Porsche is often jokingly said to have the laziest designers in the business because the 911 has changed so little in 50 years. While that’s obviously an exaggeration the world’s most iconic sports car has remained remarkably true to its original lines. The Targa version, first offered for sale in 1967 as a sort of stop-gap while Porsche figured out how to make a workable cabriolet, has always been one of the most alluring 911 variants. An integral stainless steel roll-bar designed to address safety concerns gave birth to its famed B-pillar hoop bearing the Targa logo. Named after Italy’s Targa Florio race, where Porsche had scored seven victories since 1956 over the likes of Ferrari and Maserati, it was originally equipped with a removable roof panel and a removable plastic rear window, with a fixed glass version offered starting in 1968.
Following various updates in the ‘70s and ‘80s, in 1990 Porsche brought out a Targa version of the then-new 964, now considered the last of the “classic” Targas. In 1993 the design changed from a removable roof panel to a sliding glass one, which while not ugly definitely did not have the same aesthetic appeal, not least because it did away with the iconic B-pillar. Glass roofed Targas remained available until 2008 when Porsche updated the 997, and then last year the company unveiled the new 911 Targa with a radical redesign harking back to the original with the B-pillar hoop re-instated along with a fabric covered roof panel. The car employs a rather complex mechanism to remove the front roof section and stow it behind the rear seats, but overall it’s a styling triumph, a potent blend of modern and retro.
While we’re passionate about classic 911s, we don’t go to the extreme of some who disdain all modern 911s on the grounds that they’re too smooth and far removed from the air-cooled models. So we were more than happy to take charge of a 2015 911 Targa 4S for a week in Maine, motoring over to the historic Black Point Inn in Prout’s Neck, built in 1878.
The advantage of the Targa model is that it offers an open-air experience quite similar to a cabriolet in a more practical four-season package, with stability and performance more closely aligned to a coupe. Luckily the weather in Maine did not let us down and we were able drive with the roof retracted for most of our trip. This is done by simply pushing a button, a far cry from the calisthenics required to remove the roof panel in the earlier Targas. The mechanics of it feel fairly flawless, though you have to bear in mind that the rear glass section moves back more than a foot behind the bumper during the operation.
New Targas are only available in all-wheel drive 4 and 4S configurations, and there’s a considerable premium involved over base 911 Carreras. Base models start at $84,300 while the Targa 4 rings in at $102,930. Our 4S with a base of $117,530 (the same as the 4S Cabriolet) had lots of options bringing it to just over $150,000; quite pricey when you consider a new 911 GT3 starts at $130K. The full natural leather interior in garnet red, a striking contrast with the silver metallic paint job, costs $5,000 alone. The 4S delivers 400 hp from its 3.8-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine, accelerating from 0–60 mph in 4.2 seconds equipped with the optional seven-speed PDK transmission for $4,000. A manual tranny is still available for purists, but the paddle-activated PDK is so incredibly fast and smooth that it provides its own kind of pleasure.
The combination of AWD and open-topped motoring is pretty exhilarating especially when cornering at speed, something the 4S does Teutonically well. Big red brake calipers are another nice flourish. The Sport Exhaust goes from growl to roar at the touch of a switch on the center console; we rarely had it set to mute. Yes, the car is still extremely refined, probably a bit too much for the air-cooled types, but then they’d probably be happier in a GT3 or Turbo. The Targa is a pleasure cruiser as opposed to a track star, and it helped us make the most of the glorious days in Maine, with the knowledge that should a freak snowstorm occur (not unknown) we could just keep on driving and smiling. No matter the year or model, there’s still nothing like a 911 for making that happen every time you get in the car.