As one of the great on-again, off-again projects of recent years at Porsche, the sub-Boxster roadster, referred to internally as the 550--after the historic 550 Spyder--has at times straddled the cusp of both reality and cancellation. In a way, it continues to--but we recently sat down with Matthias Mueller, Porsche's CEO, and he said it's definitely still in the works.

In fact, says Mueller, Porsche held a focus group last month to see if the time is right for the brand to dip its toe into what it calls the A-segment roadster market. He didn't disclose the results of the clinic, but did follow up by saying it's not as much a question of if, but "when is the right time? Now? Three years from now? Six or seven?"

That's perhaps the best indication yet that Porsche does indeed have plans to build the 550 Spyder, though it also leaves the matter open-ended. The main concern isn't the car's performance or the brand's technical ability to produce it--instead, it's a matter of brand image. If there's "any risk" the brand could be harmed by a lower-priced, entry-level roadster, says Mueller, it will be postponed to a later date.

Bernhard Maier, member of Porsche's board of management for sales and marketing, followed up by saying, "We're in no hurry. We have the freshest and youngest model line we've had in our history."

Once Porsche decides to build the 550--assuming it does--it would take another three years to reach production, said Maier.

2013 Porsche Boxster interior

2013 Porsche Boxster interior

One thing Porsche's quick to note, however, is that the latest redesign of the Boxster for the 2013 model year isn't an up-market move to make room for a smaller car below; it's just the natural trajectory of the Boxster itself.

Speaking of that trajectory--and the 550, in a way--Porsche is in fact working on four-cylinders. Mueller explicitly said the Boxster could get a four-cylinder version in the near future. Previous reports have suggested that might come in the form of a turbocharged flat four-cylinder good for 200-300 horsepower or more.

Packaged in a properly light chassis, the four-cylinder Boxster could split the difference between a six-cylinder model and the smaller, less-expensive 550--an interim solution, perhaps, taking a step toward the A-segment roadster without compromising the brand image with the risk of an all-new model.

Maier closed the topic by noting that there are still "a lot of opportunities" to add new Boxster variants, but cautioned that each "must be profitable, which means a certain amount of sales volume."

The same, certainly, could be said of the 550. Given the enthusiast interest in the topic, the future of fuel economy regulations, and the rising price of fuel itself, we think the future of the 550 looks bright. But it's still on the horizon. For now.