I have a confession to make: the Targa could be my favorite body style of the new Porsche 911.
The 911 coupe, after all, is one of the most gorgeous vehicles ever to roll across the face of the planet, but even with a sunroof, it keeps you largely isolated from the beautiful world around you. The cabriolet lets the sun shine in if wanted, but at the cost of that iconic shape. The targa version splits the difference, and in 992-generation form, it does so perfectly; the 911 Targa is nearly as sexy as the hardtop, but offers a driving experience it simply can’t match.
Granted, it’s not as much open-air freedom as the convertible, but I’d argue that makes it better. You still get the effect of open-air motoring that drives people to buy ragtops — You still very much feel like part of the world around you, rather than floating through it in a hermetically sealed bubble — but because of the fixed rear glass and smaller opening, you’re not blasted with as much direct sunlight, and it’s not nearly as windy.
The Corvette Stingray (both the current mid-engined wonder and past versions alike) also makes a great case for the targa top. Its is simpler, though, requiring an awkward reach and a delicate shove into the trunk to lock it into place. There, it’s a nice value-add, but one most people won’t use. The 911 Targa's ace in the hole is its ease of use; just like in a 911 Cabrio, all it takes is a long press of a button in the center console, and the top and rear glass enter into a mechanical ballet that raises and lowers in about as much time as it takes you to hum the Final Jeopardy tune. (Unlike the soft-top 911 and many modern convertibles, however, it doesn't work while the car is moving; blame the dangers of having a giant wraparound piece of glass in back hanging out in the middle of traffic.)
Now, you might associate targas with the oft-maligned cars of the ‘70s and ‘80s, an era when the convertible’s future seemed in doubt and removing the roof often reduced a car’s structural integrity to that of a Jell-O casserole. Banish those thoughts. Modern cars have far greater structural stability; besides, most open-top cars today are engineered as such from the factory, not simply coupes that engineers took hacksaws to in order to give the product planners something new. (Also, don’t make the rookie mistake of confusing targa tops with T-tops, the smaller pop-out panels separated by a thick, immovable structural component found in the likes of the old Chevy Camaro and the Nissan 300ZX.)
Past 911 Targas have taken quite a few forms since Porsche first whipped it up back in 1966 (fun fact: they were the first carmaker to use the term in an automotive context, and still own the copyright). That car had a removable roof panel and a detachable plastic window in back; since then, the nameplate has gone on to describe a coupe with a giant glass moonroof before taking on the form it's had since the 991 generation, where the folding mechanism of the cabriolet is adapted to support a humongous piece of glass in back and a flat panel on top.
The current 911 Targa 4 has the dubious honor of being what seems likely to be the least-quick 911 you can buy, what with it being both among the heaviest 911s (at a curb weight of 3,658 lbs, it’s 150 pounds beefier than the 911 Carrera Cabriolet) and the least-powerful current 911, with its twin-turbo flat-six making the same 379 hp and 331 lb-ft as in the Carreras.
Obviously, though, it’s still anything but slow — and the dual-clutch gearbox does a fine job of making the best of it. If there’s a quibble, it’s that does default to the highest gear possible in normal mode, as with all PDKs, but you can feel the difference more here than in others; running around at 1,100 rpm in town, there’s just not much power right there, and it takes a good moment to kick down if you hit the gas anything less than all the way to the floor. (The Sport Response button is very handy for these circumstances, but I’d say if you live somewhere like a busy city, just drive in Sport mode all the time.)
If you can live with a car that’s only delightfully quick instead of startlingly, shockingly or mind-blowingly so, though, the basic 911 is every bit as delightful as the rest of the lineup. The steering is sharp as a fresh Gillette, turning every turn into a moment of joy; the suspension sits near the perfect balance of comfort and sportiness; the brakes bite immediately and slough off speed with a confidence that borders on frightening; and the interior remains one of the better sports car cabins at any price, apart from the annoying way the steering wheel rim blocks the outer two-fifths of the instrument panel.
Now, if only Porsche would make a 911 Turbo S Targa...