regardless of your desires to own and fiddle with a boat instead, or other ways of properly using your discretionary income to pay a mortgage faster or student-loans back, there is much to be gained from frivolously blowing $2,000 of cash every month in this way. Fun you could never have in the Miata unless you built one freakin’ awesome ramp!