by Karl Furlong
The Porsche 911 may be the default sports car for the well-heeled, but the Targa 4 isn't necessarily the default 911. Perhaps it should be, though, carrying over most of the sparkling dynamics and benchmark cornering capabilities of the regular 911, but adding a dash of extra style and the novelty of top-down motoring. The turbocharged boxer engine provides potent acceleration across the range, starting with 370 horsepower in the case of the Targa 4 and going all the way up to 450 horses in the GTS, which can reach 60 mph in a blistering 3.5 seconds with the Sport Chrono Package and PDK gearbox. Most convertibles suffer from a notable lack of rigidity with the loss of a fixed roof, but you'd need to drive this back to back with the standard 911 to notice any difference at all. Even though the 991-series Targa 4 is due to be replaced next year, rest assured that this car is still at the top of its game and will leave many newer competitors with bloody noses - just don't try to fit anyone in those back seats.
With the current 911 Targa 4 in its last full year of production before it is set to be replaced, Porsche has elected not to make any major changes this year.
With its wraparound rear window and thick Targa bar, the 911 Targa 4 does a great job of visually distancing itself from other 911s. And, with very few Targas on the market at all, it's that exclusivity that makes this 911 special. On the base model, the electrically operated folding roof (which opens or closes in about 20 seconds) is complemented by bi-xenon headlights with four-point LED daytime running lights and 19-inch alloy wheels. The Targa 4S has bigger, 20-inch wheels. The GTS has 20-inch forged alloy wheels and SportDesign mirrors, along with distinctive black GTS logos on the doors.
The 911 Targa 4 measures 177.1 inches in length, 77.9 inches wide (with the mirrors extended), and 50.7 inches in height. A wheelbase that stretches to 96.5 inches is shared with the regular 911. The base Targa 4 has a curb weight of 3,462 pounds, increasing to 3,484 lbs for the 4S model and topping out at 3,495 lbs for the GTS.
Turbocharging may have found its way into the 911 range, but fortunately, the cylinder count of six remains unchanged. The 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged boxer engine produces 370 horsepower and 331 lb-ft of torque in the base model, enabling a 0-60 mph sprint of only 4.1 seconds with the dual-clutch automatic transmission and the Sport Chrono Package, along with a top speed of 178 mph. The seven-speed manual will do the same in 4.5 seconds and top out at 179 mph. The Targa 4S gets meatier outputs of 420 hp/368 lb-ft, so the benchmark sprint time drops to a best of 3.8 seconds, and a maximum top speed of 188 mph is possible. Highlighting the range is the GTS with 450 hp/405 lb-ft, with a fastest 3.5-second blast to 60 and a top speed of 191 mph.
The quickest sprint times are afforded by opting for the Porsche Doppelkuppling (PDK) seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Its breathtakingly quick and precise shifts are an industry benchmark, but it still isn't as involving as flicking through the gears yourself with the seven-speed manual gearbox. Regardless of the engine or gearbox you choose, the 911 Targa 4's powertrain blends rapid performance with an immersive engine note.
As its name dictates, the Targa 4 sends power to all four wheels. With Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), the electronic damping control system makes adjustments based on the conditions and driving habits, with Normal and Sport (firmer) modes selectable. This is still one of the most involving cars in the world to thrash through a series of bends, with ample grip from the wide tires and perfect weighting to the steering, which is usefully light at lower speeds, but pleasingly gains some heft at high velocities. With the top down, you get even more intimate with the boxer engine's awesome acoustics, especially with the GTS' sports exhaust system (a sport exhaust is optional on the lower trims and the touch of a button unleashes even more engine noise). The Sport Chrono Package adds additional driving modes along with an analog and digital chronograph, plus launch control with PDK models. Switch over to Sport Plus, and the Targa 4 reminds you why it's still a true 911. Considering its overachieving handling abilities, the firm but controlled ride quality adds to the Porsche's incredibly wide scope of talents.
Brilliant performance doesn't necessarily mean truck-like economy. The most fuel-efficient model in the range is the base Targa 4 with the PDK gearbox, which will return EPA-rated estimates of 22/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined. The Targa 4S with PDK manages 21/27/24 mpg, and the GTS with PDK has figures of 20/26/22 mpg. The model that is thirstiest is the GTS with the manual gearbox, which returns 18/26/21 mpg.
A 17.6-gallon gas tank is fitted, so whereas the Targa 4 PDK will be able to travel about 422 miles between visits to the gas station, the manual GTS will only manage around 370 miles. Whichever model you go for, premium gasoline is required.
Despite the intricate roof design, Porsche has retained the standard 911's four-seater capacity, although the Targa is more of a 2+2, since space at the back isn't at all adult-friendly. Things are much better in front, where leg- and headroom are good; of course, dropping the roof frees up limitless headroom. The Targa 4 and 4S have partial leather sport seats with four-way power-adjustment and integral headrests, while the GTS has seats trimmed in Alcantara. Being a Porsche, the scope for upgrading the cabin is wide, including 18-way adaptive sport seats with a memory package. Just about every surface can be covered in leather for those wanting a more luxurious environment.
In the usual 911 style, the engine is mounted at the back so cargo needs to be accommodated in the front trunk which measures only 4.4 cubic feet - this is even smaller than the rear-wheel-drive 911 models as the AWD layout takes up more space. Folding down the split-folding rear seats frees up another 5.6 cubes of space so, overall, you'll be able to get a couple of shopping bags into the Targa, but larger items will need to be left at home.
In-cabin storage space is unremarkable but typical for a sports car. The center console is on the shallow side but can easily accommodate a smartphone and one or two other small items, while two cupholders pop out of the dashboard. There are also lengthy door pockets, but these also lack depth.
Many of the best features require an additional outlay, but on all models, you do get power and heated wing mirrors, a programmable garage door opener, a power release for the front and rear lid, cruise control, a rearview camera with front/rear ParkAssist, dual-zone automatic climate control, and four-way power-adjustable front seats. Porsche expects you to pay extra for heated seats, a memory setting for the driver's seat, a heated steering wheel, and seat ventilation. And, while there are eight airbags, modern driver aids like adaptive cruise control and lane change assist are only available as expensive options.
The Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system makes use of a seven-inch color touchscreen. Usability is only average when compared to the likes of BMW's iDrive. As standard, PCM includes navigation, Apple CarPlay (but no Android Auto), wireless internet access, HD Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio with a three-month trial subscription, two USB slots, two SD card slots, an auxiliary input, and Bluetooth connectivity. The eight-speaker audio system isn't bad, but for the best sound reproduction, 12-speaker Bose or Burmester systems can be equipped - the latter has a total output of 821 watts.
Reliability and quality is another ace up the 911 Targa's sleeve. Where many other sports cars can prove temperamental, the 911 is an exceptionally engineered vehicle that has been made to last. J.D. Power agrees, handing the 2019 911 Targa a brilliant overall rating of 87 out of 100, which includes a stellar 92/100 for quality and reliability. According to the NHTSA, no recalls were issued for the 911 Targa 4 in 2019, but 2018 did see one recall for airbag sensors that may be loose, possibly leading to a lack of airbag deployment in the event of an accident.
Porsche covers the 911 Targa 4 with a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, 24-hour roadside assistance for the same distance/period, a four-year/50,000-mile paint warranty, and a corrosion warranty for 12 years with unlimited miles.
Local authorities have not subjected the 911 Targa 4 for crash-testing, as is the case for the majority of high-end sports cars. For peace of mind, Porsche has equipped the Targa 4 with eight airbags (including front knee airbags and head airbags), along with a rearview camera and front/rear ParkAssist. Tire pressure monitoring and the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system are included, too. However, driver aids like adaptive cruise control and lane-change assist will cost extra.
Porsche knocked it out of the park with the 991-series generation of the classic 911, shifting over 230,000 units. While the Targa 4 hasn't been the best seller in the range over the years, it inherits the unrivaled handling and steering qualities of other versions in the range but adds the novelty of open-top driving and the Targa 4's unique proportions. From the base model to the GTS, the turbocharged flat-six engine makes all the right sounds and provides a surge of power that never gets old. Even with a new generation of the 911 Targa 4 on the horizon, that shouldn't deter you from getting one of these 991 versions while you still can. Flaws are few and far between: the infotainment system could be easier to use, the rear seats are tiny, and too many driver-assistance technologies are expensive options. There are also cheaper convertibles out there, such as Jaguar's F-Type. But none really offer the 911's breadth of dynamic ability.
Owning an icon doesn't come cheaply. The 911 Targa 4 starts at an MSRP of $110,300 and increases to $124,300 for the Targa 4S. The racy GTS tops the range and costs $139,900. These prices exclude all options as well as tax, licensing, registration, and Porsche's delivery charge of $1,250. Speaking of options, expect to pay $2,330 for 14-way power sport seats and $3,980 for these seats in combination with the Premium Package, which adds seat heating, LED headlights, and auto-dimming mirrors. The PDK gearbox adds $3,210 to the base model and the Sport Chrono Package costs $2,090. Adaptive cruise control, meanwhile, adds $2,490.
While most enthusiasts crave more power, the base Targa 4 has more than enough grunt and, considering that some options are essential, this is the version we'd go for to keep the price reasonable. We'd stick with the manual gearbox and add on the Premium Package with the 14-way power seats, the Sport Chrono Package, and adaptive cruise control, taking the overall price to $118,860. That's still more than a $5,000 saving over the base 4S, which doesn't have these extras as standard.
Why not keep things simple and just go for the hardtop Carrera, you may ask? Starting at just over $90,000, the outgoing 911 series Carrera (soon to be replaced by the 992) provides a more affordable entry point into the 911 range, but the same powerful engine. The base model is also rear-wheel-drive, something that may please purists and which provides a bit more cargo capacity. Essentially, the main difference between these two is the roof and the styling, with the Targa 4 offering a more unique interpretation of the 911 and the glamor of top-down driving. Each car has a similar cabin with high-quality materials and a driver-focused layout. Rather than competing with each other, both have their plus points: the Carrera is cheaper, lighter, and has RWD, making it the more classic option. But for those wanting something different, the Targa 4 will appeal.
Many shoppers interested in one of these cars is likely to consider the other, too. The 911 Cabriolet is a more traditional drop-top, as the roof folds away entirely, whereas the Targa's distinctive rear window remains in place. Both the Targa and the Cabriolet have less overall cargo volume than the 911 coupe, but that's the price to pay for a stylish convertible design. Thankfully, they also share the regular coupe's turbocharged flat-six engine, endowing them with strong acceleration and excellent flexibility. Both ranges feature a high-performance GTS version. The Cabriolet does start off at a cheaper price point, though, and offers a choice between RWD and AWD, whereas you can only have the Targa 4 with AWD. Choosing between these two is like trying to pick your favorite premium chocolate from a tray full of them - you can't be sure you've made the right choice, but you also can't go wrong.