2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4 Review: Performance Theater

I’m a simple man: if you give me a car capable of dropping its roof, so long as there’s no rain or snow, I’m going to drive it top-down.

To that end, you will find no top-up photos of the 2021 Porsche 911 Targa here. I didn’t care that it was deep into fall when I drove it, and even with the windows up and the heat cranked, my hands were getting cold.

Sometimes you have to make sacrifices like that for the Targa. The relationship is a two-way street, though: this Porsche packs more pounds than the Cabriolet, all to please your eyes in a way that model can’t. It’s no stiffer than the Cab, either, so dynamically it can’t match the purer coupe.

But it’s that reciprocation that makes the Targa special. Indeed, discounting the hardcore GTs and warp-speed Turbo 911s, the Targa is the model to have. What it loses in outright performance terms, it makes up for with a sense of occasion like no other 911.

Art of glass

The Targa gets to the heart of why we care about six-figure sports cars in all of 19 seconds. Flick the switch on the center console and the dance begins. The entire rear glass section moves up and back, suspended in the air behind the 911’s wide tail. (Parking sensors will stop the action if they sense a nearby obstruction.) The fabric section arches over the B-pillars, the caps of which briefly spreading open before clasping the hood in place. The rear section moves back into place with the low-key grace a dancer showcases away from the stage. You know the whole show is ridiculously complicated, yet it looks effortless.

If you’re dropping this amount of scratch on a car, you want it to have a killer USP, and the Targa’s trick roof is it. Performance isn’t enough these days: other cars will match this 911’s straight-line speed for far less than half its sticker. Most owners will rarely—if ever—beat their pride and joy around a track in anger, either. I’m not saying the Targa is a performance pushover, because it isn’t, but it’s more enjoyable more of the time than the straight-laced coupe.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Review

The Targa fixes the aesthetic shortcomings of the Cabriolet, too. Porsche has done what it can with that car, but even with the 992, the soft-top takes the edge off the iconic profile, and the lumpen tail section remains. Not the case here. The glass follows the same shape as the tin-top, and the contrasting B-pillars ratchet up the visual tension. On the spidery 20-inch front, 21-inch rear RS Spyder wheels (like the Carrera 4S we drove last summer), this Gentian Blue example looks great. The Targa should prove rarer than the other body styles, too.

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Grand touring

With the chunkier 3,658-pound curb weight (1,660 kg), the Targa was always going to be a softer driving experience than the coupe. It’s packing around 200 lb (90 kg) more, and even the Cabriolet is 44 lb (20 kg) lighter than this. What’s more, the weight is added in the worst place for performance: high up, and slightly rearward.

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All the added glass and roof motors do slightly blunt the performance. The 3.0-liter flat-six pushes out 379 horsepower and 331 lb-ft of torque, which is enough for a 0–60 mph run in 4.0 seconds even on this Sport Chrono-equipped model. Shifting duties fall to the excellent eight-speed PDK transmission. It’s just as capable of cruising smoothly as it is reeling off lightning-quick shifts on the hunt for that 7,500 rpm redline. The seven-speed manual is an option, but you’ll need to upgrade to the higher-powered Targa 4S to open it up. I’m sure the three-pedal setup would be enjoyable, but given the Targa’s slightly more laid-back attitude, the PDK hardly feels the poor relation.

Even in lower-powered form, the 3.0-liter is a peach of an engine. Torquey across its rev range, it responds quickly to prods of the throttle, feeling like a larger-displacement naturally-aspirated engine than one being force-fed air. It lacks the ultimate zing of the 4S, both in thrust and noise, though the latter may be down to our Euro-spec tester’s gasoline particulate filter.

Even lugging around all that extra weight, the essential 992 experience remains present. The steering has great, consistent feel, always responding to your inputs with unerring accuracy. The Targa is ever so slightly slower to turn in than the hardtop, but once it does, the sheer level of lateral grip keeps it planted. Unsurprisingly, the Normal drive mode works best on the sometimes-crumbling roads outside Toronto. It allows the Targa to breathe with the road, since harsher bumps affect it more than the lighter coupe. Find smoother tarmac and Sport mode makes a case for itself, allowing for higher slip angles before the stability control intervenes.

Same great 911 experience inside, now with extra sun

Porsche gave the 992 a more spacious interior this generation, and that pays off with the grand touring vibe of the Targa. The driving position is perfect, with the center-mounted tachometer staring back at you through the right-sized three-spoke steering wheel. There’s smooth leather all over the place, in this case a two-tone treatment of gray and Porsche’s “Chalk” off-white. It’s no truffle brown, but it pairs well with the deep blue exterior. There’s a refreshing lack of buttons lining the center console as well, yet the most common controls are all present and accounted for just ahead of the shifter. I’m still not sold on that particular detail, however: its size and action feel insignificant for something this special. Having to reactivate manual shifting every time you switch out of drive is an odd hiccup, too.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Lexus LC Convertible Review: A Future Classic

Fit and finish is very Porsche, which is to say it’s all tightly screwed together. Only the door-mounted plastic buttons feel low-rent, a blemish in an otherwise luxurious cabin. The fabric roof is well-insulated: top up, on the highway you’d be hard-pressed to tell you weren’t in the coupe. With open access to the elements, the Targa is naturally louder. It’s hardly a gale-force windstorm though, even at highway speeds. The optional Burmester sound system is more than up to the task of fighting any wind noise, too.

Like any Porsche tester, this one comes with a laundry list of options. InnoDrive is present on the Targa, and it operates smoothly here (which hasn’t always been the case for AutoGuide in the past). The system augments the usual adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist with navigation info, allowing the 911 to predictively adapt its speed for corners.

Other extras include the Sport Package (adding torque vectoring, sport exhaust, and Sport Chrono), front axle lift, those pretty RS Spyder wheels, ambient lighting, Night Vision Assist, ventilated seats, and more. Some of that should be standard, like the seats and lighting.

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Verdict: 2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4 Review

As equipped, this particular Targa rings up at $162,250 (or $184,940 Canadian), including destination. A lot, absolutely, but not a penny more than an equivalent Cabriolet: both start at $120,650 ($138,500 CAD). I’m not going to make an argument on whether or not the Targa is worth its price tag. Rational thought goes out the frameless window in this price range: it’s all about what the heart wants.

That’s where the Targa makes its case. It looks insanely cool, with a level of rarity you can’t find on the regular 911 coupe. Dynamically it isn’t the sharpest model in the lineup, but we’re talking slivers of a percentage of a change, and that matters roughly one iota on public roads.We don’t measure our relationships in numbers though, so why do it for sports cars? The 911 Targa makes compromises to make every drive more memorable, and that’s a big win in my books.

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