The Porsche 911 Targa has historically trailed the coupé in the ‘best 911’ stakes, and on the surface, this new turbocharged model looks like it might suffer the same pitfalls as usual – it’s 90kg heavier and almost £9000 more expensive than the equivalent 911 coupé. However, many 911 buyers would consider that reasonable for the clever folding roof and sharp, retro looks. On top of that, it’d be fair to speculate that the extra low-down torque afforded by the new twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre engine (which replaces the non-turbo’d six-cylinder in the pre-facelifted 911) would better mask the added weight.
We’re testing the top-spec 414bhp Targa 4S complete with optional seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic gearbox, but you can also get it in non-S spec with 365bhp. You can’t, however, get the Targa with rear-wheel drive (as you can on the 911 Cabriolet and coupé); here, the active four-wheel drive system is compulsory.
What’s the 2016 Porsche 911 Targa 4S like to drive?
For the majority of us mere mortals, you’re not going to feel the difference between this and the coupé. Sure, the hard-top is lighter, but the Targa is still a stiff car with a meticulously well set up chassis. Take a moderate entry speed into a corner and the Targa turns in with fluid precision, delivering towering grip levels yet still offering a bit of progressive playfulness and mobility to the handling if you push hard enough for it.
The steering, while not as feelsome and fingertip responsive as some might hope, is well weighted and gives a good sense of how much grip you’ve got left. Which is likely to be a lot, although it is noticeable that the Targa washes wide at the front end a touch sooner than the coupé 911 and also has a bit more body lean. Our car didn’t have the optional active anti-roll bars and rear-wheel steering that might help to minimise both of these niggling flaws in the handling, and it’s worth pointing out that – while not the best of the 911s – the Targa still handles more precisely than a Jaguar F-Type Convertible.
Performance on the 4S is accessible yet breathtakingly aggressive. It pulls with real gusto from low revs and carries on through a broader rev range than most would expect of a turbocharged engine. Sure, there’s a touch less of the purist race car character that so enchanted enthusiasts with the previous engine, but because you don’t need to rev it so hard, this new engine makes it easier to enjoy more of the 911’s brutal pace, more of the time. The PDK gearbox remains one of the best, delivering rapid-fire shifts just when you want them, or keeping things smooth and relaxed in normal use.
Ride comfort is more than adequate on the standard adaptive dampers. Of course, this is a stiffly sprung sports car and you feel that in the way it bobs about over undulating or rutted surfaces, but the damping takes the sting out of all but the most severe potholes and keeps the 911 Targa settled most of the time. It’s a consummate cruiser as well as a vivid-handling sports car, and it’s refined enough to be comfortable long-distance; it’s virtually on a par with the coupé when the roof is up, keeping engine and wind noise down, with only tyre road intruding noticeably most of the time.
Dropping the roof has to be done when you’re stationary and with plenty of space behind you, since the mechanism is bulky and quite slow. However, with that mid-section of the roof tucked away beneath the broad, curved rear window, you get a proper fresh air experience without much buffeting, even at high speeds.
What’s the 2016 Porsche 911 Targa 4S like inside?
The Targa is much the same inside as the coupé. You still get the comfortable and supportive, if slightly narrow, Porsche sports seats complete with electric height and back adjustment. Visibility is good by sports car standards, with a fair forward view around the raked-back windscreen pillars and through that broad rear window – substantially better than you get in the full 911 Cabriolet model that many will consider to be the closest rival to the Targa.
Everything feels meticulously put together and finished in high-quality materials, with well-damped switches arranged fairly logically and a standard 7.0in colour touchscreen with sat-nav as the focal point. This new system is quick to respond, quite easy to fathom and easy to see even in direct sunlight but it isn’t as simple and straightforward to use on the move as BMW’s rotary-controlled iDrive.
You also still get the two cripplingly uncomfortable occasional rear seats, which are best saved for luggage. Equipment is decent otherwise, with Apple CarPlay, USB input and DAB radio, rear parking sensors, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control and 20in alloys among the highlights.
Boot space is limited to a small but deep cubby in the front of the car, which – with a bit of shoving – will take a couple of soft weekend bags.
Should I buy one?
The Targa remains a bit of a niche within a niche. You’d only really opt for it if you were adamant that you didn’t want the fully retractable soft-top of the identically priced (and, oddly, slightly tauter-feeling) 911 Cabriolet, and were also dead-set against the coupé that remains our favourite body shape of the 911.
That’s not to say that the distinctive styling, complete with coupé-like everyday usability, visibility and refinement, doesn’t have massive appeal. Clearly, it does, and if you’re after a 911 and see the Targa as the happy medium best suited to you, you’re really not going to be disappointed.
For all that, without the rear-wheel drive option that we favour, and given that it’s – marginally – less satisfying to drive than the four-wheel drive coupé and even the Cabriolet, the Targa 4S would be our last choice of 911.
What Car? says...
Porsche 911 Targa 4S PDK
Engine size 3.0-litre petrol twin-turbo
Price from £102,072
Torque 369lb ft
0-62mph 4.2sec (4.0sec with Sport Chrono option)
Top speed 187mph
Fuel economy 35.3mpg