Review
Comment

1996 Porsche 911 Targa, Carrera 4S

PEGNITZ, Germany — Can Porsche's 911 live forever?

No. In fact, the end is nigh, about which, more anon.

Meanwhile, the legendary Stuttgart-based sports car maker

continues to ring changes on the rear engined air cooled

concept that seemed obsolete when the car debuted in 1963. Yes,

32 years ago.

Two new models join the party for 1996, one based largely on

style, the other more on substance.

The substantial newcomer is the Targa, a resurrection of the

sort-of-convertible, sort-of-coupe theme that Porsche first

showed in 1965, with its removable roof panel and fixed lateral

rollover bar.

Now, 30 years later, Porsche again reinvents the open car. I

don't know whether its designers have ever visited SkyDome, but

that's how the new Targa works. Essentially the world's biggest

sunroof, made of a special tinted and laminated glass, slides by

electric power beneath the rear window.

You can position the sunroof to any degree of opening you

desire. A wind deflector, about a hand's width in breadth, flips

up at the front of the aperture at the start of the opening act,

to keep buffeting to a minimum.

When the whole gubbins is closed, you also have the option of

electrically unrolling a fabric sunshade, which is stored in the

deceptively tiny windshield header. You can go from coupe to

near-convertible, in infinitely variable steps.

Structurally, the Targa is based on the 911 Cabriolet body

Porschephiles will note the side window sill line that continues

around the back of the car. The rear side window terminates in a

point, rather than the graceful curve of the coupe. Unless

you're looking right down on the car, this is the most obvious

visual difference between the two.

Rollover protection is provided by the lateral roof frame

members, which extend from the reinforced windshield header to

the body; in effect, the roll bar is turned 90 degrees. Porsche

claims the new Targa passes the same rollover tests as the

Coupe.

If you're thinking you've seen this car somewhere before, you

are likely a Porschephile yourself, and are probably recalling

the bizarre Panamericana show car of a few years ago, which

clearly presaged this body style.

Driving the 911 Targa around Richard Wagner country in

southeastern Germany verified most of Porche's claims for this

concept. When it's all buttoned up, it's as snug as a coupe.

When fully opened, it is very nearly as al fresco as a

Cabriolet, and puts your hairpiece at considerably less risk.

Porsche chief engineer Rainer Wust told me he tested the Targa

in northern Canada on sunny, below-zero days, and was very

comfortable. My question: Where was the photographer for the

Timmins Daily Bugle when that was going on?

The only drawback to the Targa, and it's a serious one, is

poor rearward visibility. When the roof is "down", the two

thicknesses of glass are very nearly opaque under many ambient

lighting conditions. It's akin to driving a vehicle with heavily

tinted windows.

Porsche opted for a dark tint in the roof glass to reduce

ultraviolet and heat transmission into the cockpit. They might

have chosen instead to let the fabric sunshade perform those

tasks, and lighten up the roof.

Alternatively, they ought to consider newly available glass

technology that can change opacity at the touch of a button: it

could be dark when up, and light when down. Given Porsche's

philosophy of continuous improvement, maybe we can look forward

to this in a few years.

As it is, the Targa returns an old and popular concept to the

911 family. Porsche expects Targas to account for some 10 to 15

per cent of 911 production. At a 10-grand plus premium over the

coupe ($103,600 versus $93,300) and at about three grand less

than a cabrio (which lists at $106,900) I have a feeling that

may be a conservative estimate.

The second new Porsche model, the Carrera 4S, is at least

partially a profiler's car. It's a 911 Turbo without the turbo.

In the old days, we'd have called this a "parts-bin special";

today, it was "created by combining components from Porsche's

comprehensive modular system".

The widebody differs from the Turbo primarily in the omission

of the latter's massive fixed rear spoiler, which also houses

the faster car's intercooler. Instead, the 4S uses the movable

spoiler of the rest of the Carrera line.

The 4S has Turbolook road wheels, but they do not share the

hollow-spoke technology developed for the Turbo.

Mechanically, the 4S has the Turbo chassis, including the

permanent four-wheel drive and massive brakes, with the

tell-tale red calipers peeking out from between the wheel spokes.

As with the Turbo, only the six-speed manual gearbox is

available.

The major difference is, of course, the engine. The 4S, like

all 1996 Carreras, gets yet another power increase. It started

in 1963 with 2 litres and 130 horsepower; now it's up to 3.6

litres and 285 horses, an increase of 13 from last year.

Torque is also up, from 243 poundfeet at 5000 r.p.m. to 250

at 5 250. Although the peak occurs at higher revs, the torque

curve reveals substantially more pulling power at lower r.p.m.

than before, for better flexibility and lowspeed grunt not

that the old engine was exactly peaky.

This improvement is accomplished largely by a new three stage

induction manifold, in which various flaps open at various

r.p.m. levels to change the length of the intake runners. This

invokes a tuned-manifold concept, which boosts torque in the

low and mid ranges. One of these stages occurs at exactly 5000

r.p.m. you can hear the engine noise change to a slightly

harder, more metallic note.

The 4S displays steady understeer when briskly driven; without

the awesome power of the Turbo, it's even harder to get the

four wheel drive car's back end around. But most "normal"

drivers — if Porsche owners can ever be considered "normal"

– will simply enjoy the fabulous engine, excellent gearbox and

overall specialness of driving a 911, and not miss the risk of

stuffing the back end into first snowbank they encounter.

The 4S won't only attract poseurs who want their friends to

think they bought a Turbo. The four-wheel drive will appeal to

year-round sports car enthusiasts, especially in Canada where we

need all the traction we can get.

And at $106,900, the 4S is almost a third cheaper than the

Turbo's $153,700 — no small consideration, even to someone

wealthy enough to consider a 911 in the first place.

Now, what about the future of the 911? Harm Lagaay, the

Dutchborn chief designer in whose capable hands the future of Porsche

styling lies, says that changing customer and legal demands will

kill the 911 in its present form before the end of the decade.

The next level of crash test legislation will deal with

"corner" crashes, which will require more crush space in the

footwells, thereby forcing the front wheels farther outwards.

In addition, people are getting larger, and larger interiors

are needed just to maintain current comfort levels, let alone

improve them. Both factors point to an all new body.

Driveby noise legislation, already in effect in some European

countries, will spell the end of the air cooling that huge fan

makes a lot of noise.

Still, Lagaay says the 911 replacement, due before the end of

the 1990s, will still be rear-engined, and the car will

definitely look like a Porsche.

Elsewhere in the lineup, the mid-engined Boxster roadster

replaces the now-discontinued 968 as the entry-level Porsche

late next year. The 928 is also dead, and there are no immediate

plans for a direct substitute for this wonderful but

underappreciated grand tourer.

Published rumors of a front-wheel drive "cheap" Porsche like

the original 356 Porsche, based on Volkswagen components, in

this case the next-generation Golf, are strongly denied by

Porsche officials. Likewise the fantasies of a Porsche minivan

and sportutility (No, no. If there's a God in heaven . . . )

Sketches of the VW-based coupe look suspiciously like the

Golf-based Audi concept car from this fall's Frankfurt show, which

Porsche may well have had a hand in developing, so that may be

the source of the rumors.

In any event, Porsche has a strong product plan in place for

well into the next century. Those who feel Porsche could never

survive the disappearance of the 911 should take heart in the

knowledge that many Porsche fans thought the company would never

survive the disappearance of the original 356 either.

Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie, among a group of auto writers

invited to a test site, prepared this report based on sessions

arranged and paid for by the automaker.

    Avatar
    Show Comments