The original 911 Targa was a product of the 1960s. Convertibles were going out of style in the advent of air conditioning and looming crash standards, so Porsche threw a hoop over the cabin and ended up with a cool new model. Today you can buy a 2021 911 Targa as an alternative to a full droptop or traditional hardtop. I’m just not sure you’d want to.
(Full Disclosure: Porsche loaned me a 2021 Targa 4S for a few hours and let me call into a teleconference with some engineers to hear some wisdom about its construction.)
(Testing Conditions: A few hours in heavy Los Angeles traffic and a few glorious moments of cruising on the Pacific Coast Highway.)
At this point, you have to know that every version of the Porsche 911 is objectively good. I mean, I’m no P-car obsessive but there’s a reason this model is a gold standard in performance GTs. You’ll never catch me walking up to a 911, keys in hand, thinking “well this will be bad.”
I would also say that even though I was driving a yellow sports car, it was not exactly an over-the-top or flamboyant machine. This 911 Targa was competent and capable, and my experience didn’t change just from the yellow paint job. But we’re not here to talk about performance. Today’s review is specifically of the 911 Targa’s roof experience. (That is the extent of the model’s value proposition, after all. It’s in the name and everything!) The roof did, certainly, have its moment, and it also had a major flaw. Just not what the internet would expect.
The first thing nerds always want to talk about with these: “Was there a sacrifice in rigidity when the roof was removed?” Thomas Krickelberg, whose job title at Porsche is Director, Model Line 911, was prepared for this question on a party-line with a bunch of test pilots last week. Effectively, no. The main difference between the coupe (hardtop), cabriolet (convertible), and Targa (removable roof center-section), “is in the thickness in sheet metal in the rocker areas.”
That means the Targa’s reinforced along the bottom to compensate for any loss of rigidity inherent with lopping the roof off of the car. From a standpoint of what I could feel on the road, yeah, no, it certainly didn’t turn the 911 into a wet noodle. I couldn’t detect any absence of rigidity in both peaceful and aggressive city driving.
More significantly, you can only spec a Targa with all-wheel drive. That’s probably the main way having a Targa will alter the 911 driving experience, albeit somewhat indirectly. As to why that is, Krickelberg basically said that the Targa tended to be bought by people with a lot of interest in safety and all-wheel drive appeals to them. I guess Porsche just doesn’t think enough people would by a two-wheel drive Targa to justify the cost in creating it.
There was one moment of true glory that I shared with my Targa loaner car and I dare say... It was beautiful. After pulling up to a stoplight in Manhattan Beach, I pushed the lower-roof button. The car Transformers-ed itself from a sleek, shiny sports car to a sleek, shiny sports car with a dude’s head in it (mine) and as soon as I got the roof-opening-complete alert from the dashboard the light turned green and I glided off.
I won’t lie, I felt like a boss for a hot second there. Actually, more like 19 seconds, as that’s how long it takes for the Targa’s roof to drop. And it doesn’t just drop which is why it’s so righteously cool. The rear window opens backward, a barrage of little metal bits rush around like Edward Scissorhands doing a haircut, and all this drama just to remove a little piece of cloth protecting the car’s pilot from the sun.
It’s kind of like a drumroll, and than, tish, you appear! Behind the wheel of a 911! How fun.
This trick is the whole reason to buy a Targa, and if that’s enough for you, I get it. It’s sweet. Also, I really like the fact that the car has a dedicated button for “roof up” and another for “roof down,” so you never have to wonder if it will get confused if you stop pressing it mid-process.
With the roof closed, it’s cool and quiet in the 2021 911 Targa’s interior just like any other 911. With it open, the breeze is soft and sweet at and below about 45 mph. Cruising backroads, scenic coastal highways, and around town at a canter is lovely. That’s the kind of driving I imagine a Mercedes SL is optimized for, which is where I got the headline here from.
But once you’re going fast, the wind is annoying and uncomfortable. It doesn’t really matter if you have the windows up or down, but 70-plus mph creates more ambient noise than I wanted to deal with. And that’s coming from somebody who occasionally rides around in an International Scout with no roof on it at all. Granted, I recalibrate my standards every time I change keys. But still.
I’m not sure what exactly is happening aerodynamically, but I felt like the noise intensity in the 911 Targa with the top down at speed was more aggressive relative to its closed-mode than other targa and t-roof vehicles I’ve been in. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, and somebody will drop decibel readings in the comments and exclaim that I’m an idiot and the 911 Targa is the comfiest targa ever.
I don’t know what else to tell you though–I love wind but I didn’t like driving this Targa quickly with its roof out. And that being the case, I feel like I’d much rather grab a coupe if I wanted the slick look or a convertible if my priorities were wind and sun. Still, I already know plenty of people I follow on Twitter who will raucously disagree with me so I guess it’s cool that the Targa is an option for people who want one.
Just make sure you test drive it thoroughly to make sure that’s you before dropping six-figures on one.
Porsche sent over a punch list of specs for the 2021 Targa 4S, so I’ll share it with you here in case you’re interested:
- Design/function of Targa roof features Targa bar, retractable roof section and wraparound rear window reminiscent of the original from 1965
- Powertrains and chassis setup generally shared with the 911 Carrera 4 and 911 Carrera 4S
- Closest relative in the 911 model lineup are the Carrera 4 Cabriolet and Carrera 4S Cabriolet
- 3.0-liter twin-turbo six-cylinder Boxer motor claiming 443 hp (+23 hp) and 390 lb-ft (+22 lb-ft) of torque (non-S gets 379 hp/331 lb-ft)
- 0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds with PDK, and using Launch Control (-0.4 seconds compared to 991.2 Targa 4S)
- Eight-speed PDK (new as of 992)
- Front track is 2-inches wider (vs. 991.2 911 Targa 4) (new as of 992)
- Staggered wheel diameters (new as of 992)
- New generation PASM dampers (allows for both firmer and softer settings, significantly quicker adjustment and better damping against quick, sharp stimulations ex: cobblestones) (new as of 992)
- Soft top panel constructed with two integrated flat magnesium pieces to ensure top is taut and provide noise and thermal insulation (same as 991)
- Roof mechanism opens in 19 seconds from start to finish