2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4 provides a welcome escape

Automorbit – Life during coronavirus has stripped us of many of the leisure activities we hold dear, but a top-down convertible drive on a sunny 87-degree day is still a simple joy that the virus can’t touch.

The Targa 4 before me is absolutely stunning. Painted Gentian Blue, shod with $3,740 RS Spyder Design wheels, and wearing a classic aluminum Targa bar, it looks sinister, beautiful, and expensive. The looks aren’t deceiving.

This is my first chance to drive a 992-generation 911 convertible and my first shot at the base powertrain. With relatively open mid-workday Michigan roads ahead of me, I soon learn that you don’t have to spring for an S model to get plenty of performance out of the 992-generation 911 and that the Targa is the 911 convertible to buy.

A convertible in coupe clothing

Both with the top up or down, the Targa does a better job of retaining the 911 coupe’s curves than the cabriolet. It has a similarly sloped greenhouse profile in either configuration but trades the coupe’s aluminum roof for a wraparound glass rear window and the iconic aluminum Targa bar that dates all the way back to 1965. (Yes, you can get the Targa bar in black, but why would you unless the rest of the car was black?) With the top up, the only part of this convertible that says convertible is the black fabric top that sits over the passenger compartment. Squint to look past the rear glass and the Targa resembles the cabriolet, but I prefer to take in the whole, including the Targa bar and the rear window shape, to see a more cohesive coupe-like look.

The Targa top isn’t a removable panel over the front seats like on the Chevrolet Corvette, and it’s not a simple retractable cloth center section, either. The 911 Targa is essentially a convertible with a complex mechanism.

I flip the switch on the center console (one switch to put the top down, another to bring it back up) and the Targa’s roof does an unexpected dance for anyone who has never seen the top in action. The domed glass rear window pops up and moves back, bringing the rear vents and rear deck panel with it. The cloth roof over the front passengers unlatches automatically, pops up, and begins to travel rearward. The Targa bar splits into the three sections so the outward edges can tuck in to allow the cloth top mechanism to skirt past into a rear compartment. The Targa bar reassembles itself, and the rear glass returns to its proper position. The entire process takes 19 seconds when either raising or lowering the top.

The top is now stowed and I’m ready to set off on the highways and lake country roads outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Sunscreen applied, hat and sunglasses on, sun out, and The Washington Post’s “Constitutional” podcast examining topics like the right to a defense attorney, how Prohibition began and ended, and the Loving v. Virginia case that legalized interracial marriage in 1967, this is a better way to spend the day than combing through the features list of the Chevrolet Spark.

A highway jaunt out to better roads reveals that the 911 Targa is a quieter convertible. The Targa bar and rear glass help the wind flow over the top instead of buffeting inside the cabin. And yet, it feels open from the driver’s seat, imparting that feeling of freedom only a convertible can create. Later, when I put the top back up, the noise dies down to near-coupe levels. The only downside is the Targa mechanism’s weight. It adds 314 pounds compared to the coupe and 150 pounds compared to the cabriolet. Still, between its looks and its quieter cabin, the Targa is the better 911 convertible.

Performance comes standard

I’ve driven the 2020 Porsche 911 S and 4S and found them to be greater than the sum of their parts. In fact, our team agreed and we named the 2020 Porsche 911 the Motor Authority Best Car to Buy 2020 based on the strengths of the S models.

The twin-turbo 3.0-liter flat-6 in those cars spins out 443 horsepower and 464 pound-feet of torque, which enable 0-60 mph times of 3.3 seconds for the S and just 3.2 seconds for the 4S. A detuned version of that engine powers 911 base models, including the Targa 4. With 12 psi instead of 16 psi of boost and smaller turbine and compressor wheels, it makes 379 hp and 331 lb-ft of torque, which is 9 hp more than the 2019 engine thanks to better intake efficiency, a symmetrical turbocharger layout, and new piezo fuel injectors. It’s good for a 4.0-second 0-60 mph run, according to Porsche.

That may seem like an unachievable time for the 3,658-pound Targa 4, but, like the S models, the 911 Targa 4 feels like it has more power than its stats suggest, both from a stop and at speed. The power is ready and willing at highway speeds when the revs are already up, though it’s not as He-Man strong as the S version.

Surely it can’t launch as hard as an S model, can it? At an open country four-way stop I engage Sport+ mode, jam the brake with my left foot, then jump on the throttle. I look left: nothing. Look right: nothing. I let go of the brake before turning my head all the way back to the left, and bam! My right ear hits the headrest as the car rockets forward. With more than 60% of the weight on the rear, the Targa 4’s optional 305/30R21 Pirelli P Zero rear tires (295s are standard) bite into the pavement. Any slip from those massive rear tires is mitigated by traction at the front, so the vast majority of the engine’s power becomes forward motion.

Sorry I doubted you, flat-6. You’re nearly as strong from a stop as the S version during a hard launch. The S engine just adds an extra bit of punch, but the 911’s ability to put the power to the pavement means both provide a gut (and ear) punch when launch control is activated.

My only complaint about the powertrain is about choice. Like all Targa 4 models, this one is equipped with Porsche’s do-everything 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, called PDK. If shifts smoothly in Normal mode, shifts quickly in the Sport modes, and it’s always ready to tap into the engine’s power with timely downshifts.

However, Porsche reserves its 7-speed manual transmission for the Targa 4S, where it’s a no-cost option. That effectively gives Porsche $4,000 or more of profit as the brand has charged that much or more for the PDK in the past. I’m a fan of the PDK, but I’d rather shift my own gears, and I’d prefer the option.

With the top up or down, those hard launches don’t create body twist, which can be a problem in convertibles. The 911 Targa 4 suffers no quiver or shake over even broken pavement with the top up. Porsche uses thicker steel in the rocker panels and adds shear plates to the underbody to stiffen both the cabriolet and the Targa, and Porsche says the Targa is 9% stiffer than the cab with the top up due to the rear window.

I’m driving mostly with the top down, though, and disruptions like railroad tracks can create the smallest bit of dashboard shake. However, context is important and this might be the stiffest convertible on the market. I drove the lovely 2021 Lexus LC 500 convertible to get here and the 911 is noticeably stiffer.

The stiffness gives the Targa 4 most of the unwavering stability and poise of the coupe. The tight, quick steering tells me what’s going on at road level, and the tires provide copious grip through turns. The standard adjustable dampers help balance a smooth ride with agile moves, and even in Sport+ mode the Targa 4 never pounds over bumps.

Even though the engine hangs out behind the rear axle, this car is almost supernaturally balanced. The 305 mm rear tires have something to do with that, but driving this car I get the feeling that 50-plus years of continuous engineering improvement has overcome physics to create benchmark handling.

The 2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4 starts at $120,650, the same price as a comparable cabriolet and $13,200 more than a 911 4 coupe. My tester checks in at a cool $160,920 thanks to options too numerous to mention and many too frivolous as well. Among the group, I would choose the Porsche Torque Vectoring+ ($1,500), the Sport Chrono package ($2,790), and the front-axle lift system ($2,770). The rest only send the price skyward.

As the afternoon fades into early evening, I learn that Parchman Farms prison essential sanctioned slavery into the early 1970s, which constituted cruel and unusual punishment. This drive has been the farthest thing from cruel, though it is unusual to get out of the office on a beautiful summer day. This is what sports cars are about—escape, sanctuary, relaxation, and engagement. There’s hardly a better way to experience the sports car than playing hookey on the workday with a masterpiece like the 2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4, and that’s something the virus can’t touch.

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