Thrills come quicker in the Jag, whose 3.0-litre supercharged V6 hits harder and sounds more engaging
Targa has less power than the Jag and needs more revs and space to deliver it, but it arrives smoothly
Porsche's latest 911 Targa takes on the stunning Jaguar F-type in this sports car contest
The 911 Targa 4 PDK costs £88,675, significantly more than the Jaguar
The Targa has the wide bodywork of a four-wheel drive 911
Despite a strong showing by the F-type, the Targa remains the more practical choice here
Pulling one over on the Targa, the F-type can raise and lower its roof on the move
The F-type can reach 62mph in 4.9sec, marginally faster than the Targa
The F-type has a lower top speed, though, at 171mph compared to the Targa's 175mph
The interior of the F-type is, like the driving experience, more immediately showy and dramatic than the 911 Targa’s
The Porsche’s cockpit naturally feels a little less open than the F-type’s but it’s high quality and laid out intelligently
The Targa's 3.4-litre flat six offers 345bhp at 7400rpm
Jaguar's 3.0-litre supercharged V6 powerplant has 375bhp available
Jaguar fits 20-inch alloys to the F-type
The Porsche sits on 19-inch wheels at the front and rear
Classic-inspired Targa roof provides a retro look
Ultimately your choice here depends on personal taste, but for another year we'd take the Jaguar
This still feels like a sports car test to me. Which is, I suppose, a feat of marketing – and, perhaps, a feat of the fact that cars without roofs are not quite so crippled dynamically as they once were. It’s mostly the marketing, though, I think.
Had Jaguar’s F-type arrived first in coupé form, instead of the roadster that you see here, would you see it as the F-type sports car? Or would it be the poorer relation? The roadster was bigged up as the new Jaguar sports car when it was launched. “You’ll know within 50 metres,” Jaguar’s people said, “that you’re driving a Jaguar like none before it.”
Mostly true. But over the past year – and this dark blue F-type roadster, in V6 S form, has been with Autocar on our long-term fleet for just over that long – we’ve also come to learn that it is a Jaguar with many qualities of Jaguars before it.
Mostly the XK, from which, if you’re being uncharitable, the F-type’s aluminium architecture is derived. It’s wide, low and auto only, has hydraulically assisted steering and, for all its dynamic capability, is a bit of a hot rod at heart. But still, yes, it’s a sports car.
So, too, is the Porsche 911 Targa – to most people I’ve asked, anyway, who seem to see the Targa in a kinder light than the soft-top 911 cabriolet.
There’s something (and I hesitate to use the word because I’m 39) inherently cooler about an early 911 Targa than a cabriolet, no? And although the Targa’s purpose has been diluted somewhat in recent generations by being little more than coupés with sliding panoramic roofs, this version rekindles its identity by bringing back the traditional aluminium-look roll hoop with its gills on the side.
Except that, of course, in this case, it’s a bit of a bluff. Beneath the Targa lies generally the same roof mechanism as the the 911 cabriolet’s, only it’s a bit heftier even than that.
Where the cabriolet’s rear panel swings up and the boot folds below, the entire rear window and roll hoop lifts on the Targa, before the roof panel stows beneath it. Porsche calls the folding and unfolding a spectacle.
Porsche’s people are not wrong, but it’s a spectacle that can only be enjoyed when the car is stationary, and one that takes a full 20 seconds. The machinations add 40kg even to the cabriolet’s weight, making it 110kg heavier than the coupé, and its size requires the extra width of the bodywork fitted, as is traditional, to four-wheel-drive 911s.
So the Targa comes as a 4 or 4S only (4 here, incidentally), is vastly heavier than the coupé and yet isn’t, to my perception, massively less desirable than either the coupé or the cabriolet. Call me shallow, but that’s how I see it.
The Jaguar doesn’t require you to be stationary before its lid does its thing. And I’ve come to rather like how you can drop the roof as soon as you enter a 30mph zone, below which speed it’s happy to go up or down.
On a cold motorway commute, popping the roof down as you enter your home town, putting the exhaust into grumpy mode and listening to the crackles for just a few minutes adds vastly to enjoyment of the F-type, I think. And I don’t think that you’d bother doing the same in the Targa, not least because its rear-slung 3.4-litre flat six engine doesn’t deliver the same urgent aural thrills as the supercharged 3.0-litre V6 in the Jaguar.
Not that it’s without relative merit. The 911 makes peak power, 345bhp of it, at 7400rpm – sports car revolutions. The Jaguar’s all done by then, its peak output, 375bhp, made at 6500rpm. You might argue that there’s something more ‘sporting’ about the Porsche’s gearbox, too: a seven-speed PDK auto that adds £2298 to the Targa 4’s £86,377 price.
But the truth of it is that, although PDK has come of age in this generation of the 911, dealing with upshifts with seamless ability and revving on downshifts as accurately and positively as it ought to, there’s not a great deal wrong with the hook-up of the Jaguar’s eight-speed torque-converter automatic.
Granted, there’s less smoothness as it shifts up, particularly on part-throttle around town, but the lock-up occurs almost as soon as you’re rolling, so there’s precious little ‘slush’ about what we’d have once called a slushmatic. Besides which, it’s standard and makes the Jaguar look like conspicuously good value at £67,535. This is not a typical twin test for that precise reason.
Pitching the Targa against a rival isn’t totally straightforward, after all. It deliberately occupies a place where, around it, there aren’t too many rivals. But the truth is that both of these do more or less the same job and the chances are that, if you can afford one, you can afford the other; depending on spec, they’ll most likely be a couple of hundred quid apart and about £1000 a month.
The Targa goes some way to justifying its extra price by, despite occupying much less road space, being the vastly more practical car of the two. It has vestigial rear chairs, in which a child or a mate on the way home from school or the pub respectively will gladly sit to stay out of the rain.
There’s half a chance that their gear will fit in the front-mounted boot, too, whereas the Jaguar’s boot, in the normal place, is shallow and there is no rear accommodation at all. The front seats can’t be pitched back quite so far as in the Porsche, either.
The differences are a side effect partly of the mechanical layout – front-engined versus rear-engined, the latter making quite a lot of sense from a packaging viewpoint – and partly it’s a steel-mixed metal shell versus an aluminium one. Aluminium is light, but tends to occupy a bit more space to achieve a given stiffness.
Ah, stiffness: traditionally the downfall of the open-topped roadster. But neither feels particularly unrigid. In fact, the Porsche, particularly, seems to give less away over the coupé than we’ve come to learn that the F-type roadster does to its hard-topped sibling.
But both are fun to drive. The 911, despite the extra girth over the coupé, is keen and incisive and steers with immaculate precision. Its trademark Germanic heft around the straight-ahead quickly melds into engaging, accurate steering, and it corners well.
The Jaguar feels a touch more relaxed. It rides better – around town, both are a touch jiggly, but neither is harsh once you’ve got some speed up – and feels a mite less agile. But the handling balance is beautiful and the power output with which to exploit it is quick and able.
The Porsche has a great engine, too, but although its power arrives smoothly and response is instant, it takes a little longer to get wound up.
Which is better? Which wins? Honestly, it depends. The Porsche is more accommodating but is extremely satisfying to its core. The Jaguar is showier, noisier and a bit more old-fashioned in feel.
Either will do but, presumably, you have not come here to read a ‘there are no losers here’ verdict. Given another 12 months in either, I’d prefer to spend them in the Jaguar, because its relaxed gait and quicker ability to thrill are easier to appreciate on the road. Albeit I’d curse it every time I ran out of space.
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