2021 Porsche 911 Targa First Drive | The best roofless 911

Zac Palmer
·9 mins read


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My neck hurts. My forehead is beat red. My hair is in absolute disarray. I’m gladly embracing all of that, because I just hopped out of a 2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4S.

Perhaps Porsche is just so good these days that in addition to making preeminently capable sports cars, the company has also mastered perfect control of the weather, as my eight hours with this latest 911 variant were full of sunshine and 80-degree bliss. It’s the setting that’ll make you fall in love with the Targa. Peak rigidity and minor weight gains be damned. Driving around with the unimpeded blue sky above and warbling Porsche flat-six echoing off the trees is pure driving bliss.

Those who've been waiting for Porsche to deliver the Targa version of the redesigned 992 generation of 911 don’t have long to wait for their grins, either. It’s arrived just one model year after the new 911 hit the market, far quicker than it did with the previous 911 (a three-year wait). Despite making up only 15% of 911 sales, not including the Turbo or GT models, the unique body style was still popular enough that Porsche brought it back.

There’s a lot of carryover from the previous Targa, which represented a wholesale change in how Porsche approached the Targa model. Instead of the glorified sunroof it was previously (or the single roof panel it started off as), the Targa's current roof design is a complex contraption consisting of a soft top that lifts back and gets swallowed by an aft-tilting rear window clamshell. It's a good thing pictures exist, because it's tough to describe.


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One notable addition to the roof operation for the 992 Targa is its newfound cooperation with the rear parking sensors. If they detect anything within 1.6 feet of the bumper, it cancels the operation and prevents the clamshell from crashing against whatever's within 1.6 feet behind you. Just like before, it takes 19 seconds to open or close, and you must be fully stopped for the duration.

The Targa's reason for being hasn’t changed. It’s an open-top driving experience similar to the Cabriolet (the body itself is identical to the Cabriolet up to the window line), but it adds a glass rear window and throwback styling. Porsche does apply some limitations, though.

Chief among them is our biggest gripe with the Targa: it comes only with all-wheel drive. Porsche says that Targa customers tend to prefer all-wheel drive, which has been the case since those glorified sunroof days. However, a sports car with a removable roof still screams summer car. Assuming said summer car won’t be taking on snow, there’s little reason for all-wheel drive. A rear-drive 911 Carrera isn't exactly some lurid, tail-wagging beast.

Another compromise is its heavier curb weight. The Targa 4 is 198 pounds heavier than a Carrera 4 (coupe) and 44 pounds heavier than the Carrera 4 Cabriolet. Blame the powered roof system for this weight gain. All the parts associated with the moving roof (fabric top, glass panel, bracing and more) account for 187 pounds of weight, which raises the center of gravity by 10 mm and causes a minor shift in weight distribution rearward. Porsche made the top lighter by using magnesium bracing for the soft top and “weight-optimized” laminated glass for the rear window. The Targa is also not as stiff as the coupe, but it's at least more rigid than the Cabriolet.


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Both Targa trims are equipped with the same engines as their counterparts. The Targa 4 gets a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six with 379 horsepower and 331 pound-feet of torque. The more potent Targa 4S nets you a hefty 443 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque from its upgraded 3.0-liter twin-turbo flat-six. Porsche’s conservative 0-60 estimates are all ratcheted back a couple tenths on account of the extra weight. A base Targa 4 without the Sport Chrono package's launch control is rated to hit the mark in 4.2 seconds, whereas a base 4S does the deed in 3.6. Launch control subtracts two tenths from both of those times.

Porsche says the Targa is identical to the Cabriolet underneath from a hardware perspective, but the dampers and the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control system are tuned using Targa-specific software.

After an afternoon spent gallivanting about rural Michigan in a Racing Yellow Targa 4S with a black Targa bar, my notebook was full of exclamations about how creepily good this car is to drive quickly. At a certain point, I contemplated the notion that Porsche chassis engineers were actually just wizards using their powers to make fast cars. 

It’s more satisfying than the standard coupe in a couple ways, too. Losing the top inherently allows for a greater sense of intimacy between the driver and outside environment. The 911’s sheer sense of speed is enhanced by the wind flying through the cabin and the increased exhaust volume. Yes, the engine is easier heard than in the coupe, and the Sport Exhaust’s pops and crackles are more apparent, too. Even though the coupe is technically quicker, the 911 doesn’t feel any slower when the roof is off.


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A vast number of things are identical to the coupe. The 911’s brilliant ride and handling balance is fully present and accounted for. It resolutely sticks to glassy-smooth tarmac, but is forgiving and pliant on undulating pavement. Other sports cars simply don’t offer the duality of greatness that the 911 does. The perfect pedal tuning and masterful steering are as excellent as always. Getting into a rhythm and connecting to the 911 on a twisty road couldn't be easier. It's quite simply unflappable.

Now, the Targa would likely reveal itself to be compromised versus the coupe on a race track, but no one is going to safely find those limitations on public roads. I also thought that the Targa handled impacts and especially terrible pavement better than the coupe does. 

Launching a Targa 4S is the same as in any other 911. The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (the seven-speed manual is available on the 4S) drops the launch control hammer from 5,000 rpm. It effectively smashes you in the chest with a dumbbell upon brake release, while the car tears down the road as if the devil himself was chasing.

Putting the top up felt like the wrong thing to do, but we had to see what it was like. Turns out, it could be better. On rough roads, the Targa makes its fair share of creaking noises. Nobody is expecting a Bentley, but the top made enough noise to be annoying. Michigan’s horrendous roads don't help the groaning and creaking, but smooth pavement quiets things down. Visibility out the sides takes a hit on account of the thick Targa bar right behind the driver’s head, but it’s a small compromise. Porsche’s large wraparound rear window almost makes up for it. 


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The noise you hear from the engine with the top up is also weirdly distinct for the Targa model. With less stuff in the way between the driver and engine, a metallic zinging sound comes into play in the upper rev ranges. It’s high-pitched, and if heard often enough, is a tad grating on the brain. Porsche identified it as the belt drive. Interestingly, the sound goes away when the top is dropped. Wind noise wasn’t intrusive or bothersome with the top up.

Buffeting will sneak up on you when the top is retracted, but it can be avoided at all road-legal speeds by opening the windows or deploying the wind deflector integrated into the cowl panel frame. I couldn't test it back-to-back with the Cabriolet full-convertible to see how the two compare, but other editors have reported that it's impressively serene and quiet when its pop-up wind deflector is deployed behind the rear seat. For both flavors of roofless 911, though, driving them with the top removed is how they're best served. Choosing between the two just depends on how much top you want removed and if you appreciate the uniqueness provided by the Targa. And if you don't plan to lower the roof much, just get the Carrera coupe. It’s cheaper, has a more refined cabin experience and has the edge in weight and rigidity.

Price is another hurdle you’ll need to jump over. A Targa 4 starts at $120,650, with the 4S at $136,550. Both the Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S are $12,800 cheaper than their equivalents. A Targa 4 and Cabriolet 4 have the exact same prices. Every performance option you might want is available for the Targa, too. Our 4S tester totaled $181,840 after Porsche was through with it. Big ticket performance items like the $8,970 carbon ceramic brakes and $2,090 rear axle steering aren’t necessary to make it great, but you’ll want the $2,790 Sport Chrono Package and $2,950 Sport Exhaust System. Also, get the standard silver Targa bar. The black bar blends in with the black top and mutes the most important design element.

We could start comparing and contrasting the 911 to various convertible sports cars, but when you're in this price range, emotion matters far more than anything you might find on a spreadsheet. And in the case of the 2021 911 Targa, we left the checkered driver’s seat only because Porsche was coming back to take the car away. A heavier curb weight and complex roof didn’t ruin the 911 experience. Unless lap times and 0-60 mph numbers are your priority, the positives of going Targa are worth the extra coin. It looks more exotic than the Cabriolet, goes like hell and is livable enough for everyday use. Once again, the 911 Targa is an open-top masterclass.

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