Few automakers are as in touch with their heritage as Porsche. For over 50 years, the 911 has been in a process of continuously evolving; always at the forefront of the sports car world, while never straying far its roots. In 2014, the company went uncharacteristically retro by incorporating the iconic 1960s-era stainless steel roll bar into the design of its new open-topped 911 Targa. Now, the company is taking another page out of its history books and offering something it hasn’t sold in the American market since Gerald Ford was president: a boxer four-cylinder engine mounted behind the driver.
The last Porsche to feature a four-banger out back was the criminally misunderstood 1970-’76 914, a mid-engined entry-level car that cost $3,500 (or around $21,000 today), and the 1975-’76 Porsche 912E, a sports car with the body of a 911, and the engine of a Volkswagen Type II van. Now, nearly 40 years later, a turbocharged boxer-four is set to return to the Porsche lineup in Boxster and Cayman models – and rest assured, it’ll be several times more powerful than the old air-cooled VW unit.
Speaking to Automotive News, Porsche chief Matthias Mueller announced that four-cylinder versions of the mid-engined Boxster and Cayman will hit U.S. showrooms in mid-2016. And while this could potentially bring the costs of the cars down below their current $52,000 entry point, Mueller was quick to point out that these cars will offer plenty of performance to live up to the Porsche name. The new four will be between 2.0 and 2.5 liters, and should produce “up to 395 horsepower,” making it one the most powerful production four-cylinder engines ever built.
A four-cylinder Boxster and Cayman seem to be the perfect compromise for Porsche, which until recently was tantalizing fans with the prospect of the 718, a sub-$40,000 roadster that would have served as an entry-point for the brand. With the 718 project officially dead, and the smaller engine slotting in below Porsche’s famous flat-sixes, the company could conceivably introduce an entry-level models in the future with minimal development costs.
This latest announcement comes just a few months after of the company said it intends to turbocharge almost the entire 911 lineup. Speaking with Top Gear in January, Porsche’s chief engineer Wolfgang Patz denied the possibility of an entry-level four-cylinder 911 by saying “Never. That’s always a flat six.” But with this new engine, the company may have had another one of its famous changes of heart.
With the arrival of the new boxer-four, Porsche is looking to streamline its engine offerings, and a prime candidate for replacement is the 3.4 liter flat-six used in the Boxster, the Cayman, and – most tellingly – the 911 Carrera. At 350 horsepower, it would be redundant to keep the naturally-aspirated six around when a smaller, newer engine is both more efficient and powerful. Porsche my not have any intention of putting the four-cylinder in a 911, but could a rebooted sub-Carrara (under $80,000) 912 be in the works instead?
In the past few months, Porsche has outsold Volvo in the U.S., debuted its strong-selling Macan SUV, announced its intentions to phase out the naturally-aspirated 911, is possibly considering a 911 hybrid, and will now bring back the boxer-four engine. This new engine may be another sign of how quickly things are changing in Stuttgart, but like any great Porsche development, the new four-banger is a way of moving into the future while still remaining true to its past.