With retro styling and legendary driver engagement, the 911 Targa 4S once again sets the standard for others to follow
If there was an automotive dictionary, next to the term ‘useable supercar’ would be a photo of a Porsche 911.
It might not have always been a supercar in the true sense of the word – certainly not when it was first released in the early 1960s. Even back then, engine power under 100kW didn’t quite cut the mustard. But in subsequent decades, the 911 morphed into a car worthy of the title, yet never strayed from being a car that practically anyone could drive anywhere, anytime. For many decades, it stood alone in that regard.
In 2014, Porsche doesn’t have the concept of daily driver practicality all to itself though. Numerous vehicles can lay claim to mastering the dark art of brutal supercar performance and actual usability – think Audi R8 and Lamborghini Huracan to name just a few.
The Huracan I drove recently for example, is similar in size and stature to a 911, and thanks to the input of parent company Audi, built to a similarly high standard. The full auto mode means that it’s also ridiculously easy to drive, especially for a vehicle capable of such searing performance.
But despite pretenders to the throne, the Porsche 911 will always be the original, the one that set the standard for the genre and the one that will be most harshly judged if it doesn’t live up to those standards. I haven’t driven a 911 for quite some time, so it goes without saying that I was looking forward to taking the keys for a week and getting behind the wheel.
CarAdvice has secured arguably the most visually distinctive member of the current 991 family for this review – the 2014 Porsche 911 Targa 4S. Think of the Targa as a safe bet each way. It’s not quite a proper convertible, but it’s not quite a hardtop either.
You’re probably bored by the superlatives lavished upon a Porsche whenever a new variant is tested, but the reality is that these are exceptional vehicles. The 911 is an example of a compromised design – hanging the engine out behind the rear axle line – that has been tuned, modified, and enhanced into something quite brilliant.
Pricing for the Targa 4S starts at $287,200 plus on-road costs. As tested here, our Guards Red/Black model has been optioned with full leather trim ($7690), seven-speed PDK ($5950), Sport Chrono Package ($4790), aluminium interior package ($2340) and front/rear park assist ($890). That rounds out the as-tested price to $308,860. No, the options aren’t cheap.
What’s perhaps most appealing about the new Targa is that it’s only available with four-wheel-drive underpinnings, which means you also get the shapely, wide-haunched four-wheel-drive body shell. The 911 Targa 4S looks low, wide and aggressive wherever you position yourself to admire its shapely curves.
The first thing anyone will notice when the 911 Targa 4S prowls by is the styling, so let's take a look at that first. Externally, the new Targa echoes its parent, the original 1965 model, back when a Targa was just that – not a hardtop with a sunroof. There’s no argument it’s a retro, eye-catching design in this modern iteration. The rollover hoop, finished in alloy-look material, is a fixed section of the body, which is enhanced by the wide, wrap-around rear windscreen. With the removable section of the roof in place, or tucked away above the engine, the 911 Targa 4S looks equally stunning.
You could argue, and my week behind the wheel brought this fact to bear, that the Targa delivers a new appeal to what is an otherwise not uncommon sight on the road. It’s a strange comment to make that any 911 might be ‘common’, but buying the Targa model will ensure your 911 stands out from the pack.
Removing or replacing the roof is no longer a manual, two-man affair either. There’s a simple, console-mounted switch that you rock back to remove, or push forward to replace, the roof section. The whole manoeuvre takes less than 20 seconds and is a complex array of mechanisms and hinges, but there are no nasty noises despite the complexity of the system.
Driving with the top down, I noticed a very slight creak coming from somewhere behind me. It’s only very minor, but it’s there. I’d assume it’s an errant section of trim that could (hopefully) be easily rectified. With the roof secured in position, there wasn't a noise or creak and no water ingress either despite the torrential rain I slogged through for large chunks of my time behind the wheel.
We also noticed buffeting with the roof retracted at speeds over 80km/h. Around town, there’s no serious wind noise, but hit the highway and the buffeting increases to the point where it can even drown out the glorious flat six engine note.
Minor creak aside, the only other factor I call to question is the array of buttons. Like the Macan and Cayenne, you can formulate a case that Porsche has gone a little ‘button crazy’. Like many supposed design flaws in the automotive world though, that comes down to personal opinion. I’d like to see less switchgear, other members of the CarAdvice team had no issue with it.
The engine is a revelation. Displacing 3.8 litres, the flat-six generates 294kW and 440Nm. The seven-speed PDK transmission is effectively seamless regardless of the speed or engine revs you’re asking it to work with, and the extra cogs assist in a relatively low ADR combined fuel consumption figure of 9.2L/100km.
On test, with plenty of high intensity track driving included in the average, the on-board readout showed 13.9L/100km. The burst from 0-100km/h takes 4.8 seconds.
During my test, I deliberately annoyed the 911 with every mundane daily driving task I could come up with, trying to find a chink in its ‘useable supercar’ crown. Shopping centre carparks, weekly grocery load, a ridiculously tight CBD underground carpark, stop/start peak hour traffic in the heat, a short run around town with a second passenger in the back seat, and (thanks to Sydney’s weather god’s) plenty of time in torrential summer rain.
Nothing even remotely ruffled the 911’s attractive feathers – not even close. Crawling through traffic with the AC working at full tilt in the heat, I could have been driving a Corolla, such is the composure with which the 911 tackles the daily grind. You might not want to subject your 300 grand performance weapon to this kind of banality, but you can if you want or need to.
The 911 is stiffly sprung and displays torsional rigidity beyond what you’d expect of any vehicle that can go topless. That said, it’s never unpleasant on urban roads. I was impressed by its ability to soak up poor road surfaces, to the point that the 911 is more comfortable than many sedans and hatches that masquerade as performance cars.
The driver’s seat is perfectly positioned, with the seating position working well either cruising around or at maximum attack on track. The seats are supremely comfortable and shaped in such a way that drivers of all shapes and sizes will be able to get comfortable. The switchgear, interfaces with the driver and the control systems are easy to use and even easier to understand. The Bluetooth phone connection for example delivered crystal clear phone calls and audio streaming, while the satellite navigation system was accurate and efficient.
The view forward is exceptional too, with the Porsche’s shapely front end swooping and disappearing out in front of you. I lamented the lack of a reverse camera – especially at this price point – but the front and rear parking sensors ensured there were no nasty carpark issues. Still, a reverse camera should definitely be part of the standard kit.
On track, the 911 is nothing short of a missile. With ‘Sport Plus’ mode activated, I was chomping at the bit to access everything that the Porsche had to offer. Launch control requires that you mash the throttle while standing on the brake. The 3.8-litre flat-six engine soars toward redline and emits a throaty mechanical symphony. It starts as a bark and gets more urgent as the revs rise.
Step off the brake, all four wheels bite viciously into the tarmac and the 911 begins its relentless surge to redline. Gearshifts are blindingly rapid, and there’s an almost violent shove as each new gear is engaged. Don’t expect any drop off in acceleration either. Forward progress is relentless as the speed piles on. I found the steering-wheel-mounted shift buttons the only aspect of the driving experience that wasn’t intuitive and almost subliminal. I’m sure you get used to them, but they didn’t quickly become second nature for me behind the wheel.
Hard on the brakes, release the pedal gently and tip into a fast right-hander and the 911’s balance is impeccable. The nose heads exactly where you’ve coaxed it to go, and the rear end balance ensures that drive is never interrupted. You can finesse your line at any time with the razor sharp steering, or balance the input with the throttle pedal. This 911 is a truly sensational driver’s car at any speed, although it becomes more competent, balanced and focused as the velocity rises.
Unless you’re soulless, it would be criminal not to take your 911 to the occasional track day, if only to let it off the leash and experience the utter brilliance of it’s driveline.
Perhaps the most unexpected element of my track test came in the next corner, a tighter right-hander, where I discovered the amount of tail-out fun you can have, despite ESC being fully engaged. I coax the 911 into a smooth, four-wheel drift, which required nothing more than a modicum of opposite lock to correct and I’m already blasting into the next corner at warp speed. There’s no need for heroic, puffed chest deactivation of the safety systems here – the 911 Targa 4S encourages you to enjoy your track blast regardless of the drive mode activated.
Despite a solid half day behind the wheel on track, I’m left wanting more – much more. The 911 is so brilliantly competent that its one of those rare cars that can make a mug punter with no racing experience look great. It can also make that mug punter look a lot faster than they might otherwise be.
There’s no argument you can formulate that the 911 Targa 4S is cheap, and yet it is tremendous value for money. The array of talent it offers across every driving (and posing) discipline makes it one of the truly great all-rounders. My only negative – shift buttons aside – is that I couldn’t buy it. I’d either go proper convertible or conventional hardtop. That might be more to do with personal preference of course, and there is still the fact that the Targa currently stands out more than any other regular 911.
Regardless, the 911 Targa 4S is a truly great car, one that tells its own story. It doesn’t even need a great driver behind the wheel to extract its potential, which means for us mere mortals, we can feel like a racing legend if we do head to the track. For every other task, the 911 is your best friend too. It remains a standard setter when it comes to everyday chores despite its performance potential.
It’s been a long time between 911-flavoured drinks for me. I hope it won’t be so long again. Handing back the keys to a car you’ve been impressed by is an occupational hazard in our line of work. Sometimes, it’s a little more difficult than others.