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'New 356' will use Audi R4 underpinnings, cost £33k and arrive in late 2012

Porsche is preparing to roll out a new entry-level sports car that will help underpin the maker’s long-term future as part of the giant VW Group.

Dubbed by some insiders as the “new 356”, the mid-engined machine will not, however, be a bargain basement model, despite initial rumours to the contrary. Given the final green light, it would cost from about £33,000 in today’s money.

See the 356 artist's rendering in hi-res

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Instead, the 356 is expected to be based on a new steel and aluminium platform that’s being developed by Audi for its own R4 mid-engined sports car.

Work on the R4 is already well advanced, and it’s due to launch in June 2011. However Porsche’s version of the car, which won’t arrive before late 2012, is expected to be significantly different.

Aside from its unique styling inside and out, the 356 is also expected to be one of the first Porsches to be fitted with a forced-induction flat-four engine that is currently under development.This unit will also help ensure the Porsche and Audi have sharply different characters, even though the two cars have the same basic architecture.

As well as their common structure, the two cars will share many other costly sub-systems. These include the electrical architecture, climate control system, basic suspension layout, electronic chassis systems and innumerable hidden parts, such as seat frames and door locking mechanisms.It’s also likely that the Porsche will share its transmission with the Audi because the longitudinal unit used in the 911 and Boxster is thought to be too costly.

Not much is known about the flat-four engine at this stage, but Porsche sales and marketing boss Klaus Bening told Autocar earlier this year “That there is a clear trend towards downsizing, using smaller powerplants and supercharging. We will find our own conclusion to downsizing”.

Using today’s flat six as a starting point, a new flat-four engine would come in at just over 1900cc and could use either a light-pressure turbo or a supercharger. The light-pressure turbo set-up is already said to be under development for 2012’s 911.

It’s highly likely that such a unit would be good for about 250bhp. That’s virtually the same as today’s entry-level Boxster, although fuel economy would surely be better.

However, there’s little chance that the 356 and Boxster will clash because, according to one rumoured product plan, the next-generation Boxster and Cayman could be moved sharply upmarket.

Porsche has a financial problem with today’s Boxster/Cayman/911 line-up. According to an analyst’s report seen by Autocar, the cost of the components that make up one of the flat-six models is perilously close to the base price of a Boxster.

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Indeed, the entry-level Boxster is only just over half the price of an entry-level 911, despite the two cars costing a similar sum to make.

Porsche can haul in significant profits from this model range in the good times — mostly thanks to the huge margins delivered by the high-end 911s. However, when combined sales fall below 50,000, the profitability of the flat-six model line is badly dented.

In the wake of the 356 launch, Porsche would be able to make the 3.2 Boxster S that model’s entry-level car, priced at £40,000. This would help improve the profitability of Porsche’s sports car line, especially since sales are not expected to be dented significantly.

However, in the long run, all Porsche’s sports cars will probably be based on the 356’s steel and aluminium platform. Selling four flat-engined sports cars on the same basic platform at volumes of over 75,000 per year — plus 25,000 or so units from Audi’s R4 — would help secure the long-term future of Porsche’s most iconic models.

Hilton Holloway

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Paul J 28 October 2009

Re: New entry-level Porsche revealed

I'd be interested if they could bring it to market sub 1200kg. (The current Boxster S is 1355kg). I'm willing to have a manual hood and would happily ditch the standard electric seat reclining which has nowhere to recline to in the mid-engined models. I don't really care if it has 'the family look' as I like it anyway. Bring it on.

frankpcb 28 October 2009

Re: New entry-level Porsche revealed

Porsche is way over priced and now that easy money has dried up so have their sales in the US, guess they will just rip off the Russians and Chinese now till they wise up and see that they are way overpriced for what you get.

W124 28 October 2009

Re: New entry-level Porsche revealed

This is folly. The good times will return just as Porsche has generated and produced a car aimed at downsizers. As with the ghastly Panamera it will hit the market at just the wrong time. There are a lot of people making a lot of money at the moment and, taking into account economic mayhem at the end of next year as people start to realise that they cannot continue to pat their mortgages, soon they will start spending it.

Can't they just make a stripped out boxer with the small four cylinder engine and PDK (which for sure will be an option on this new car)? - What about the old 5 speed unit they had in the last Cayman, that was cheap. Also, why not just inflate the price of the 911, people wanting a Porsche who can't afford a 911 won't go and buy a 370z - they will just buy a Boxster.