Pasty sun-hater David Booth gets a breath of fresh air and is won over by this open-roofed Porsche.
2010 Porsche 911 Targa 4
For the record, I don't much like cars with sunroofs. My head is a bald as a newborn bowling ball and the scalp's epidermis, so long protected from the sun's UV rays becomes tremendously (and painfully!) sensitive to sunlight in one's tender years. Having sunburnt my bald spot (cue only slightly self-conscious "why waste hormones on hair?" self-deprecation) just shy of the need for skin grafts on too many occasions, my brain now has an automated sun avoidance function. Like a vampire, I try to avoid all direct sunlight unless clothed in multiple layers of black sackcloth or swaddled in SPF 72. I don't care how many consecutive days the sun shines in the Emirates; as far as I am concerned, pasty white is the very picture of health.
So assiduous have been my sun avoidance manouevres that I no longer enjoy even indirect contact with the sun. Oh sure, I love looking at a pastoral California coastline. But always from the shade of a rooftop restaurant parasol or the UV-protected confines of a sporting automobile. Convertibles are not for me and, even though glass sunroofs generally offer some protection against the ravages of the sun, just the heat signals my inner cave dweller that it's time to beat a hasty retreat behind some form of protective cloth top.
Melanoma-inspired paranoia aside, if I had to own a car with a sunroof, I think this would be it. The Targa concept somehow works for the 911. It fairly invented, or at least popularised, the concept, the execution is extraordinary and the 911, in any guise, is just so much fun to drive. My tester was the lesser of the Targas, lacking the S's extra 0.2 litres of displacement and slightly less obvious body. Indeed, it was even equipped with the six-speed manual transmission (instead of the new-fangled, seven-speed, dual-clutch PDK) making it the most affordable of the Targas, if it's politically correct in these post-recessionary, populist times to consider Dh355,000 affordable.
That affordability (and, again, it's all very relative) does not make the Targa 4 a lesser car. Indeed, except for bragging rights, there's precious little reason to opt for the S. For nearly Dh50,000 more, those extra 186 cubic centimetres of displacement accelerate it to 100kph but a mere 0.3 seconds quicker than the Targa 4. Other than a side-by-each comparison, it would be very difficult to tell the two apart. Even the smaller 3.6L version of Porsche's six cylinder is now directly fuel injected (carrying with it a stratospheric 12.5:1 compression ratio and an attendant increase in fuel economy), and fairly sings at high rpm for the addition. The way Porsche incrementally increases horsepower every few years makes model-to-model comparisons rather difficult, but this new version of the iconic boxer motor also gets an edgier exhaust note (aided, as well, by the optional sport exhaust system). It's not quite the difference between listening to Mick Jagger and Tim Urban sing Under My Thumb (and am I the only one that wishes those American Idol contestants would just strangle their own songs rather than my classic faves?), but it is quite noticeable.
As much as I may come across as an old curmudgeon, I think I would eschew the tradition of depressing my own clutch for the techno-wonders of Porsche's new PDK. Just as it revolutionised the concept of the sporting automatic transmission with its Tiptronic paddle-shifter, the PDK is the very best of the latest generation of fully automated manual gearboxes. The Targa's interior is, of course, dominated by the honkingly huge glass sunroof and equally translucent rear hatch. And though I may not be sun-worshipping, that 0.45 square metres of overhead glass is excellent for star gazing on moonlit nights (and you thought I wasn't romantic). That openness, as Porsche intended, dominates the feel of the Targa's interior and makes it somehow feel roomier than other Porsches, especially the Cabriolet on which the Targa's shell is based.
Of course, purists might complain that, since the Cabrio is the basis for the Targa (the roof is actually inserted into the body from below), its chassis will not be as structurally rigid as the sportier Carrera. Be that as it may, it's extremely unlikely that normal or even spirited street use is going to reveal any difference. Hammering through Yas Marina's incredibly fast Turn Three might reveal some weaknesses, but unless you're going to spend a lot of timing hooning around racetracks, you're unlikely to need more performance or handling than the 911 Targa offers.
One very pleasant surprise is just how much luggage the Targa can carry. While the rear seats could well serve as a medieval torture rack to anyone more than 12 years old, they do fold down and, combined with that large rear hatch opening, I found I could ferry all my motorcycle racing gear, workout duffel and spare undies to the airport without having to cram my carry-on bag onto the front passenger's seat. That may not sound like much, but try it in a Boxster sometime.
If I sound like I'm surprised that I liked the Targa you've read this review well. Of course, I would personally opt for a Turbo and its heart-stopping acceleration were it my choice. But, having driven the Targa for the first time in many a year, I now understand why it maintains a key place in Porsche's lineup. That's high praise indeed coming from an avowed night owl. firstname.lastname@example.org