Tested: Porsche's 911 Targa 4S

Go shopping for a Porsche 911 and it's not as easy as you think. The prospect of kickstarting the heart by shelling out upwards of $200k for Porsche's most iconic sports car first has you selecting from one of the 20-odd model variants - the most expensive of which can step the price up closer to half a million dollars.

Regular and turbo engines, big and small capacities, wide and wider body styles and drop-tops or fixed roofs. By the time you combine the permutations there's a plethora of 911 choice that caters to enthusiasts, race drivers and posers alike.

One of the lesser selling models that helps flesh out the broad model range is the Targa, a model that's just arrived in the latest 991-generation guise. As the name suggests it's about giving a better view of the sky, but with less of the soft-top compromises of the Cabriolet.

More recent versions of the 911 Targa had a glass roof but the latest 991 generation that's just gone on sale takes it a step further with a retro-inspired canvas panel teamed with a glass rear section.

What do you get?

If you've got your mind set on a Targa your options are limited to three variants, all of which adopt the four-wheel drive system that adds about 50kg to the weight and almost $16,000 to the price. The base Targa 4 sells from $250,000 (plus on-road costs, plus $5950 for the auto most buyers choose) while the rortier GTS is a $305,300 proposition.

In the middle is the Targa 4S tested here ($287,200 and $293,150 for the auto).

By way of comparison it's $4300 more expensive than the 4S Cabriolet and $26,300 more than the 4S Coupe.

In true 911 form equipment levels are modest (a Porsche Macan at less than half the price gets more trinkets) but the basics are there; colour touchscreen, cruise control and a punchy Bose sound system. There's also partial leather trim, electric seats and adjustable dampers.

However there are some notable omissions, such as parking sensors and a reversing camera, things now commonplace on mainstream budget cars.

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Modern 911s come in three different body widths: regular for two-wheel-drive versions, wider for four-wheel-drive models, and wider again for the Turbo.

The 991 Targa plucks the middle of those body configurations, which is 44mm wider than the basic models, giving it a fatter look from behind and a wider track (the distance between the wheels).

What's inside?

There's little to distinguish the Targa from regular 911s in the cabin. Fantastic seats offer great support and comfort while there's good leg and head room for those in the front.

The familiar touchscreen accesses everything from phone and audio functionality to the trip computer and sat-nav. The instrument cluster is dominated by a tacho with a digital speedo within, to complement the analogue one alongside.

And there's a selection of buttons in the centre to allow tailoring of various electronic driving features.

It's among those buttons that the roof opening and closing switches are housed.

Best keep the rear seats exclusively for kids, and even then they'll be battling with upright backrests and no leg room if those up front decide to stretch out.

The back seats are more likely to be used for additional luggage space, adding to the 125-litre cavity under the bonnet.

Under the bonnet

As you'd expect from a Porsche the Targa is far from slow; dial up the launch control (part of the optional Sport Chrono pack) and you'll snap to 100km/h in 4.4 seconds. And the familiar 3.8-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder has all the feistiness you'd expect from 294kW of power.

It's also wonderfully flexible and responsive across its rev range.

However you also notice the extra weight of the Targa. At 1650kg it's one of the heavier in the 911 range, a legacy of its folding roof system (which adds 90kg over the 911 Carerra – and 20kg over the Cabriolet) and the four-wheel-drive system (with the extra 50kg).

It's more noticeable at moderate engine speeds where it means you'll need to squeeze the accelerator a tad harder than you would in the coupe, taking the edge off some of the 911's fantastic flexibility.

And the seven-speed auto might drop down a gear a fraction sooner.

The auto – a twin-clutch unit Porsche calls PDK – is as smart and slick as any with its shifts; the Sport mode sharpens responses slightly and is the best compromise of the three settings (Normal, Sport and Sport Plus) that adjust throttle and transmission reactions.

Fuel use is claimed at 9.2 litres per 100km and while it'll most likely hover around the mid-teens, drive it gently (where's the fun in that?) and you'll get closer to 10L/100km. It's helped partly by its excellent stop-start system, which almost instantly refires the engine once you lift off the brake pedal.

On the road

It's pure 911 in the way the Targa goes about its business. Huge 20-inch Pirelli tyres (245mm wide at the front, 305mm at the rear) grip brilliantly and help with phenomenal cornering ability. Praise also goes to the suspension that not only positions and controls the body with class but also manages to be comfortable enough over bumps.

Brakes, too, are potent and superb in their feel and reactions.

The usual 911 caveats apply and it pays to remember most of the weight is hanging over the wider rear wheels; accelerate too soon out of a corner and it can lift the nose and start to run wide.

But there's never any problems with traction; the huge rear tyres seemingly clawing into the bitumen for potent acceleration; the four-wheel-drive system is the final piece of a complex and accomplished dynamic package.

But there are noises, some of them more noticeable in the Targa. Roar from the tyres is a constant high-speed companion, something amplified on rougher surfaces.

With the roof down, too, there's noticeable rustling from the silver hoop between the front and rear seats.

Speaking of which, the roof takes 20 seconds to go through its tilt-and-fold operation, something that nestles it neatly behind the rear seats. But it can't be operated on the move (the 911 Cabriolet folds in 13 seconds and can be performed up to 50km/h.

Verdict

On paper the case for a Targa makes less sense. It's heavier and slightly slower than a coupe. It's roof only opens to half the extent of the Cabriolet – and can't be operated on the move.

But one look at the classic proportions of the elegant roofline and its clever operation cements it as a modern 911 classic. It's a car for the heart not the head – a car that is pure 911 with some open air fun thrown in.

Specifications

Price: $293,150, plus on-road and dealer costs

Country of origin: Germany

Engine: 3.8-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder petrol

Power: 294kW at 7400rpm

Torque: 440Nm at 5600rpm

Fuel use: 9.2L/100km

CO2 emissions: 214g/km

Transmission: 7-speed auto, four-wheel-drive

Weight: 1650kg

Safety: 6 airbags; stability control

Pros: Clever folding of glass/fabric roof; fantastic dynamic ability; vaguely practical

Cons: Roof can't be operated on the move; Targa weight takes edge off performance; lacks active safety features; wind and tyre noise