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Porsche 718 Sneak Preview

When: 2016
Why: Because Alfa Romeo is preparing a RWD sports car.

When the Cayman is treated to its midcycle makeover in 2016, it will be joined by an intriguing new sister model dubbed 718, a mid-engine roadster derived from the Boxster. But it's more than just a special edition like the 2007 RS60. The Porsche 718 (depicted here by our illustrator), we are glad to report, is much more distinctive in appearance and character. A little shorter than the Boxster but sharing the same wheelbase, the new arrival features unique body panels all around and will be powered exclusively by four-cylinder boxer engines.

The 718's engine will be Porsche's first new four-cylinder boxer since the demise of the 912. The new turbocharged four-cylinders are in essence based on the existing sixes. According to those in the know, the Porsche 718 will be offered with a 2.0-liter variant rated at 285 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque as well as with a bigger-bore 2.5-liter flat four good for 360 hp and 345 lb-ft. Transmission choices are either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. We expect the 718, like its donor car, to offer razor-sharp electrically assisted power steering, confidence-inspiring brakes, and a suspension tuned for five-star handling.

Besides the unique styling and powertrain, new features are said to include a redesigned interior with lightweight manually adjustable seats and a more basic instrument panel; a canvas top that can be operated with one hand from the driver's seat; a lighter body with hang-on panels made of steel, aluminum, and polyurethane; a slightly lower windshield, thinner side glass, and a plexiglass rear window; and fixed rollover-protection loops behind the head restraints rather than active pop-up elements.

The original Porsche 718 weighed only 1200 pounds, which was exceptionally light even by 1950s race car standards. Today's base Boxster tips the scales at 2888 pounds. The unofficial target figure for the 718 is 2625 pounds, which sounds realistic considering the lighter engine and the more basic body structure, roof, seats, and equipment.

The arrival of the 718 won't be the only change in the Boxster/Cayman universe come 2016. The Cayman has always been (slightly) more expensive than the Boxster, but their positions will reverse with the coming update. In order to create greater separation from the 718, the Boxster will ascend to the top of the trio, its new premium pricing justified with additional equipment. As to the coming face-lift, it isn't ground-shaking, but it seems safe to expect a modest visual update (bumpers, lights, wheels), a new steering wheel that incorporates a rotary drive-mode selector à la 918, additional driver-assistance systems, improved infotainment offerings, a head-up display, and optional full-LED headlights. Only a few of these goodies will filter down to the 718, however, as it—like the highly focused RS and Clubsport models—follows a less-is-more philosophy.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' recent decision to build a new Alfa Romeo roadster in Italy off its impending premium rear-wheel-drive platform may affect Porsche's convertible strategy, however. The Mazda Miata-based car has switched from Alfa, which would have been a competitor for the 718, to Fiat Abarth, which will not. Thus, an alternative scenario has Porsche dumping the Boxster, leaving the Porsche 718 at the lower end, and having the Cayman as the sole walk-up to the 911 range.

Porsche's internal horsepower war

With horsepower of the new Porsche Cayman and Boxster GTS models just ten short of a 911's, the mid-engine cars finally are getting their due. And there is more power on the way for the underdog. Our spy photographer recently caught Porsche testing a Cayman GT4, powered by a 425-hp engine, at the Nürburgring.

The powerplant is said to be either a turbocharged flat four plug-in hybrid or a conventionally hybrid-assisted version of the current 3.4-liter flat six. This GT4 thus would be the first Cayman to eclipse the normally aspirated 3.8-liter flat six in the 911 Carrera S, rated at 400 hp. Meanwhile, Porsche also is said to be preparing a 911 Turbo S to coincide with the 991's face-lift in 2015. The Porsche 911 Turbo S would get either the plug-in or the conventional hybrid powerplant connected to the turbo 3.8 for at least 700 hp. The Cayman may be catching up, but the 911 remains supreme in the Porsche lineup.