When it comes to the term targa, Porsche is the last brand standing in the automotive space. Oh, sure, there are other companies that technically make targa-topped cars; the likes of the Chevy Corvette (both coupe and convertible), the Ferrari F8 Spider and every droptop McLaren all technically qualify as targas, as they boast folding central roof panels and permanently erected structures behind them. But Porsche is the only one in America to keep the name targa alive — fitting, as the carmaker was also the first to use it, way back in 1965.
The term GTS is also specific to Porsche — or at least, it was until Ferrari re-adopted it with the 812 GTS. Where Maranello uses it to signify open-top sports cars, however, Zuffenhausen uses it to specify cars with a Goldilocks blend of performance and usability — more potent and pleasurable than the regular models, more affordable than the big-bore Turbo and GT trims.
For the current 911, the GTS spec goes a little farther than before, bring added power over the S models it's based on, a specific sportier tuning for the active suspension, the beefier brakes from the 911 Turbo — and, of course, a host of smaller tweaks, such as darkened trim. It's also possible to opt for it with a seven-speed manual or the standard eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, a choice that will surely keep many buyers up nights trying to choose.
In the form of the 911 Targa 4 GTS with the manual, the 911 seemingly aims to cover as many bases as possible: brutally fast yet very livable, coupe but also droptop, old-school interaction mixed with 2022 tech. To find out how they all mix together, I took the GTS for a spin from the urban jungle of New York to the green forests of Vermont.
I've spoken before about my appreciation for the 911 Targa, but to restate it for the record, it's vastly superior to the 911 Cabriolet, at least in my book. Porsche designers have managed to keep more of the coupe's inimitable style with every passing generation of droptop, but there's still no denying that the 911 is at its least visually appealing when shorn of a roof. That's a compromise many are willing to make in order to bask in both the fresh air and the envious stares of others — but it's also an unnecessary one, given that the Targa delivers much of the same experience while maintaining the iconic silhouette of the 911.
The Targa also, arguably, benefits in the fact that its smaller aperture delivers less speeding air right into your faceholes. Even at highway speeds, with the roof open, the breeze and noise is more moderate than you'd feel in most true convertibles — without diluting the feel of unadulterated sunshine on your face. For me, at least, it's a win-win.
Yes, you might be thinking, it's a Porsche 911 — it's quick, water is wet, what else is new? But as with basically every 992-generation 911, it’s both how quick it is and how accessible it makes that quickness that can be astonishing.
Obviously, the most entertaining way to drive it is to rip the flat-six all the way to redline in each gear — and if you do so, you’ll be greeted with the sort of acceleration that pins backs to seats, sends unsecured cell phones flying to the stern and prompts yelps from unsuspecting passengers. But the twin-turbo flat-six also serves up a surprising amount of torque even at low revs, making it possible to pass most slowpokes with a single downshift at most.
There’s also, to put it mildly, an insane amount of grip. Every 911 now pulls more than 1 g on the skidpad, and between that, its AWD grip and the other suspension changes that now come with a 911 GTS, this Targa can go around corners with supreme confidence at speeds that will get you arrested. You certainly can still have fun at sane speeds — credit the fantastically direct, responsive steering for much of that — but you’ll always be wanting to push harder and harder in order to explore the GTS’s limits. Blasting down some of my favorite roads, I almost felt disappointed with how easy the Porsche made it; tackling your average fun stretch of tarmac in the GTS is like tapping LeBron for your pickup basketball team.
Let’s face it: stick shifts probably aren’t long for this world, at least in new cars. Take rates are generally low even among those few cars that still offer them, and with omnipresent electrification looming over the horizon, the days of new cars having multi-gear transmissions at all may well numbered.
Still, a few companies are clearly willing to cling to the stick, and Porsche, bless them, ranks high among that group. The current batch of GTS models just so happen to be the second-most-powerful 911s you can currently buy with a manual gearbox — behind only the 911 GT3. And they're not behind by much: at 473 horsepower, the GTS cars only lack 29 ponies compared with the GT3, and their turbocharged flat-six actually makes 74 more lb-ft of torque than their sibling's screaming naturally-aspirated boxer. Unless you're wringing the hell out of your 911 on a regular basis, the GTS might well feel quicker in the real world.
Having the chance to row your way through the gears in a car with this sort of power is always a delight; while it might not be able to accelerate as quickly as today's wonderous automatics, sliding from gear to gear and ripping through the tach with both hands and both feet in on the fun is involving in a kinetic way that few things in life can match.
And while it may be down a cog versus the PDK, the manual doesn't lack for highway cruising ability the way some stick-shift cars are geared to. At 2000 rpm in the tall seventh gear, the car is hustling along at around 77 mph. Based on my experiences, 30 mpg on the highway seems very possible if you drive conservatively...but where's the fun in that?
With a base price of $164,150 (and even more so at an as-tested price of $175,030, which doesn't include many of the more ludicrous options on the list), the 911 Targa 4 GTS finds itself bumping up against both the 911 GT3 and the 911 Turbo. (Anyone pointing out that a Corvette Stingray Z51 Convertible starts at nearly $100,000 less can stuff their sorries in a sack, because no real-world buyers are actually comparing Corvettes and 911s based on price concerns.) Buyers looking for maximum curb appeal rather than Maximum 911 at this sort of price point also might be tempted by the likes of the Aston Martin Vantage Roadster and Audi R8 Spyder.
Granted, many buyers likely aren't cross-shopping option-free Turbos and well-specced GTS cars, but having driven both, it's hard not to feel a gentle pull for the more potent, bolder-looking Turbo when the price is rising this high.
And while that 911 Turbo doesn't offer a row-your-own gearbox, well...that's not the demerit that you might think it is.
The manual doesn’t like to drive slowly or be babied; it wants to you tussle with it a bit. The shifter and clutch pedal are both weightier than you'd expect from a 911, too. That handy highway seventh gear is a long, sometimes awkward throw; the stick would seemingly prefer to go to fifth most of the time unless you definitively shove it over as far as it'll go. (I found myself in fifth instead of seventh at least half a dozen times over a short week with the car.) First gear is for launching, basically; it's gone in a flash, and if you're not on top of things, you'll hit the rev limiter before you make second. Plus there’s so much torque that you really don’t need to row through the gears that much. Third and fourth gears alone could carry you comfortably from 30 mph to 130.
Of course, all those traits would be more than worth living with if the alternative were merely average — but Porsche's dual-clutch automatic is one of the best self-shifting transmissions you can find today. The PDK is nearly as much fun as the stick when you select your own gears; there’s no slushiness, just snappiness.
Granted. there’s no clutch, so it’s not quite as satisfying — but it is a gearbox that feels like it wants to be shifted manually, not just that it has the option. And if you'd rather trust its wisdom when you want to haul ass, you'll find it's likely better than you are at choosing the right gear. On the flipside, find yourself in the gnarled stop-and-go traffic that seems to define modern driving in so much of America, and the PDK lets you relax in a way the manual never could. Add in its superior acceleration, remarkable durability and potentially better fuel economy, and it's hard not to feel like the manual is largely worth choosing for nostalgic reasons.
The beauty of Porsche's wild number of 911 versions and variants is that, like Ben & Jerry's flavors, there's something specific for everyone. If you don't like Cherry Garcia, that's fine; that's why there's Chunky Monkey. The Targa 4 GTS with the stick is a very distinct, rather complex flavor of 911 — a unique mix of flavors that blends together very well, even if it's not everyone's particular choice.
I include myself in that mix of undecided samplers, for what Even after 700 miles behind the wheel on every kind of road, I still hadn't quite managed to pin it down whether this 911's particular taste was the right one for me. At times, I craved the sheer madness of a Turbo or Turbo S; others, I wished for something a bit more stripped-down and pure with limits a bit more accessible, like a Carrera S stick.
And still other times, I found myself enamored. Because one thing is for certain: regardless of whether it's the one I'd pick, it's damned tasty.
Base Price / Price as Tested: $164,150 / $175,030
Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo flat-six; eight-speed dual clutch automatic or seven-speed manual; all-wheel-drive
Torque: 420 lb-ft
EPA Fuel Economy: A very conservative 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
Seats: Two and change
Know what you're talking about.