Porsche builds a better convertible by making it more like a coupe.
Enjoying a convertible in the summer is easy. There's ample opportunity to drop the top when the sun is out and the temperatures are friendly. But the true measure of a good cabriolet is how it extends the convertible season into colder months. How well does the warm air stay in when the roof is down? Is there buffeting with the windows up? Are there adequate tools to keep not just your backside toasty, but your hands, feet, and neck?
These are all questions we wondered after getting a call asking if we'd like to drive a 2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4S around southeastern Michigan in early March, when you can experience all four seasons over the span of a week. We didn't get that sort of variety during our time with the Targa, but seven days at the helm was enough to sample this coupe/cabriolet hybrid in more difficult conditions than when we originally drove it last summer. Unsurprisingly, it still rocks.
A vehicle's ratings are relative only to its own segment and not the new-vehicle market as a whole. For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.
The 911 Targa's design calling card remains its top mechanism. The iconic Targa bar, fabric top, and wrap-around rear window stand out from both the 911 Coupe and Cabriolet. In particular, we like the way the rear glass flows with the car's lines. It's a more cohesive design than what you get with other 911 body styles, even if the new rear glass does kind of marry a bustleback with a fastback. The silver Targa bar (it's available in black but just… no) adds a splash of contrast to the car's profile, while four available colors (black, brown, red, and blue) for the fabric roof allow further room for expression.
Our tester is a conservative take on the Targa, though. While we'd opt for something more exotic – hello Shark Blue with a brown top – the Night Blue paint, silver bar, no-cost Carrera S wheels, and black roof will slip past the average motorist while receiving knowing nods from enthusiasts and Porschephiles.
Beyond the Targa-specific touches, this is the same basic 911 design Porsche introduced at the 2018 LA Auto Show, both inside and out. A swept-back nose, an aggressively raked windshield, and fat rear haunches maintain the traditional 911 silhouette, while you'll still spot the front fenders when looking out the windshield.
The cabin's horizontally oriented dash and tall center console dominate, with touch-capacitive buttons on the lower section and a neatly integrated touchscreen above it. Material quality remains impressive, with attractive contrast stitching on our tester's dash. While this 911 sports the no-cost trim, we're okay with that – the textured finish at the bottom portion of the dash spans the cabin and feels suitably rich, while providing a nice contrast to the hero buttons just below the center display.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Porsche 911
We'll call the 911 Targa's score here a soft 6. It earns that rating with its excellent 18-way adaptive sport seats, which afford a huge range of adjustability and are as cosseting and supportive as nearly anything in a competitive product. We'd happily spend hours in these chairs. The Targa also impresses with its solid control of noise, vibration, and harshness.
With the top up and the exhaust set to its default mode, there's little to distinguish the Targa experience from the coupe. Even stiff winds struggle to get into the cabin – that's despite the frameless windows and the fabric center section or all the various moving parts that a breeze could conceivably sneak past. Road noise is more present, although the Targa is par for the 911 course, owing to its wide, staggered tires.
Drop the roof and tap the little pop-up spoiler at the top of the windshield frame, and the 911 Targa is like a convertible with better manners. Wind control with the windows down is excellent, and if you put them up, it's very easy to have a conversation at highway speeds. Moreover, this excellent wind control makes the 911 Targa a solid choice for roofless antics in cold weather.
We conquered our standard 85-mile drive route in below-freezing temperatures, and with little more than a hat and gloves, spent most of the journey with the roof down. But in a few important ways, the Targa comes up short at this sort of work.
A heated steering wheel, for example, is an optional extra. To be fair, it's dirt cheap at $280 for the standard unit or $590 for the heated GT Sport wheel. But this is a $135,000 car and well-heeled owners may not care for their hands getting cold because they forgot to tick a box. Heated seats, at least, are standard and our tester added ventilated seats via the Premium pack, so it's set for hot-weather driving.
We'd also like to see Porsche come up with a version of Mercedes-Benz's Air Scarf. Little more than a vent built into the seatback, Air Scarf extends convertible season by blasting warm air on the driver and front passenger's necks. It's a plush touch that would feel at home in a product like the Targa, which does an otherwise excellent job as a cold-weather convertible.
While it's fair to argue the Targa top makes the open-air Porsche experience better, the convoluted roof is worse if you focus on the sort of things premium droptops should do well. The roof mechanism puts on a 17-second ballet recital as the rear glass lifts back and the fabric section flips about, whereas a traditional 911 Cabriolet can expose the cabin in a mere 12 seconds. Likewise, you can lower the Cab's roof at speeds of 30 miles per hour, while the Targa must be stationary. Are these deal breakers? Not at all. They are, however, both things we consider important in a convertible and areas where the Targa struggles.
Like every other 911, the Targa 4S features a standard 10.9-inch touchscreen infotainment system along with twin 5.0-inch displays above the steering column, which flank a physical tachometer. The center display sits above a bank of hero switches for things like the nose lift, suspension, and exhaust, while a few touch-capacitive buttons for the climate controls sit below.
Overall, the cabin setup is fine and easy to figure out. The touchscreen responds readily to inputs and looks darn pretty in action, while the haptic feedback from the touch-capacitive controls is just strong enough to deliver the positive acknowledgement the driver requires.
The two displays that make up the cluster work well too, although we wouldn't mind greater graphical fidelity and more versatility in setup – the right display is the more useful, while designers relegated the left to a few simple formats, like a digital take on an analog speedometer (when there's already a digital speedo in the tachometer). Beyond those gripes, the 911's tech suite is functional and capable.
When we reviewed the 911 Carrera 4 last summer, we argued that there was no need for the more powerful S variant, that 379 horsepower and 331 pound-feet of torque was plenty. We stand by that position, even though we still giggled maniacally when deploying the Targa 4S' 443 hp and 390 lb-ft. Those numbers match the Carrera 4S and allow this 911 to sprint to 60 in as little as 3.4 seconds, so long as it carries a dual-clutch transmission and Sport Chrono pack. Without the Sport Chrono pack's launch control, 60 arrives in 3.6 seconds, while the manual gearbox drops the time to a leisurely 4.2 seconds.
While the Carrera 4 is lickity-split quick, adding the S to any 911 is a recipe for genuine speed. After the briefest hint of lag from the two S-specific turbochargers, the Targa 4S rockets ahead on a kahuna-sized wave of torque and a scream of revs from the 3.0-liter flat-six engine. Wide-open-throttle acceleration is invigorating, and just when you think it can't get better, the engine reaches the top of the rev range and demands the transmission changes gears.
Porsche's eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is arguably the best two-pedal gearbox on the planet and just as in every other model, it's a star here. In aggressive driving, its predictable behavior and willingness to hold gears make the manual mode feel redundant. Gear changes, going up or down, are rapid. But while there's no need to use the wheel-mounted paddles, it remains the more enjoyable and engaging way of driving an auto-equipped 911. The action is delightful, with a real mechanical feel to each tug of the metal shifters, while the bark out the backend encourages changes at the last possible second.
The sound in our tester is all the better because of the sport exhaust. After suffering through a week with the 911 Turbo and its standard exhaust, this Targa 4S proved the incredible value that is a $2,950 upgrade. Set to Sport, this car sounds richer and vastly more satisfying when pushed, while stepping off the throttle elicits subtle burbles from the twin oval outlets. If there's one thing in the 911's expansive options catalog you need to get, it's this exhaust.
One of the others is rear-axle steering. We've sung the praises of this system before, and it's no different on the Targa 4S – straight-line stability is much improved (which is already saying something, as the Targa's front track is two inches wider than before), while the car's already impressive willingness to change directions grows even sharper. Our tester, like all Targas, benefits from a revised active damping system that's quicker to adjust to surface conditions.
As for handling deficits owing to the increased weight, we'd refer you to our first drive from last year. This version of the 911 isn't as dynamic or exciting in the bends as the stiffer Coupe, but with the roof up, it's more engaging than the Cabriolet. If all you're tackling are winding roads, though, spotting differences between the three won't be easy – any 911 is a delight.
If you want safety, the 911 can provide it. Porsche's excellent InnoDrive active safety suite is available on all auto-equipped 911s. Standalone adaptive cruise control is also available, as is lane-keeping assist. There's even a night-vision system. But in terms of actual active safety gear on our tester, there's not much to say. Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking is standard, while blind-spot monitoring makes an appearance.
Still, the standard LED headlights, complemented with the Premium pack's Porsche Dynamic Lighting System Plus (a $1,270 standalone option), are excellent. Bright and crisp, they feature an active cornering function and automatic high beams. Visibility is quite good from all angles too, although the 360-degree camera (also a Premium pack item) instills all the confidence in tight conditions.
The Targa 4S returns EPA estimates of 17 miles per gallon city, 24 highway, and 20 combined, making it the most efficient vehicle in the class. Its soft-top sibling matches that combined rating, gains a point in the city, and loses one on the highway. The competition, meanwhile, is all over the place.
The Chevrolet Corvette Convertible is the vehicle to have for road trips, complementing its 27-mpg highway stat with a modest 15 mpg city and 19 combined. The AMG GT Roadster is good for 15 city, 20 highway, and 17 combined (the worst in the class), while the F-Type R Convertible scores a healthy 18 mpg city, 23 highway, and 20 combined, despite its monstrous 5.0-liter V8 engine. Everything in this class requires a steady diet of premium fuel.
The 911 Targa 4S' price tag reinforces its inbetweener positioning in the broader 911 lineup: It starts at $135,200, to the Carrera 4S Coupe's $124,400 and the C4S Cabriolet's $137,200. In terms of competition, we classify the 911 Targa as a premium convertible sports car, matching it up with the aforementioned 911 Cabriolet, as well as the Chevrolet Corvette Convertible ($60,995), Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster (pricing not available for the 2021 model year), and Jaguar F-Type R Convertible ($105,900). Were it not for the soft-top Carrera, the Targa would be the priciest car in the class.
To its starting price, our tester added a number of optional items. Add-ons account for $23,410, and along with the $1,350 destination charge, drive the as-tested price up to $159,960. But there's good stuff here. The must-have Sport Package costs $4,630 but adds the Sport Chrono pack and the excellent exhaust. The $5,350 Premium pack ticks desirable boxes too, with Bose audio, active front lighting, a 360-degree camera, and blind-spot monitoring. The $3,470 18-way sport seats remain sublime, as does the $2,090 rear-wheel-steer gear. The $2,770 front axle lift won't make sense for everyone, but if you have a steep driveway, it's a must.
Yes, you can get a Corvette for cheaper. You can snag that Jag for much less, too. And when Mercedes finally releases pricing on the base GT Roadster, it'll probably undercut the Targa 4S pretty handily. But aside from the hardtop Corvette, none of the competition can come close to matching the Targa's best-of-both-worlds driving experience. This 911 isn't a great value, but for a buyer that wants it all, the Targa 4S covers the spectrum.
911 Targa Competitor Reviews:
- Chevrolet Corvette Convertible: 8.5/10
- Jaguar F-Type R Convertible: Not Rated
- Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster: 8.9/10 (Review Coming Soon)
- Porsche 911 Cabriolet: 9.6/10
Gallery: 2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4S: Review
2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4S