There’s no doubt Porsche has nailed an iconic design with the 2015 incarnation of the Porsche 911 Targa, in much the same way it did with the 1965 original.
With the latest 991-generation 911 Targa, Porsche has unceremoniously ditched the sliding glass roof panel (was more sunroof than a proper open-air roof) and restored the model’s classic hoop-shaped silver rollover bar after a 21-year absence.
It’s the master-class of 911 design, no ifs or buts.
But unlike the original Targa and those that followed (up until the unloved 993 series model) that required manually removed roof panels, the new system is fully automatic.
Just hold the switch, and the huge rear glass section lifts out of the way to allow a soft top to fold down behind the rear seats. The whole operation takes around 19 seconds to open or close, but a tad disappointingly, can only be operated when the car is at a standstill.
The newest 911 marks the 50th anniversary of the iconic Porsche 911 Targa and the first time a GTS version of the design classic has been offered. It also brings the number of 911 variants to a record twenty-one.
There’s also significant heritage with the prized GTS moniker - “Gran Turismo Sport”, first inspired by Porsche 904 GTS – a street-legal racing car that won the fabled 1964 Targa Florio in Sicily.
Porsche claimed the car was more comfortable and easier to drive on the limit than its rivals – still a key attribute of GTS-badged models today, according to the Stuttgart-based carmaker.
With prices starting from $305,300 for the seven-speed manual, up to $311,250 for the auto (PDK) version, the 911 Targa 4 GTS becomes the most expensive normally aspirated member of the 911 family – pricier even that the hard-core $293,600 GT3.
It’s also eighteen grand pricier than the 911 Targa 4S, with which it shares its wide-body look and free-revving 3.8-litre powertrain. The GTS, though, gets more power.
In fact, like all GTS models across the entire Porsche line-up, the Targa 4 GTS gets more of everything, including more performance and more equipment, not to mention exclusive styling tweaks that clearly set it apart from its Carrera siblings.
For starters, the top-shelf Targa gets Porsche’s most powerful non-turbo rear-mounted flat-six engine, (apart from the aforementioned GT3), dispatching 316kW at 7500rpm and 440Nm of torque from 5750rpm to all four wheels via Porsche Traction Management.
By comparison, the Targa 4S makes do with 294kW from a fractionally lower 7400rpm, but produces the same 440Nm of peak torque at just 5600rpm. However, it’s only one-tenth slower out of the blocks than the GTS.
Performance is still scintillating for this open-air head turner. Porsche claims a 0-100km/h-sprint time of just 4.3 seconds in PDK auto guise, or 4.7 seconds for the old-school manual version. Top speed exceeds 300km/h regardless of transmission type.
Performance is also enhanced via the standard Sport Chrono package, which provides faster throttle response and more aggressive shift mapping. In addition, the GTS benefits from Porsche Active Suspension Management - Porsche’s proprietary adaptive suspension system with continuously variable dampers.
Any perceived chinks in the Targa 4 GTS’s formidable armour are limited to the car’s weight. Specifically, the massive wrap-around rear glass. It tips the scales at 1580kg – 40kg heavier than the Carrera 4 Cabriolet with the same PDK gearbox.
Visually, the Targa 4 GTS differs from its ‘S’ sibling by its all-black highlights, including centre-lock 20-inch alloy wheels borrowed from the 911 Turbo, gloss black rear and side badging, rear engine cover and more serious looking quad exhaust tips.
The GTS treatment also adds smoked headlight covers and the beautifully fashioned sport design door mirrors.
It’s the same story inside, with the top-spec Targa gaining a weight-saving Alcantara-themed interior including the steering wheel, gear shifter, seat inserts, door trim and rear headliner. This special man-made material only weighs half as much as leather and is also used in Porsche racing cars.
The distinctive GTS instrument dials, smoked aluminium trim strips and aluminium sill plates bearing the Targa 4 GTS autograph further lifts the driver-centric cockpit. It certainly feels more special than the standard Porsche Carrera.
The mountain-clad route from Malaga to the Ascari circuit in southern Spain offers a near-perfect blend of high-speed motorways, fast-paced sweepers and narrow hairpin bends to properly test the mettle of our 911 Targa 4 GTS – roof open, naturally.
While I’m a huge fan of the Porsche Boxster and Cayman duo, there’s simply nothing like strapping in behind the wheel of a 911. It’s everything you expect of the iconic rear-engine German sports machine – perfectly moulded sports seats deep-set into the car for that ultimate driving position.
The steering feel and feedback is immediately satisfying and beautifully responsive. The same goes for throttle response from the flat six engine hanging out back – the slightest dab of your right foot produces glorious, lag-free acceleration.
The PDK transmission is especially useful in traffic, particularly for its auto mode, though it doesn’t take long to tire of such convenience and start working the paddleshifters, once we hit clear asphalt.
In full Targa top open mode, I’m expecting the usual scuttle shake, despite the Porsche badge, but there isn’t a hint of it – for all intents and purposes, we could be driving a 911 GTS Coupe, as body control is rock solid-composed, even under seriously decent loads.
Dynamically, it behaves brilliantly, carving up the twisties with precision and poise, while providing an exhilarating open-air driving experience in perfect Spanish sunshine, as we climb our way across to Ascari for a brief track session.
The PDK is doing its best work in Sport Plus mode, as we wind out the revs beyond 6000rpm for a dose of that characteristic flat-six howl. It’s hard to imagine anything better, as far as topless motoring goes, at least in these conditions.
Regardless of how determined we drove the Targa 4 GTS on some very challenging roads, the mechanical grip and sheer traction from the split-sized (245/35-front, 305/30-rear) rubber and all-wheel drive system is nothing less than prodigious. The end result is that you are able to get on the throttle earlier and enjoy stunningly quick corner exit speeds.
The brakes, too, are precision instruments – able to wipe off big speeds with supreme confidence and seemingly resistant to fade, despite merciless high-load applications.
Then there’s the ride. Porsche, and it doesn’t matter whether we are talking sports cars or SUV’s - is seemingly on another planet when it comes to ride/handling balance. That is to say, there is no other sports carmaker on the market today that has perfected this black art so well. And the 911 Targa 4 GTS is yet another example of this mechanical and electronic mastery.
All manner of bumps and cracked surfaces are completely flattened by the adaptive suspension system – miraculous given the 20-inch, low profile tyres the car is riding on.
Only when driven to the limit at the circuit did the Targa 4 GTS surrender any infallibility; at least against its remarkably good Coupe sibling. It felt significantly heavier and less composed in the bends, especially under braking and during high-speed cornering.
But let’s be honest, there are more than a few choices in Porsche’s extensive 911 line-up better suited to hard-core track work than the handsome Targa – even if it is a GTS.
Despite its obvious niche standing in the 911 range though, the Targa 4 GTS offers a unique breadth of appeal and capability with a style that’s all its own. It’s also one of the prettiest 911’s ever built - and due to land here in September.