When the Porsche 911 Targa debuted as a 1967 model, it was an attempt to offer open-air driving in the face of what Porsche feared was a U.S. regulatory environment that would soon outlaw convertibles. The first Targa had a lift-off top and a zip-out plastic rear window. The plastic rear window was soon replaced with a wraparound piece of glass, and that Targa formula remained the same through the first three generations of 911. For a long time, the Targa was the only open-topped 911, and during that period it accounted for some 40 percent of 911 sales. It was so successful the word “targa” came to be used to describe any car with a lift-off top, although Porsche hates it when people do that.
A real 911 convertible finally arrived in 1982, and at that moment, the Targa’s reason for being largely evaporated, but Porsche continued with the model anyway. With the 993-chassis (1993) 911, the Targa’s roof concept evolved from a lift-off top panel to a glorified, oversized sunroof, and the take rate further declined. By the time of the recently departed, 997-generation cars, the Targa accounted for only seven percent of sales.
No Heavy Lifting
For Porsche, the solution was to go “back to the roots,” as they say in Germany, but in a high-tech way. After years of Targa styling that looked like a 911 coupe that was a little off, Porsche wanted to resurrect its classic design, but the company feared that owners would not want to get out of the car, lift off the roof panel, and stow it in the trunk. (One wonders what owners of the Corvette coupe, which has a standard targa—err, lift-off top panel, would think of that notion.) The other issue was, in the words of 911 product line director Dr. Erhard Mossle, “that the manual solution was a little bit old-fashioned.”
To get the old-school look without that old-fashioned work, the process is automated. The rear window and the body panel it sits on tilt up and rearward; meanwhile, the top, which like the Cabriolet’s consists of fabric-covered magnesium panels, moves backward over the brushed aluminum hoop, folds in on itself, and tucks into a tray at the base of the rear glass. The rear window and body panel then return to position. Unlike the Cabriolet, whose power top can be raised or lowered while on the move, the Targa must be stationary to perform its mechanical ballet. The whole operation takes nineteen seconds.
Targa 4 Or 4S
As with the 997, the Targa is available with four-wheel drive only, as buyers of an all-weather convertible evidently like the all-weather capability of four-wheel drive. That means that all Targas will have the wide-hipped body of all four-wheel-drive 911s. For the Targa, two engines are offered: the 350-hp 3.4-liter in the Targa 4 and the 400-hp 3.8-liter in the Targa 4 S. Each has a choice of seven-speed manual or seven-speed PDK (dual-clutch) gearboxes.
The Targa adds 88 pounds compared with the Cabriolet, or 242 pounds versus the coupe. 0-to-60-mph times are comparable to (within 0.1 second of) the former, ranging from 5.0 seconds (Targa 4, manual or PDK) to 4.2 seconds (Targa 4S, with PDK and Sport Chrono). Our time with the Targa in southern Italy was confined to the 4S. The 4S was an absolute monster passing the (much slower) local traffic on the region’s narrow two-lane roads. Driving with the top stowed, we loved the unfiltered sound of Porsche’s charismatic flat six, particularly with the optional sport exhaust engaged. We found that buffeting wasn’t bad—even approaching 100 mph. There is a pop-up wind deflector bar on the windshield header, which Porsche claims reduces buffeting between 60 and 90 kph (37 – 58 mph). We did spend some time at those lower speeds but felt no difference with the deflector deployed; it does, however, add noticeably to wind noise. With the roof in place, the Targa seemed as quiet as a coupe. The roof has a cloth headliner, and none of the mechanisms are visible.
The Sensualist's Choice
The Porsche 911 Targa S includes PASM, Porsche’s active suspension (which is optional on the base car). It rolls on twenty-inch wheels, versus the Targa 4’s nineteens. On these wide, low-profile tires, the ride is stiff on patched, lumpy pavement, but we never saw much in the way of cowl shake. As on other 911s, cornering is phenomenal and the steering is just about the best there is. Hardcore Porsche-philes may dismiss the Targa for its extra pounds or its fractions-of-a-second-slower 0-to-60-mph times, but sensualists will appreciate the way its open-air capability enhances the 911 experience.
Initially, we said that the Targa is more than a sunroof and less than a convertible. That’s true if you’re looking at sticker prices, and it’s also true if you’re quantifying the open space above your head. Once style enters the equation, however, the brushed-aluminum roll bar, the black canvas top, and the dramatic wraparound rear glass mean that, compared with either the coupe or the Cabriolet, this new Targa is actually more.
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