The SR20 mock-up was unveiled in 1994. The aircraft first flew on 21 March 1995 and FAA certification was achieved on 23 October 1998. At the time of the airplane's release, the general aviation industry was struggling; the SR20 was one of the first of its kind to earn FAA Part 23 certification in several years.
Over a thousand SR20s have been sold since deliveries began in 1999. As of June 2015, more than 6,000 Cirrus aircraft had been delivered, something that no other aviation company has done for decades.
SR20s made from 1999 to 2003 were equipped with traditional analog instruments and a 10" MFD. In July 2003, Cirrus made PFDs standard on the SR20 and faster SR22, pioneering the use of glass cockpits in the light aircraft general aviation industry.
The SR-series remains the only airplane in its class to include side stick flight controls that combine aspects of a traditional yoke handle (this has been referred to in the industry as a "side yoke").
The SR20 and SR22 are equipped with the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS), a large parachute that can be deployed in an emergency to lower the entire aircraft to the ground safely. As of September 2018, the SR-series has deployed the system 79 times carrying 163 survivors.
In 2004, Cirrus introduced the SR20 G2 (Generation 2) and in 2008 the SR20 G3 (Generation 3). Both were defined by airframe modifications, G2 by fuselage and G3 by wing/landing gear changes.
In 2012, "60/40 flex seating" was introduced, allowing up to three passengers in the rear with a split fold-down seat arrangement. This five-seat configuration was optional in 2012 but became standard equipment for 2013 SR20 models.
In 2016, Cirrus introduced enhancements to the SR Series, including Bluetooth wireless connectivity, a remote keyless entry, convenience lighting system, and a new easy access door latch, among other interior and exterior improvements.
In 2017, the company introduced the SR20 G6 (Generation 6), with several upgrades to the avionics, new navigation lights and an increased useful load.
In September 2019, Cirrus unveiled the TRAC, a training-oriented version of the SR20 with a simplified interior, more durable seat material, backseat radio transmit switch to allow an observer to communicate with air traffic control, electronic stability and protection system, integrated engine indication and crew alerting/warning systems, and simulated retractable landing gear controls and position lights to allow cadets and instructors to feign landing gear operation and failures during instructional flights (the actual landing gear remains permanently fixed).
In 2011, the accident record of the SR20 and -22 was the subject of a detailed examination by Aviation Consumer magazine. The review concluded that the series has an overall accident record that is better than average for light aircraft, exceeded only by the Diamond DA40 and DA42. However, its fatal accident rate is much worse at 1.6/100,000 hours, placing it higher than the U.S. general aviation rate of 1.2 and higher than the Diamond DA40 (.35), Cessna 172 (.45), Diamond DA42 (.54), Cessna 182 (.69) and the Cessna 400 (1.0), despite the Cirrus's full aircraft parachute system.
By 2014, the accident rate had been dramatically reduced, with a 2013 fatal rate of 1.01 per 100,000 flight hours. This was attributed to better training, particularly in when to deploy the ballistic parachute system.
By 2015, the accident rate had continued to decrease, with a 2014 fatal rate of .42 per 100,000 flight hours, making it one of the best safety records in the industry. This marked the fewest fatalities in a single year for Cirrus since 2001, and the first year where the number of CAPS deployments (12) exceeded the number of fatal accidents (3).
Introduced at the 2003 EAA AirVenture Convention and brought to market in 2004, the Cirrus SRV was a VFR-only version of the SR20 for the low-end private ownership and flight training market. As such it omitted some standard equipment available on the SR20 such as wheel fairings. For 2008 the SRV model was updated to G3 configuration, with the SR22 wing. Cirrus discontinued the SRV for the 2010 model year.
Introduced in 2007, the "Generation 3" G3 has a lighter wing of greater area, incorporating a carbon-fiber spar. The new wing increased the SR20's cruise speed by 6-7 knots (11-13 km/h). The G3 also added a 50 pounds (23 kg) increased useful load by increasing the take-off weight to 3,050 pounds (1,380 kg), a re-designed main landing gear that is 2 inches (5 cm) taller, giving greater propeller and tail clearance, improved aircraft handling due to increased dihedral, improved aerodynamics including new wing root fairings, LED recognition lights, improved heat and ventilation, dual-redundant GPSWAAS-certified Garmin GNS 430W comm-navigators (that include a VHF radio and a VOR/LOC/ILS receiver) and an S-Tec Autopilot.
Introduced in January 2017, the G6 model adds a Lycoming IO-390 engine of 215 hp (160 kW), an enhanced "Cirrus Perspective-Plus" flight deck (by Garmin) with a 10-times faster instrument processing speed, new LED wingtip lights and a useful load increase of 150 lb (68 kg).
Introduced in September 2019, the TRAC is a flight-training version with a simplified, more durable interior, IO-390 engine, Perspective+ flight deck, rear seat push-to-talk functionality, and simulated landing gear controls.
Between 1999 and September 2019, the SR20 was involved in 35 known fatal accidents. Listed below are a select few of the most notable ones.
On March 23, 1999, Duluth native Scott D. Anderson was killed in a plane crash while flight-testing the first production model SR20 before it went on sale. Anderson was a pilot, author, engineer and adventurer who served as Chief Test Pilot at Cirrus in the mid- to late-1990s, performing all the inflight test-deployments of the CAPS. His plane, which had not yet been equipped with CAPS, experienced an aileron jam during experimental stress-testing and went down in a field near the Duluth International Airport. Anderson was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame in 2010.