Porsche revives classic Targa style for current 911
There was a point, during the glitzy presentation of the 991 Porsche Targa, when 911 product line VP August Achleitner said it was designed to showcase “the best of everything the 911 can do”. Which is why the two Targa models that will go on sale from May are equipped with Porsche Traction Management four-wheel drive. And why Porsche claims what it calls its ‘half-open 911’ doesn’t just steer as well as a Carrera 4, but can also imbue on its occupants the sense of insouciance that only convertibles can deliver.
It possibly also explains Porsche’s return to the distinctive hoop-and-glass rear deck we last saw exactly 20 years ago on the 964 Targa. Maybe, when Achleitner was referring to the best of the 911, he was talking not just about current offerings, but some of the brand’s all-time greatest hits. Whatever; since that 964’s demise, every 911 wearing the nameplate inspired by the great Sicilian road race has been nothing more than a Carrera with a fancy glass sunroof.
Talking of the Targa Florio, we’re infuriatingly close to its location at the international launch of the new 991 Targa, but sadly not close enough. Instead, the event took place in Puglia, the south-eastern bit of Italy that incorporates the heel of the boot and is characterised by a huge expanse of flat karst plains. You want ribbons of crimped tarmac snaking into towering mountains? Best steer clear of the area around Bari.
Still, it was sunny and that allowed us full opportunity to experience the Targa’s magnum opus – that trick folding roof. The original 911 Targa, from 1967, was designed with a stainless steel rollover hoop and bits of folding canvas to bypass a potential ban on full convertibles in the US. Those safety-related origins didn’t stop it garnering a cult following, however, and despite the full-blown 911 Cabriolet being already in the stable, Zuffenhausen clearly felt two fabric-topped convertibles could be sustained in the 991 portfolio – so it ‘reinvented’ the original Targa shape for 21st-century tastes.
Watching the Targa’s mechanical gymnastics is a delight. The car is 40kg heavier than the Cabriolet, largely thanks to that gorgeous wraparound rear screen’s glass, and you can’t activate the hood on the move due to aerodynamic issues, but as complex as it looks it is powered by exactly the same two electric motors that drop the top on the Cabriolet. In 19 seconds, it lifts the whole bustle area of the Targa up and back, folds and retracts the tiny fabric section into an area behind the vestigial rear seats and then slots the rear deck back into place, leaving you with one of the most beautiful open-tops in the business.
And heavier than the Cab it may be (it’s also 110kg porkier than an equivalent Carrera), but it’s stiffer in torsion too, by around 2,000Nm per degree (equivalent to 1475lb ft or 15 percent) at a final figure of 15,000Nm (11,063lb ft). This means it is a delight to drive, salvaging as much of the 991’s chassis goodness as it can out of the act of robbing it of a fixed roof’s structural bracing. It features its own damper settings and rebound buffer springs at the back to help tie it down too, which all work a treat.
There are two engines and two transmissions on offer, and we’d recommend the more powerful 3.8 4S model with the seven-speed PDK gearbox – it has 50bhp and 37lb ft advantages over the base 3.4-litre Targa 4, which starts at £86,281. Getting the gripes out of the way, the throttle mapping used when you press the Sport button is what the car should have as standard, as it’s stodgy and slow-witted in ‘normal’ mode. The steering lacks the feel 911s of yore were renowned for, but it is well-weighted and precise. The 3.8, as sonically splendid and tractable as it is, only becomes ferocious beyond 5000rpm. And it’ll cost you; half-open it may be, but it undercuts a Cabriolet of equal spec by less than £1000. A PDK T4S like the one we tested will relieve you of £98,801 before options. Gulp.
But in all other respects, the Targa is marvellous. The PTM offers massive grip and mid-bend adjustability, while the PDK gearbox comes into its own during harder driving, offering crisp up- and downshifts exactly when you want them. Carbon ceramic brakes will be an option but we can’t see why you’d need them, as the Targa is hardly going to be the first port of call for the committed track driver and the standard retardation is more than capable for road use. There’s no scuttle shake and the supreme refinement of the car, hood up or down, is to be admired; minimal wind noise, cosseting ride quality, and the metallic bark of the flat-six – all of them are judged to perfection.
Is the Targa a pointless show-off? Maybe you could make that case, but as it leaves you with a massive smile on your face, whether you’re cruising along with miles of blue sky above or throwing it into bends like you’re charging up to Caltavuturo on a flying lap of the Piccolo circuit, you realise the Targa has a wonderful and confident identity all of its own. It makes it very easy to adore, and it wouldn’t have looked out of place during the 911’s 50th anniversary celebrations at last year’s Festival of Speed. The fact it is also stunning to behold means it has surely met its key convertible brief and should therefore improve on the historical statistic that only one in ten 911s sold since 1963 have been Targas.
There is a danger that if you try to be all things to all men, you end up satisfying no one and Achleitner’s brave claim of the Targa being a blend of the 911’s best bits could so easily have blown up in his face. But, by dint of something as unquantifiable as an air of being desirable, the 991 Targa is a magnificent car. It might not be the sharpest 911 to drive – that would be the GT3, as it should be – but it is certainly the coolest. Thank you, Porsche, for coming full circle and bringing us a modern classic.
Top speed: 183mph
0-62mph: 4.4 seconds
Power/weight: 251bhp per tonne
Engine: 3.8-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder
Transmission: Seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic, four-wheel drive
Wheels: 20in alloys front and rear
Tyres: 245/35 ZR20 front, 305/30 ZR20 rear
Power: 395bhp at 7400rpm
Torque: 324lb ft at 5600rpm
Price: From £98,801 (for T4S PDK)
On sale date: May 2014