You could look at all the Beechcraft, Piper, Cirrus and Grumman Aircraft but still come back to the Cessna 172 as the one airplane that does more things better than any other, for the average PPL. The 172 range encompasses everything from the straight tail 6 cylinder classics to the 180hp Lycoming glass cockpit version you can still buy fresh from the factory. It is no secret that the price of a brand new light aircraft in inflation adjusted terms is 3-4X what it was during the boom days of the 60’s & 70’s.
This is down to product liability insurance that Cessna, Cirrus and Piper are faced with as manufacturers of a potentially dangerous product, at least in the hands of lawyers. Whereas very few car manufacturers get followed for liability issues, the aircraft companies have had to pay out tens of millions to settle claims not untypical of, Joe Doe & Co who didn’t use carb heat, got carb icing and crashed - the plaintiff’s claim being that it was the manufacturers fault. Fuel injection and fixed undercarriage are now common systems and they solve some of these potential issues for manufactures.
The cost of certification of new aircraft designs means aircraft like the 172 live on with no end in sight. The Cessna 100 series are stated to have a 30,000hr recommended service life so when you look at a 7-8000hr example that has been properly cared for it represents something of a bargain. The aircraft that has only used up 25% of it’s life cycle, is 10% of the price of a new one. So in theory you are paying 10x more for a new aircraft that will fulfil the same role as the used aircraft.
All aircraft can be easily upgraded with new paint & interior. With your choice of paint, interior, avionics, engine and all the STC mods you can dream of the Cessna 172 can be made as new for a fraction of the new price.
The Cessna SID inspections are not turning out to be the end game that nay sayers predicted. Even the restart Cessna 172 has various inspections to comply with, but when they are complete on any 172 model you have certainty in the airframe for a long time to come. So with your paint looking like a private jet, and your interior to rival an SR22 you can take to the skies with 3 friends and enjoy what is simply the right size aircraft for the average PPL. Whereas a Cessna 150 is quite light and a Cessna 182 quite heavy, the 172 is just the right size to handle windy implement conditions. The handing is conducive to hand flying on instruments if required, and for less than €500 you can have the aircraft rigged to perfection by a Cessna Pilots Association trained rigger.
This will have the aircraft flying hands off while holding a heading, with the ball centred. A properly sorted 172 will be more comfortable for more skill levels than almost anything else. The aircraft is used by big training establishments all over the world like Embry-Riddle and ATP. The key to the success of the Cessna range is the stepping stone approach that can bring a pilot from a Cessna 172 through to a Grand Caravan with minimal changes to a familiar cockpit flow and layout.
You could give a PPL the use of a P-51 Mustang, Aviat Husky or Beech Debonair but in reality none would fit the “jump in and go model” that an average PPL has in mind. We all have limited time, training and resources so to make the most of them, a simple tried and tested aircraft has to be the default go to option.