991 Targa – Porsche Reinvented

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For the 991 iteration, Zuffenhausen has taken inspiration from the very car that initiated the Targa family line, and the new model is all the better for it. You may know why the Targa was created: due to the fear of a potential ban on fully open convertibles in the US, the development of the car’s distinctive rollover hoop came first, and the wrap around rear screen later to sidestep such draconian laws, with the ill-fated American legislation never materialising despite the Targa fan base demanding that the car carry on regardless. The ‘proper’ 911 Cabriolet didn’t actually appear until 1982, but even that didn’t sound the death knell for the Targa, as it soldiered on into its subsequent 964 guise before evolving into the unpopular glass-roofed version in the 993 era. You may be wondering why Porsche is bothering to offer two discrete convertible models in the current era, as well as why neither of them features a metal roof – a proven choice among many other manufacturers. But here’s the thing: heritage is a big thing for us 911 fans, and it would seem that it means a lot to Porsche, too. When pressed on the matter, a senior Porsche official said there were two primary reasons to revive the classic Targa shape: one, the company has finally resolved the issues with the complex folding roof mechanism; and two, the Coupe 911s now have the option of large sunroofs for the first time, rendering the 993-997 Targa formula redundant.

The roof, of course, is a real show-stopper. No longer do you have to manually fiddle about folding up bits of canvas like on older versions; now, you just press one button, and 19 seconds later you have open-top motoring. Okay, so you can’t do it on the move – like you can at speeds of up to 31mph in its Cabriolet cousin – but with such intricate kinetics on display that’s no bad thing. Powered by the same two motors that fold away the Cabriolet’s hood, the whole rollover hoop and rear screen moves up in the air and drops back over the 911’s rump before the roof folds itself slightly. There’s a structural panel bow at the rear of the hood, and the folding point is just in front of that. It moves back into place behind the rear seats – yes, the Porsche Targa is still a 2+2, like the Coupe and Cabriolet 911s – and then the rear structure glides back into place. It’s pure theatre, and adds to the Targa’s mystique without having turned a wheel.

Porsche 911 Targa front

Visually, the new Targa is sensational to behold, even better in the metal than it is in pictures. The stainless steel bar wears some lovely little nods to the 1967 original, such as the three gills on the sides and the same Targa badge at its base. The wraparound rear screen is made of two layers of semi-tempered lightweight safety glass, with the heating elements incorporated throughout for all-round visibility. As a striking design feature that draws your eye, it’s a major success. To complement its four-wheel drive, the Targa again features the wide rear body of all four-wheeldrive 911s, plus the striking red light strip linking the rear clusters. The interior is familiar, but that’s a big plus, because the 991’s cabin is exemplary, with a great driving position and ideal citing of all the major controls. This means that as nice as the Cabriolet is, the Targa immediately trumps it on curb appeal, which is surely going to be a key sales driver for this modish open-top. Mechanically, the Targa shares a lot with the Carrera 4 and 4S Cabriolet models. Porsche has naturally adapted the damper settings to compensate for the extra 40 kilograms the Targa carries over equivalent Cabriolet models, which is accounted for by the rear screen and its lack of C-pillars. The Targa also benefits from rebound buffer springs on the rear, which the Cabriolet does not possess. The Targa is 15 per cent stiffer in torsion than the Cabriolet (15,000Nm per degree versus just over 13,000Nm) thanks to that roof structure, the most pleasing outcome being that it drives almost as well as the twice-as-rigid Carreras, let alone the Cabriolet.

Blessing it with Porsche Traction Management (PTM), all-wheel drive was an inspired move. In its presentations, Porsche said the Targa was supposed to represent a blend of the best of everything the 911 can do, and by giving it some clawing power at the front, it helps make the 4S a real all-rounder. It’s composed at cruising speeds, both in a straight line and on corners, with no scuttle shake present and a real ability to cushion out the worst imperfections in the surface. Body movement on the springs is kept to a minimum, making for a firm but pleasant half-throttle ride. Also, with the roof up it is hugely civilised, exhibiting close to Coupe levels of wind noise and general refinement. Start pressing on, and the Targa’s case doesn’t fall apart. Provided you allow it some leeway for being the heaviest of all 991s, it remains a startlingly good machine near and on the limit. Switch it up into Sport Plus mode (thanks to the Sport Chrono option) with traction control turned off, and it will clamp itself to dry tarmac in a manner that’s every bit as capable as a Carrera 4. There is some understeer if you’re ham-fisted on entry, and if you trail-brake into a curve, the 3.8’s weight will make its displeasure at such antics known. But set the car up properly for a bend, and it will track round the quickest line without excessive body roll or a feeling of lots of weight up high. It’s hard to unstick the back when there’s no surface water, but as that’s a PTM-equipped Porsche trait, I’m not holding it against the Targa. Whether the chassis damping is in normal or the more dynamic state, the Targa maintains control of its body at all times. This makes it more dependable and trustworthy than its glamorous exterior might at first lead you to believe, and coupled to the fastacting PDK transmission and a decent set of brakes, it makes the Targa a brutal point-to-point weapon, with accusations of it being a 991 poser immediately thrown out of the fancy open roof.

Porsche 911 Targa side

The biggest issue with its dynamic suite is once again the electromechanical steering. Linked to PTM and the 4S’s 20-inch wheels with wide rubber, there’s weight in the system that is lacking in a Carrera 2, but it still has an annoying dead spot around the centre, and doesn’t always accurately convey the attitude of the front wheels. It’s better in tighter turns and at speed, when it dials down the assistance, and it’s very precise too, giving the Targa an eager front end. But if we could just have the GT3’s setup across the 991 range we’d be even happier than we already are. As for other foibles, there are a few. In normal mode, the throttle response is almost infuriatingly woolly, which equates to the car needing some fairly hefty right-foot inputs to kick the PDK (in automatic mode) down a few ratios and summon up peak power – the Sport throttle mapping should be standard, as it’s hardly overly sharp and spiky; in fact, it’s beautifully crisp. Moreover, like any 3.8-litre 911, the engine only really comes alive beyond 5,000rpm, upon which it delivers an epic soundtrack. It has plenty of torque, but doesn’t always feel as ballistic as some of the performance stats might suggest. However, these niggles are really only pertinent to the odd times you request maximum performance from the Targa when it is in its most docile mode. The overall prognosis would be that it’s an easy car to drive slowly, yet a very rewarding car to drive fast.

95 Awesome

The 991 revitalises the classic shape in a truly 21st-Century manner. It might not be the sharpest 911 to drive,but it’s more than entertaining enough, and bestows on its occupants a feel-good factor that would be the envy of some cars costing half as much again. Porsche says that over the decades, Targas have accounted for roughly one in ten 911s sold worldwide, but it hopes the new model can improve that statistic. On first impressions, there’s absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t. It is wonderful to see the ‘proper’ Targa back, and even more so that it is a truly worthwhile addition to the 991 range.

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