January 15, 2007

Photo Gallery: 2007 Porsche Targa 4S

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For a narrowly focused, hard-edged sports car, Porsche offers enough variants of its current 911 (997 in Porsche-speak) to make your head spin. Buyers can choose between two flat-six engines (325-hp 3.6 L and 355-hp 3.8 L), rear or all-wheel-drive, six-speed manual or 5-speed Tiptronic transmission, and coupe or convertible. That’s before looking at the 480-hp Turbo or the race-ready 415-hp GT3 RS.

Just to keep things interesting, Porsche has now slid a Targa version into the 2007 997 line-up. In a nutshell, the Targa is a 911 with the mother of all sunroofs.

The first 911 Targa was introduced in 1966. Named after the famed Targa Florio road race, the car featured a removable roof panel. This 2007 Targa, like those of the two previous generation 911s (996 and 993 for those who are counting), has a large glass roof panel that drops down and slides back under the rear window, giving a near convertible experience when the side windows are down.

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Unlike the last two Targas, the 2007 version comes only in all-wheel-drive and only with the wide-body configuration. You can, however, choose between the 3.6-litre Targa 4 and the 3.8-litre Targa 4S.

My tester was the all-singing-and-dancing 355-hp 4S ($133,200) fitted with the optional $4,790 five-speed Tiptronic S transmission. Many will deride a clutchless 911 as rolling blasphemy, but Porsche sells a lot of these, and I’m betting many Targas will go out the door with this brainy slush-box.

The first thing that strikes you when sliding your butt into the Targa’s snug sport seats is the panoramic vista from within. The top half of the car is almost completely glass, so it’s like being in one of those 50s cars-of–the-future, or a glass-domed VIA rail car.

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The sense of airiness was aided by this tester’s sand beige interior sporting the $4,710 full leather treatment. (Get out the calculator, folks: we’re just getting started.) Other interior goodies from the Porsche option list included the Bose High End Sound Package ($1,950), Power Seat Package ($2,170), self-dimming mirrors ($540), Sports Chrono Package Plus ($1,290), Electronic Logbook ($890), and navigation ($2,890). To ensure your derriere doesn’t get too chilly while enjoying these features, Porsche is happy to charge $680 for heated seats. Ouch.

Yes, we can roll our eyes all we want, but those shopping in this snack bracket are evidently not bothered with such proletariat concerns. Porsche, on a per car basis, is presently the most profitable automaker in the world.

Along with the aesthetic benefits, the Targa-topped 997 has a big practical plus. The rear window flips up on gas struts, allowing access to a usable rear compartment shelf when the vestigial back seats are folded flat. This proved extremely useful when running to the grocery store.

The two-ply glass roof panel, which is two kg lighter than its predecessor, can be retracted at any speed, and there is an electrically operated roll-away sun screen that prevents the cockpit from turning into an Easy Bake Oven.

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Previous Targas were prone to rattling, and this specimen, fresh off the boat with only 500 km on the clock, did exhibit a few minor, yet disconcerting rattles when traversing over the roughest pavement. Otherwise, it was tight and silent.

The only real drawback to the Targa, other than the additional weight up where you don’t want it, is the compromised rear visibility when the roof panel retracted. Essentially, the rear window is rendered useless.

Visually, the 2007 Targa is immediately distinguished by a sweeping arc of brushed anodized aluminum trim that traces the roofline. It’s a beautiful detail that adds a dash of flash, giving the car its own personality. Adding to my tester’s visual impact was the optional $960 Carmona Red Metallic Paint and the $550 19-inch Sport Design Wheel upgrade, wearing 295/30 rear and 235/35 front Pirelli Snowsports.

Lest you think this glass-topped, chrome-trimmed, auto equipped, hatchback Targa 4S is any less of a Porsche, a few moments behind the wheel will erase that notion.

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The 355-hp 3.8-litre flat six barks on start up like a junk yard dog, but smoothes out as the revs increase, filling the cabin with the classic 911 mechanical music that renders the Bose sound system redundant frippery. Peak torque of 295 lb.-ft. arrives at 4600 rpm, and from there to the 7000 rpm redline it’s aural and visceral magic.

Porsche’s rear biased all-wheel-drive system, featuring a viscous multi-plate clutch, gives the 997 a more planted and balanced feel than the rear-wheel drive cars. Yet when pressing on, the steering wheel still comes alive in your hands, communicating every nuance of the road. Roll on the throttle when exiting a bend, and the Targa 4S grabs the tarmac with all four contact patches and catapults forward.

Braking, as with all Porsches, is progressive and retina-separating.

Tempering some of this fun is the five-speed Tiptronic S. Porsche was the first automaker to introduce a performance-tuned manumatic transmission, but this box is starting to show its age.

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I love the thumb-operated shift toggles on the wheel, but five gears is old news, it doesn’t match revs on downshifts, and cog swaps feel lethargic compared to some of the competition. The six-speed VW/Audi twin-clutch DSG comes to mind, as does the excellent six-speed ZF in the Jaguar XKR. Rumour has it Porsche will have a version of the DSG in the near future.

Most people who order the Tiptronic will likely run it in auto mode anyway, and here it works just fine.

One of the best electronic gizmos Porsche has introduced lately is PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) – a clever two-stage active damper system that makes living with a 911 on a daily basis a much easier proposition. Standard on “S” models, PASM takes the sting out of the ride, but automatically firms up when the going gets frisky. Put it in sport mode, and the suspension buttons down and a more aggressive throttle map is called up.

The Sport Chrono Package, however, is a bit gimmicky in my opinion. The Breitling-inspired chronometer/lap timer perched on top of the dash surely looks cool, but the one time I drove a similarly equipped 911 at Mosport (with Hurley Haywood riding shotgun), the last thing on my mind was trying to flick the lever at the exact moment I crossed the start/finish line to record (inaccurately, I’m sure) my lap times.

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Price-wise, the $133,200 Targa 4S slots in between the Carrera 4S Coupe ($122,800) and the Carrera 4S Cabriolet ($136,900). It’s a clever package, and in light of our national automotive preferences, Porsche could have called it the Carrera Canuck. After all, it is a hatchback, has all wheel drive, get decent fuel economy (12.3 L/100 km city, 8.7 highway) and offers all-weather protection with the option of open-air motoring.

Of course, they’d have to throw in the seat heaters for free, eh.

Manufacturer’s web site

www.porsche.com

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