Close your eyes and concentrate on the word “targa.” What does your mind’s eye see? Something with a Porsche badge on the hood, I’m guessing. For me—probably because I own a $500 one—my brain locks onto the Porsche 914.
However, I’d guess that for most car-lovers out there, an old (though still lovely) Porsche 911 Targa leaps to mind. Maybe even a soft-window one from 1967. Point is, you think Porsche, even though (almost) every Corvette coupe since 1984 sports a targa roof. Out of the dozens of targa-roofed cars (targa just means a roof panel that pops off while the B-pillars stay put) that have been built—we’re talking everything from the Suzuki Cappuccino to the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse—Porsche was lucky and/or smart enough to copyright the word “Targa” back in 1965.
Ironically, the last version of the Porsche 911 Targa featured anything but a simple, removable panel that you toss in the trunk. The retraction and deployment of the 991 Targa’s lid was an impressive mechanical ballet that conjured up the full monty of cliché watchmaking vocabulary—escapement, tourbillon, rattrapante, complication—you get the point. But it worked. The 991 Targa’s roof worked so well that for the new 992 2021 Porsche 911 Targa, it’s using the same one. Yes, really.
At this point in my relationship with the 992 generation of the Porsche 911, I’m looking for bad things to say. Not only was the Carrera S our 2019 Best Driver’s Car, but each successive iteration released has been better and better, culminating with the mighty, borderline ridiculous Turbo S that’s been kicking sand in the face of every car we could throw at it. Is the new Targa a variant too far? Has that extra weight from that Gordian Knot of a roof—plus the weight of the AWD hardware—doomed the slick, sexy droptop to a place of irrelevance in Porsche’s sports car pantheon? Has being not quite a coupe while not quite a convertible rendered the Targa as nothing more than a $136,550 (base price) multitool? Look, I ‘m reaching here. Not only is the answer to both questions a resounding no, but I think I’m in love. Stupid Porsche.
What Makes it Go?
Mechanically, the 2021 Porsche Targa 4S is nearly identical to other 992 generation 911s. The body is actually based on the Cabriolet, but because the Targa roof mechanism weighs a bit more, the front/rear weight distribution is different, and as such the dampers and spring rates have been ever-so-slightly retuned. Emphasis—from what I understand—on ever-so-slightly. In terms of powertrain, the Targa’s literally identical to other Carreras. In the 4S, the dry-sumped, twin-turbo 3.0-liter flat-six mill produces 443 hp and 390 lb-ft. of torque; the Targa 4 makes 379 hp and 331 lb-ft. The transmission is the eight-speed Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) dual-clutch unit found in other 992s. Honestly, I pored over a gigabyte of official Porsche documents, and the only thing that makes the Targa different is that roof. But what a roof!
As Gorgeous as 911s Get
Have I swallowed the Targa Kool-Aid? Let’s go with yes because to me, in my mind, no 911 is better looking than a Targa. They just do it for me. That brushed magnesium B-pillar bar or hoop—first introduced on the 991 Targa, and a callback to the original—is just so choice.
Actually, choice is the right word, as you can see from the photos that the yellow car I drove had the $700 black B-pillar option. After thinking about this (insanely first-world) dilemma for a couple of days, I know the answer: Buy two Targas. Kidding? Maybe, but remember the average 911 owner earns more than $600,000 a year.
The Targa also looks better than the Cabriolet. It just does. The Cab’s beltline rises too high, meaning its butt is too up in the air. Although the Convertible 911 is lovely with its top up, the Targa just looks better. Yes, I’m into the looks. Sue me. Can I be critical? Sure. The ride height is too high, especially when you’re looking at the staggered, 20-inch front wheel. The inevitable Targa GTS will fix that while adding another 40 or so hp (figure 475 hp); however, it’s nice to drive a 992 that doesn’t need a front-end lift.
How’s it Drive?
Roof open or closed, the freeway manners of this 2021 Porsche Targa 4S are impressive. I always pick on McLaren in this situation—because it is the supercar maker that first began bragging about “Rolls-Royce ride quality”—but Porsche has won the damping wars. Other sports cars do not ride as well. Full stop. With the roof down in Normal mode, the Targa 4S is just as lux feeling as a Mercedes SL or BMW 8 Series Convertible, with an even sweeter, subtler ride. Set the optional adaptive cruise control, and forget it.
However, should you suddenly find yourself stuck behind a car going much slower than you’d like, simply give the throttle about 10 percent more, the brilliant transmission drops from eighth to fifth gear, and you’re back at your preferred cruising velocity within moments. Once there, you are free to contemplate exactly how much testing, engineering, and programming went into that specific, ghost in the machine-quality shift.
This particular Racing Yellow Targa is close to what we like to call a “journalist special,” meaning it’s been specced with every performance option possible, and hardly a spare dime has been spent on the cabin. True, there’s some nondescript black leather on the dash and doors, and the checkerboard Sport-Tex seat inserts from Porsche Exclusive are nifty indeed. Still, the interior could be much finer. All one would have to do is spend the bucks.
Twist the cheap-feeling Drive Mode knob (it’s been cheap-feeling since it debuted in the 918 Spyder) sticking out of the bottom right half of the steering wheel to Sport, and the Targa 4S becomes more battened down. The throttle response improves, the engine’s pulse quickens, and the dampers adjust accordingly. The Porsche transforms from a luxurious cruiser to a shockingly capable and effective sports car. Balanced, powerful, intuitive, and fun: You find yourself wondering why other carmakers even bother. Look at what these Stuttgarten car nerds can do! It’s not fair.
Sledgehammering my way around twists and turns, I found myself enchanted by the gentle tug from the front wheels. Like most AWD performance cars, there’s a feeling of solidity and confidence you just don’t get from rear-drivers. That’s most of the time; there are exceptions to all rules. The first 10 corners feel flabbergastingly quick, then you acclimate to the speeds that the car is capable of and just marvel.
Sport mode was on the tighter, lower speed portion of the road. The big, world-class twisties of Angeles Crest lay ahead. Now’s the time to rotate that knob to Sport Plus. Things get more serious. My pace picks up from say eight-tenths to nine. This is about as hard as I’ll drive on public roads; you got to leave a safety margin. But, by pushing the Targa 4S a little harder, you find the rub. This Targa is after all “just” a 4S. It’s not the upcoming GTS, nor a Turbo with that fancy pants new PASM Sport. It’s not from Porsche’s GT division. The staggered tires—yeoman Pirelli P Zeros sized 245/35/ZR20 in front, 305/30/ZR21 rear—begin squealing. Not horribly, and mostly in tight, second-gear corners, but squealing nonetheless. That AWD tug I was praising a moment ago, well, I realize that it’s actually a tradeoff: A pinch of steering feel is swapped out for a spoonful of grip. I wouldn’t call it understeer (though, there’s a skosh), but rather as the 4S approaches its limits, the behavior becomes less predictable and more erratic. Nothing fatal mind you, but there’s a spike in the graph.
This Targa 4S ain’t cheap; $181,840 as-tested isn’t quite enough to get you into a Turbo S (you’d need another $25K), but you could drive off with the upcoming GT3. Worth the money then? Depends on how often you drive like a person fleeing a robbed bank. The 4S actually drives quite similarly to the new Turbo S Cabriolet without the Weissach-fettled PASM Sport suspension. That’s good—great even—when you’re talking performance, but not superlative. A forgivable sin? Obviously, because let’s face it: How often are you actually driving your own car the way I’m paid to absolutely thrash on these things? Be honest. Right, about once. Still, I can’t deny the fact that there’s a small voice chattering away in the back of my skull about other 992s I’ve driven that are better. See, the trouble is, you and I know what the Porsche 992 platform is capable of. Am I saying we wait for the even sportier Targa GTS and spend the extra $20K or so? Yeah, I think I am. Stupid Porsche.
|2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4S|
|LAYOUT||Rear-engine, AWD, 2+2-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||3.0L/443-hp/390-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-6|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,700 lb (MT est)|
|L x W x H||177.9 x 72.9 x 51.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.0 sec (MT est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||16/23/19 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||211/147 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.05 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE||Fall 2020|