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A poseur's boulevardier it may be, but with a turbocharged engine does that change the recipe?

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On its introduction, the Targa name on the flank of a Porsche 911 was designed to reflect the Targa Florio, Sicily’s famous motor race.

That was in the 1960s, and we don’t know about you, but when we think of Targa today, the image that occurs to us is not one of a 911 spearing up a winding mountain pass in a motor race that was canned when it just became too dangerous.

The whole rear section opens to stow the roof; the mechanism is essentially from the 911 cabrio's

Instead, we think of a classic Porsche 911 in a period colour – yellow, perhaps, or brown – cruising along a Californian boulevard near a sun-drenched beach.

Both are fairly romantic ideals, but the latter strikes us as more synonymous with the Targa because the original incarnation of it ended up being so popular in the US.

Not for nothing was it first revealed at a motor show in the United States – Detroit – where its shiny rollover hoop and roof mechanism revived the traditional Targa theme and replaced a sliding glass roof. That is not the only change, as the new twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre engine that is now powering the Carrera and Carrera S Porsche 911's has now found its way into the Targa as well.

Will it find similar favour here? We’ll let you know the answer.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Porsche 911 Targa headlights

The original 911 Targa, released in 1967, was Porsche’s answer to rollover crash regulations that it thought were coming to the US and would have outlawed full convertibles.

The Targa, then, retained a structure behind the occupants’ heads, but with a removable roof panel and a removable rear window — a body shape that, originally a stop-gap, became a third bodystyle until the demise of the 964-generation in the early 1990s. The 993 model revised the Targa as a sliding glass roof panel.

The windscreen is a direct carry-over from the convertible, sensibly. No point adding cost and complexity if you don't need to

We suspect that this latest Targa, based on the current 991 generation of the 911, will find much approval there, too.

There’s no doubt about what is the stand-out design feature of the 991-generation 911 Targa: the hoop has returned.

And we, at least, are very grateful for it. It made the Targa what it was in the first instance and, to us, it has felt rather like the 911 has become a two-bodystyle-only car since its demise with the 964 911.

However, it has returned not in its original form, which had bits – shock – that had to be removed by hand. None of that grubby manual work today would befit what is, here as tested, a £109,531 Porsche 911.

In its place is an electric mechanism, borrowed from the 911 cabriolet, which folds the roof up or down in 19sec, and only then if the car is stationary.

When retracted, it leaves the open panel and also leaves in place the curved rear screen, which is smattered in thin heater elements to keep it demisted – like a heated windscreen is, rather than a normal rear window.

Sensibly, Porsche hasn’t reinvented the roof when it comes to creating this generation of Targa. At a stroke, it has given the 911’s third bodystyle a new lease of life by reintroducing the distinctive roll hoop while saving itself the trouble of creating a mechanism for sliding a roof panel back by, effectively, using the one from the 911 cabriolet.

But whereas the 911 cabriolet has a rear deck that lifts while the hood origamis itself into the nook left beneath the panel, the whole Targa shebang — rear window, rear panel and all — rises to allow the roof to fold into the space left behind.

That it’s a sizeable roof panel is perhaps one reason why the 911 retains only four-wheel-drive transmission and the requisite wider bodywork. That it adds yet more weight behind the passenger compartment is potentially another reason. The official one is that this is an all-weather topless 911.

All of this gubbins sits atop some very familiar Porsche 911 hardware. The Targa is available with four-wheel drive only and is tested here in the more powerful Carrera 4S guise rather than its base 4 or range-topping GTS forms.

Powering the Targa range and driving all four wheels, is a twin-turbocharged, six-cylinder 3.0-litre engine, and the only real difference between the three variants is the slightly bigger compressors, which means the base Carrera 4 gets 364bhp, Carrera 4S gets 414bhp and the GTS 444bhp.

Where a Targa does split from other 911s is that, in creating a car that is 110kg heavier than the coupé (and 40kg more than the cabriolet), Porsche has chosen to modify the suspension to cope.

That’s to Porsche’s credit, because there are plenty of manufacturers who wouldn’t bother with fitting rebound buffer springs, meant to restrain body movements while cornering.

INTERIOR

Porsche 911 Targa dashboard

That large curved glass rear screen, fixed rollover bar and retracting cloth roof are the features to alight on first.

They make the new Targa different from the last couple of iterations, and from a current Porsche 911 coupé or convertible.

The roof controls consist of separate buttons to lower and raise the cloth top; same as the convertible

In all other respects, the car’s cabin is the same as its siblings’. It’s large for a sports car and quite practical, with occasional rear seats, lots of cubbies for your odds and ends and plenty of elbow space and headroom. It’s trimmed and finished to a meticulous standard and conveys a sense of quality throughout.

It may perhaps be a bit short on material style, charm and sporting ambience – compared with, say, an Aston Martin Vantage or a Jaguar F-Type – but so much we’ve already written of this 991-generation 911.

The Targa’s bit-part role is to be a more usable, practical, safe and secure alternative to a convertible and simultaneously more special and laid-back than a coupé. It succeeds on some of those scores, but not all.

For instance, although standard four-wheel drive clearly adds to the Targa’s year-round usability, it means that you get a smaller front-end cargo compartment than in a standard Carrera cabrio: 60mm shorter front to rear, according to our tape measure.

Equally, in the cabrio, you can pop the roof down and drop bags and boxes straight into the space behind the back seats. In the Targa, that wide roof bar gets in your way.

The roof mechanism is quite elegant and allows you to lift the rear screen to stow a couple of soft bags under it, in the space where the folded roof would otherwise be. But the area is not as easy to get at as it was in the previous Targa, which had a simpler, side-hinged glass hatch.

Porsche could certainly have done more to inject extra warmth and style into this interior, you’d say. It has also left the case a little unclear as to whether a Targa or a standard Carrera convertible would make a better grand touring 911 – as we’ll go on to explore.

As for standard equipment, the Carrera 4 gets 19in alloy wheels, four-piston brake calipers, rear parking sensors, bi-xenon headlights, dual-zone climate control, sports seats, a leather upholstery and Porsche's Communication Management infotainment system complete with sat nav, smartphone integration and a 7.0in touchscreen display. Upgrade to the Carrera 4S and you'll find your Targa rolling on 20s, plus six-piston brake calipers, a mechanical limited slip differential and a torque vectoring system.

The range-topping Targa GTS gets a more powerful iteration of the twin-turbo 3.0-litre engine and swathes of Alcantara adorning the interior.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Porsche 911 Targa rear quarter

The extra mass of that folding roof doesn’t seem to weigh the 911 Targa down at all – either subjectively on the road, or objectively against the stopwatch.

Our PDK-equipped test car was aided by Porsche’s launch control system, but even once away from the line, it continued to go hard enough to satisfy all but the most demanding sporting purposes and tastes.

If you're moving, don't expect any commotion when you hit the button to activate the roof. All the car will do is beep at you

Hitting 60mph from rest in 4.3sec and 100mph in 9.8sec makes the car faster on both counts than the considerably more powerful Mercedes-Benz SL 500 and fully 2.3sec quicker to three figures than a Jaguar F-Type coupé V6 S. Not bad for Zuffenhausen’s softer option. The new twin-turbo engines give the 911 Targa even more flexibility meaning it may not rev as freely as before but its powerful is far more exploitable lower down.

Porsche’s bigger flat six gets going much sooner than the 3.4 we sampled in the standard 991 coupé two years ago. It has enough torque to make the Targa 4S feel as fast as most will ever want in give-and-take situations and, at the same time, it sounds deliciously pure and unfettered at medium and high crank speeds.

It’s one of a dwindling number of quality-over-quantity powertrains left, even among true sports cars, but that said, it’s a true hard-hitter as well.  

The PDK automatic 'box is excellent and capable of delivering more precisely timed shifts than you ever could in a manual. But it’s still at its best in paddle-shift manual mode. Left in Drive – even when you select Sport mode, sometimes – the gearbox can be a touch slow and clunky kicking down.

It also isn’t always quite as smooth as a torque converter auto might be around town. Neither is a serious demerit, but both foibles are just present enough in the general driving experience to be noticed.

And, you’d guess, a Targa driver might notice them more often than the average Joe.

RIDE & HANDLING

The 394bhp Porsche 911 Targa

The softened compromise imposed by the 911 Targa is no longer anything like as pronounced as it used to be in the days before Sport Chrono Plus packages and PASM adaptive dampers brought such versatility to the modern Porsche driving experience.

With the variable systems of our test car set to Sport Plus mode, it had resolute body control and excellent outright grip levels during our limit handling tests.

The extra body roll makes the Targa more of a handful in the wet. Its 4WD system never quite works quickly enough to prevent a big slide

Only in the minutiae of the car’s on-road behaviour can you really tell a Targa from a Carrera now. If you’re a 911 traditionalist, there’s actually a good chance that you’ll prefer what you find in the Targa, whose roll axis feels higher and more rearwards sloping than that of the standard car.

The Targa wants to roll a little farther than a Carrera as you commit it to a bend, to squat slightly harder on its driving rear wheels mid-bend and generally to exhibit the traditional handling characteristics of a 911 more vividly.

Because there’s more compliance and roll in the chassis in normal PASM mode, there’s also a shade less precision to the initial steering response and marginally less outright lateral grip than in a Carrera 4S. But a Targa still steers more accurately and talkatively than most of its rivals and it grips just as hard.

The difference is that, when you extend it on the road, the Targa feels more like an old-school 911 than the Carrera: it wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s more alive to a lifted accelerator pedal or a trailing dab of the brakes in a fast corner; more rewarding and interactive to drive in certain circumstances, even.

Added to which come the benefits of that softer chassis for rolling refinement. No 911 is ever likely to be a refined car in the strictest terms. The Targa’s wide rear tyres create plenty of road roar, and the cloth roof doesn’t entirely keep out wind rustle.

But the added long-wave absorbency of the chassis tune is welcome over British roads, at times when comfort matters more than perfect handling precision.

Set to one side any sort of prejudice that might put you off a 911 Targa, if for no other reason than this: when push comes to shove, it’s as quick around a track as a Porsche 911 should be — and that means a good deal quicker than anything else in the ballpark.

The lap time of the Targa 4S on the dry handling circuit proves beyond doubt that this car is to be taken seriously. We’re confident that a like-for-like Carrera 4S would have been a shade quicker, but a Mercedes-Benz SL500, BMW 650i convertible and a Jaguar F-Type V8 S are all markedly slower — and by full seconds, not tenths.

The Targa grips, goes and stops hard up to a high threshold, and when it does begin to run out of adhesion, it does so as you expect: from the front end under power and from the rear under brakes. It gives you some power-on understeer to contend with — but brake right up to the apex, settle the front end and drive in time-honoured Porsche style, and it’s poised and adjustable.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Porsche 911 Targa

A Porsche 911 Targa is not cheap. Even if you do without most of the options that leave our test car at £109,531, in basic form you’re looking at a £99,684 car.

Do without the S specification and a base Targa 4 will set you back around £90,000 – which is more than a Mercedes-Benz SL 500, albeit less than Aston Martin’s V8 Vantage roadster.

Its residuals shade a Mercedes SL and Aston V8 roadster year after year. The 911 is pricey but worth the outlay

Our depreciation experts reckon it’ll retain marginally more value than both. And it’ll do so while, if you’re careful, returning almost 30mpg on a cruise, with a touch over 20mpg achievable as an overall average.

For those who will run one as a company car, the monthly benefit-in-kind bill is £1163 at the 40 percent tax rate.

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VERDICT

4 star Porsche 911 Targa

For a car that should probably have been dead for the past 30 years, the Porsche 911 Targa is in rude health.

Niche it may be, but the model has come to represent an alluring prospect: a sports car with an added smattering of the boulevardier.

Sophisticated and enjoyable. If you like the idea of it, you'll like the reality

And there’s no need to feel at all sheepish if that idea tickles your fancy, because the new Targa gives up so little to a 911 Carrera on the road that the difference is hardly worth measuring. You’re trading a sliver of handling precision here for a bigger gain on pragmatic chassis compliance and losing no performance to speak of.

Our main regret is that Porsche didn’t do more to give this car a distinctive character. With a more luxurious cabin and smarter packaging, the Targa could earn itself a very special place in the model line-up; one you could understand and buy into instantly, without qualification.

As it is, the Targa’s biggest selling point is that it’s still a Porsche 911 – but it does little to improve the breed.

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Porsche 911 Targa 2014-2019 First drives