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2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4S Test: I Finally Understand It, but I Still Don’t Get It

Sometimes you just want something different, and the Targa certainly delivers.

Nelson IresonWriterManufacturerPhotographer

LOS ANGELES-As odd a duck as I am, I'm even weirder amongst people who write about cars in one particular respect: I've never liked the Porsche 911 Targa. So, relatively speaking, I wasn't over the moon when I was assigned a test drive of the 2021 Porsche 911 Targa. Regardless of model year, I think the Targa looks silly, especially when the bizarre crossbar is finished in silvery shades, as it just looks like a big grab-handle for a giant's toy car. Worse, the Targa-fication of the 911 makes essentially the same tradeoffs of the coupe's nimbler, sleeker form as does the true convertible 911, the Cabriolet, without offering any substantial advantage aside from a rigid top. Basically, I've always said it's a worse coupe and a worse convertible at the same time.

But finally, after decades of wondering just why anyone would choose a Targa over an equivalent Porsche 911 coupe or Cabriolet, I finally understand. It took a good long drive and asking everyone who expressed any interest in it why they preferred it to the standard 911, and the theme that united every answer was simple: The 2021 Porsche 911 Targa, as well as all previous versions, is just different.

Of course, I rebutted their suppositions with the above arguments that the "difference" between the Targa and the $20,100-less-expensive coupe and $7,300-less-expensive Cabriolet is that the Targa makes for a worse 911, but each held their ground, firmly committed to liking the Targa despite its disadvantages against either of its fully committed bodystyle alternatives. Basically, every conversation boiled down to a version of this:

Me: "Why do you like the Targa?"

Them: "Because it's different."

Me: "The differences make it heavier and far more complex and expensive than the coupe, and not as open and airy as the convertible."

Them: "I don't care, it's different. You don't see Targas everywhere."

Perhaps, then, the Targa's continuing existence is an expression of Porsche's success-and the push-back against that success. Folks wealthy enough to afford Porsches typically don't want to see one in every other spot in the parking lot (a scene all too common in tonier parts of the Los Angeles area) unless they're at the monthly Porsche club meet. So, Porsche has, in a way, become the victim of its own success, its popularity breeding some degree of commonness among its clientele, and, for many of the image-conscious (if not obsessed) Porsche consumers, desirability and commonness are inversely related—yet somehow the 911's commonness isn't translated to the Targa. This was far and away the biggest thing I learned during this test drive.

In other words, liking the Targa more than the others isn't a rational decision, and that may partly explain my difficulty in comprehending the Targa's existence until now. But, of course, I should have seen it all along: Making and sticking to irrational decisions has become Porsche's masterwork, from the very first rear-engine 356 through to today's 911 GT2 RS. No wonder then, that the company that engineered one of the best sports coupes in history from the layout of what was essentially a hopped-up Volkswagen Beetle found a way to engineer a 911 that people would prefer because it doesn't look like other 911s.

So, I think I finally understand it now. The Targa is different, and sometimes you just want something different, even if it's nominally "worse"-and no wonder, when even the base 911 Carrera is so good that a 10-percent worsening of its character would still make it one of the best grand touring/sports coupes on sale today. It's a perfectly relatable sentiment.

Yes, I understand the Targa now. If you want a convertible, the 911 Cabriolet is a better open-top experience. If you want a hardtop, the 911 Carrera coupe is the world's benchmark for its class. If you want a 2021 Porsche 911 Targa, maybe ask yourself: "Do I really want a 911 at all?"

Sure you do! The latest 911 is so good, not even the Targafication can mess it up substantially. If you like the way it looks, get one. It's a 911. You can't go wrong.

But me? I still just don't get it.

 2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4S Specifications

ON SALE Now; deliveries late 2020
PRICE $136,550/$181,840 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-6/443 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 390 lb-ft @ 2,300-5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2+2-passenger, rear-engine, AWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 18/24 mpg (city/hwy) (est)
L x W x H 177.9 x 72.9 x 51.1 in
WEIGHT 3,687 lb
0-60 MPH 3.6 sec (PDK); 3.4 sec (PDK w/launch control)
TOP SPEED 188 mph