I have the Porsche 911 Targa to thank for my love of cars. My dad shared his passion of cars with me before I could even walk, but I think it was my grandfather’s—my Papa’s—1980 Porsche 911SC Targa that cemented my love of all things on wheels. My Papa only had his 911 Targa for the first eight years of my life, but those years proved formative. As a toddler, I remember sneaking into my grandparent’s Silver Spring, Maryland, garage to peek at his silver Targa, and when I was big and brave enough, I’d hop in the driver’s seat and imagine what it was like to drive. I never did get the chance to drive Papa’s 911—he sold it back in 1997—so when the chance to test the new 991.2-series 2017 Porsche 911 Targa 4S came up, I jumped at the opportunity to get a little taste of what I missed out on.
Unlike the three generations of Targas that graced the Porsche lineup between Papa’s 911SC and my 991.2-series tester, the current 911 Targa is a faithful tribute to the original. Whereas the two earlier generations of Targas were little more than 911 Carreras with large glass sunroofs, the 991-series Targa nails the look and feel of the original—it sports a cloth top and the iconic targa bar and teardrop-shaped rear glass. The new 911 Targa is true to the look of the original but perhaps not the simplicity. All it took to remove the cloth top on an old 911 Targa like my Papa’s was to yank a couple latches and pins, pull the cloth top off, and stow it in the frunk. Simple.
Stowing the new 911 Targa’s top can be done from the comfort of the driver’s seat, but Porsche has made the world’s simplest soft top infinitely more complex. Essentially a hybrid between the hardtop 911 Carrera and Cabriolet, the 911 Targa uses the Cabriolet’s power folding top mechanism to stow the cloth top from the comfort of the driver’s seat. Press the same switch you’d use to put down the top on a 911 Cabriolet, and the Targa’s clamshell rear hatch opens up and back to form a Z shape, two flaps on the sides of the Targa bar shoot open, and the top folds back to stow behind the rear seats underneath the glass for all to see. The Targa bar flaps then close as the clamshell comes back down to earth. The whole process is incredibly complex and takes about 20 seconds while stationary to complete.
Technology marches forward under the hood of the 911 Targa, too. My 2017 911 Targa 4S tester sports the same displacement, cylinder count, and configuration as my Papa’s old air-cooled 911SC, but that’s about where all the similarities end. The 991.2 911 Targa 4S is powered by a water-cooled 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six producing 420 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque—that’s 248 more horsepower and 179 more lb-ft of torque than the old 911SC. The Targa also has more gear ratios and more driven wheels than the rear-drive 911SC with a five-speed manual; our tester is equipped with the PDK seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (a seven-speed manual is standard) and all-wheel drive, which is currently the only available drivetrain option on the Targa.
Like all current 911s, this one is a performer, but let’s take a quick look at its predecessor first. Although we never tested a 911SC Targa, we did test a 1983 911SC Cabriolet that accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, the quickest time we ever recorded with a 911SC. Thanks to modern technology, launch control, and all-wheel drive, our 2017 911 Targa 4S sprints from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.3 seconds. By the time it takes the old 911SC to hit 60 mph, the 911 Targa 4S has already nearly hit 90 mph. A little more than 5 seconds later—at 11.7 seconds, to be exact—the 911 Targa 4S blows through the quarter mile at 117.8 mph. Were it lined up with its modern counterpart at the strip, the 911SC Cabriolet follows 3.2 seconds later at 91.1 mph.
This Targa can stop and turn, too. With modern ABS and summer tires, our Targa 4S tester completed the 60–0 panic stop in an impressive 97 feet and averaged 1.04 g on the skidpad—a 47-foot shorter stop and 0.22 g more grip than its predecessor. We didn’t do figure-eight testing back in the ’80s, but it’s safe to say the old car couldn’t touch the 911 Targa 4S’ 23.8-second lap, averaging 0.85 g.
I recall one of my first rides in my Papa’s old 911 when I was about 5 years old. I can’t exactly say why Papa decided to take me for a ride that day, but I can vividly remember how content I felt with the warm summer air flowing through the cabin and that flat-six singing behind us as he worked through the old Porsche’s five-speed gearbox. That day wasn’t particularly notable otherwise, but I never forgot what it was like to be in a good sports car on a gorgeous summer day.
I think I would’ve been even more impressed with the current 911 Targa 4S and its remarkable ability to combine daily drivability with supercar levels of performance. In the hustle and bustle of the Los Angeles grind, the 911 Targa is an exceptional commuter. The 911’s new turbocharged engine works seamlessly with the transmission to always have enough torque on tap to plug a gap in traffic or pass a Prius in the left lane all while still returning an indicated 18.7 mpg over nearly 900 miles of mixed testing. The EPA rates it at 21/27/24 mpg city/highway/combined. Ride quality for the Porsche is also excellent over some of L.A.’s more poorly maintained roads, and unlike many convertibles, outward visibility is excellent, thanks to the wrap-around bubble rear glass.
The 911 is even better on a good back road in its sport modes. Sport mode is the less aggressive of the two sport modes on the 911 Targa. It loosens traction control restrictions, firms up steering, keeps the Porsche’s flat-six in a lower gear than it would normally, and most importantly adds a healthy dose of crackles and pops from the optional sport exhaust system on overrun. Sport+ is better still and is what I opted for more often than not on canyon roads. It firms up the suspension, shifts more aggressively to maximize the engine’s output, and sharpens steering even more. Even with the extra 300 pounds or so of weight the Targa 4S carries versus a 911 Carrera 4S, it isn’t noticeable on back roads; the Porsche still remains as eager to please as ever, rocketing from corner to corner with sharp, direct steering, great feedback from the road, and a torquey engine that loves to rev.
Although the 2017 Porsche 911 Targa 4S might be a great everyday driver, there’s no denying it doesn’t have an everyman price. With prices starting at $123,650 for a Targa 4S, our lightly equipped tester rolls off dealer lots for $149,970. Just to bring things full circle, a brand-new 1980 911 SC Targa started at around $30,000, or around $88,690 in 2017 dollars. The cheapest 911 you can get today, a 911 Carrera, starts at $92,150. Inflation is something, isn’t it?
Some might be turned off by the 2017 911 Targa 4S’ high cost of entry, but people don’t buy 911s—or sports cars, period—for practical reasons. I recently asked my Papa, someone I’ve known my entire life to be an incredibly practical man, why he bought his Targa back in 1989. He told me that after providing for his family his whole life and having retired from a long career at IBM, he wanted to reward himself with a fast European sports car. It was an emotional decision, not a practical one, and in a life where we’re all attempting to make practicalities supreme, sometimes you just have to do something that makes you feel good. With that top stowed, that twin-turbocharged flat-six singing, and a good road in front of you, the new 911 Targa 4S fits the bill just as nicely today as it did for my Papa and those like him 28 years ago.
|2017 Porsche 911 Targa 4S|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$149,970|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Rear-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||3.0L/420-hp/368-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-6|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto.|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,675 lb (38/62%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||177.1 x 72.9 x 50.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||11.7 sec @ 117.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||97 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.04 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||23.8 sec @ 0.85 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||21/27/24 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||160/125 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.83 lb/mile|