With the demise of the last front-engine Porsche, and the Boxster only just now arriving, Germany’s premier sports car builder has had to survive on a single model, the venerable Porsche 911. But within the 911 family are an increasingly diverse number of clever variations, each designed to exploit a different niche. And that’s what the subject of this week’s Road Test by Request, the very different 911 Targa, is all about.
You need only place the new Porsche 911 Targa next to one of its earlier siblings to see the clear difference. Since its introduction in 1965, the 911 Targa has opened up to the elements by way of a simple, detachable roof panel. But both the mechanism, and the slightly squarish look that it dictated, have changed radically for 1996.
But it wasn’t until our test car arrived at our Maryland home base that we realized just how radical a difference it was. The slick, curving lines of the 911 greenhouse have grown even smoother, thanks to some very sexy German engineering.
Rather than a removable metal panel, Porsche opted to fit a powered, sliding glass panel, encompassing almost the entire roof area. A sort of super sunroof! And operation is as simple as a sunroof. Hit a center console mounted switch, and up pops a height adjustable wind deflector. A flexible sunshade then retracts into the windshield header. And the entire roof panel slides to the rear, to nestle under the rear glass. Hello, great outdoors!
And goodbye storage problems. The panel is completely out of the way. While some of our staff did feel that the glass’ dark tint impeded rearward vision, others found it greatly reduced headlight glare. Yes, those Germans are clever.
And practical. Rather than make an all new car, Porsche built the Targa with the same platform and body panels as the 911 Cabriolet. It’s already been structurally reinforced to compensate for the loss of the Coupe’s roof, but with only 66 pounds more weight!
This lightweight yet solid construction and well-thought-out aerodynamics mean plenty of airflow with the roof retracted, but with less noise and interior wind buffeting than either conventional convertibles or Porsche’s own earlier Targas.
Apart from the clever roof, the Targa is pure current 911. All interior appointments, are standard Porsche fare. There’s the practical, yet vintage-looking, gauge package, deep, grippy bucket seats, and now user-friendly switches for both the automatic temperature controls and optional compact disc player, with removable face plate. The roof mechanism doesn’t eat up any head room in the rear seat/storage area, either. But then, there wasn’t much to begin with.
It’s always been just as tight in the engine bay as well, which houses the traditional Porsche 3.6-liter, air-cooled flat-six. A modified induction system, larger valves and revised valve timing, have boosted horsepower to 282, and torque to 250 pound feet.
But as our crew blasted around Georgia’s Roebling Road Raceway, we found that the real power increase was in the middle of the rev band, perfect for Roebling’s many third gear corners, which demand a car with a strong, flat power band. And while this meant less frequent use of the excellent 6-speed manual transmission, we remain very impressed with it.
Hard shifting on the front straight produced a 0 to 60 time of 5.5 seconds. While the quarter mile was dispatched in 14 seconds, at 100 miles per hour. The Targa with a Tiptronic automatic is only about a second slower.
So, plenty quick. But, as always, the real genius of any 911 is in the corners, where its MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link rear, and sticky Bridgestone tires on 17-inch wheels give it grip and balance that shames some more expensive exotics. As do its superb, massive 4-wheel disc brakes, vented, cross drilled, and anti-lock equipped.
But even in the more sedate environment of everyday driving, the Targa, like all of its kin, remains the consummate driver’s machine. A more forgiving nature and smoother ride make this simply one of the best road cars ever made. And thanks to the new Targa top, a great car for lightning fast, or leisurely, summer driving. Though you may want to drive it all year round to get your money’s worth.
Base price for the 911 Targa is $70,750. With a nice chunk of options, our test car came in at $75,496—expensive to the average working man or woman, but still a bargain by supercar standards. And with its brilliantly engineered Targa roof, a true all-weather, all-around, exotic sports car.
The 1996 Porsche 911 Targa continues the 911 custom of being many cars to many drivers and adds a new twist to a sunny tradition.
Engine: 3.6-Liter 6-Cylinder
Torque: 250 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14 Seconds @ 100 MPH