We don't tend to think of the Germans as creative visionaries--they're far too logical for that. But every so often, Germans solve an engineering problem so creatively that it becomes art.
For years, Porsche's engineers have been saddled with the seemingly insurmountable problem of a car--the 911--whose engine is completely in the wrong place: behind the rear wheels. Instead of putting a Band-Aid over this bleeding bullet wound, they virtually vanquished the laws of physics and created one of the most capable sports cars on the planet.
Witness the 911 Targa. The engineers were handed a basket of lemons in the mid-1960s when management decided that, because of limited sales expectations, any open-topped 911 would have to use the coupe's structure and sheetmetal. The wizards from Stuttgart didn't choke on the bitter lemons, however--they simply crushed them, added a roll bar and a removable center roof panel, and called the resulting lemonade the Targa.
The 1996 Targa lost the previous generations' removable roof in favor of a power-operated, sliding glass panel, a format that continues in the 2007 model. It just may be the perfect cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder, as it allows in UV-filtered sunlight all year. The roof panel slides electrically under the rear window, producing an opening about twice the size of the moonroof in a regular 911 coupe. The rear glass also opens, hatchback-style, to provide access to extra storage space behind the rear seats.
For the first time, the 911 Targa is available in two trim levels: the Targa 4, with a 325-hp, 3.6-liter flat six, or the 4S, with a 355-hp, 3.8-liter six. The 4 in both denotes standard all-wheel drive, and all Targas therefore share the "ordinary" Carrera 4's flared rear fenders. They also share the Carrera 4's well-honed driving dynamics.
Softer springs and thicker antiroll bars compensate for the roof's 132 pounds of extra weight and the Targa's corresponding higher center of gravity. Despite extra reinforcement to its A-pillars and roof rails, the glass-roofed Porsche has less than half the torsional rigidity of a 911 coupe. But for those who drive their 911s every day, the Targa might be the sweetest lemonade of all.