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Kleenex. Xerox. Coke. Google. Words so frequently uttered that they've become genericized to household terms. Same goes for Targa. Now synonymous with removable roof panels of varying style and manufacture, the word Targa was actually trademarked decades ago by Porsche.
Porsche has evolved the Targa concept over the years, but with the new 2007 Porsche 911 Targa 4 it has left the roof principally the same and made the biggest tweaks elsewhere.
A Carrera 4 with a twist
You may have noticed the extra character tacked onto the model designation for the newest 911 Targa. With the Targa 4 and Targa 4S, 2007 marks the first time there is more than one Targa variant. Those characters also indicate their biggest departure from Targas of yore — the hair-tousling Targas now sport the all-wheel-drive hardware of the current 911 Carrera 4 and 4S models.
The similarities don't end there. Targa 4 models wear the Carrera 4's wider rear track, more voluptuous rear fenders and larger tires. Same goes for the 325-horsepower 3.6-liter flat-six power plant and all-wheel-drive system. Ditto for the monster brakes and transmission choices. In fact, if you wanted to describe the 2007 Targa 4 as a Carrera 4 with a fancy roof grafted on, we'd let it slide.
Targa 4S models receive the Carrera 4S's 3.8-liter 355-horsepower mill, 19-inch wheels and bigger brakes. Porsche's active dampers, PASM, are standard on the Targa 4S and optional on the Targa 4.
Revisiting a theme
Named to recall past successes at Italy's Targa Florio endurance race, Porsche's 911 Targa originally sported a chassis-shoring basket handle which connected removable backlight and roof panels. Uptake of the half-breed Targa was brisker than expected, so Porsche allowed the model to live on alongside coupes and full drop-top 911s.
When the 993-based Targa bowed, it introduced a twist on the Targa theme in the form of a huge retractable roof panel. Sshhh. It's not a sunroof.
For 2007, the Targa theme established by the 993 Targa and enhanced with a folding rear window in the 996 continues in the 997. Above the beltline, the new 2007 911 Targa 4 offers no real surprises — the transparent roof pane still retracts, the rear glass still opens up.
New, but familiar
Relentless engineering focus on the 997 Targa's roof assembly resulted in a module which shares no parts with that of the outgoing 996. The glass panel itself is actually two layers of partially pre-stressed laminated safety glass separated by a tough, thin plastic film. Thanks to more rugged glass, Porsche engineers were able to thin out the sandwich slightly, dropping 4.2 pounds out of the car way up high, where it has the biggest effect on the center of gravity.
Still, the roof module, together with additional chassis reinforcements necessary to compensate for the stiffness lost in the beheading process, taxes the Targa's curb weight by 132 pounds compared to an otherwise similar Carrera 4.
Managing the situation
Flinging the Targa 4 around southern Portugal reaffirmed a few basic tenets:
One — 911s are good. There's a rare harmony and breadth of proficiency among the 997's steering, shifter, brakes and throttle which transcends its hard numbers and specifications. The Targa is no exception to this, and the measured doses of atmosphere and light afforded by the transforming lid just make the experience that much more enjoyable.
Two — you can't defeat physics. Masking the effects of all that weight teetering above a vehicle's roll axis is an exercise in creative chassis tuning, and Porsche did a commendable job managing the compromise. All Targa models wear the larger 0.93-inch front stabilizer bar of the C4S, larger rear stabilizer bars and revised bump stops in an attempt to prevent the extra poundage from inducing too much body roll during hard cornering. Coil springs in the Targa 4 are roughly 10-percent softer than the C4 to maintain ride quality and, confided a slightly tipsy Porsche engineer, to prevent the roof panel from creaking in its module. Porsche's PASM active dampers have been tweaked specifically for the Targa, too.
Drive it hard. It's still a 911
Where the Targa's extra mass is most apparent is when it's being tossed from corner to corner. At turn-in during a hard charge, the Targa's chassis takes a half-beat longer before taking a set, the sensation of weight shifting from tire to tire magnified a minute, but noticeable, amount compared to a fixed-head 911. Likewise, the 235/40/18 and 295/35/18 tires surrender sooner, generating a hair less ultimate grip according to our always dependable butt skid pad.
Like other 911s, Porsche's lightweight, über-expensive PCCB (Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes) system is optional on Targa models. Boy, do they work. No amount of flogging could convince the ceramic brakes to fade, and they retain the benchmark brake modulation and feel typical of 911s, though they are more gravelly-sounding than the standard binders.
Porsche's stopwatch figures that a manual-transmission-equipped Targa 4 is good for 5.1 seconds to 60 mph, with the more powerful Targa 4S making the sprint in 4.7 seconds. Decently quick, but they trail their C4 and C4S counterparts by a few tenths.
Considering that a Targa customer isn't on the lunatic fringe anyway, the minor dynamic penalty incurred by the snazzy roof is of little consequence. After years of building Targas, Porsche has figured this out, and it's part of the reason the carmaker is only offering the newest Targa in all-wheel-drive guise. The Targa 4 drives like a Carrera 4 with a shade of its immediacy rounded off, providing 95 percent of that car's athleticism and dynamic range. That's still a loftier standing than most cars can claim to achieve.
A safe bet
Annually, Porsche's brass expects to move only 1,800-2,000 Targas the world over. Doesn't sound like many, but it must be worth its while else Chairman Wiedeking wouldn't abide it. Combine the Targa's rarity with a $85,700 starting price and exclusivity is assured.
Porsche's Targa 4 neatly splits the difference between the 911 Coupe and the Cabriolet in terms of chassis stiffness and open-airiness. Throw in the hard-topped security of the hard roof and all-wheel drive, plus the added convenience of a folding backlight, and the Targa 4 hits the sweet spot for a niche 911 customer.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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