Versus the competiton:
There’s an unwritten rule when it comes to test driving cars that you drive the base model before slipping into the top-of-the-line rendition.
That way, you can appreciate the base model for what it is, low-cost entry into the lineup, and the top-of-the-line model for what it represents, the best in the stable and what owners of the base model can aspire to.
We broke the rule when it came to a pair of Porsche 911s, the 2002 Targa and Carrera 4S, with the high-performance 4S taken first, the open-top Targa second.
The Targa is no slouch. It’s powered by the same 3.6-liter, 320-horsepower 6-cylinder engine teamed with 6-speed manual as the 4S. But the 4S comes with all-wheel-drive that allows the 6 to perform at its best when it comes to zero- to 60-m.p.h. acceleration while providing optimum handling at any speed.
The ’02 911 series bowed in February after being redesigned and upgraded. All 911s sport new front ends with the Targa sharing the look of the regular 911, the 4S the look of the 911 Turbo, complete with spoiler to reduce rear-end lift at speed.
Other than basic styling, what also sets the two apart is that the all-wheel-drive 4S, which replaces the 4 coupe, and rear-wheel-drive Targa we tested came with 18-inch radials. But the 4S is shod with wider profile tires so you benefit from a larger paw print on the road. The result is better takeoffs, quicker response to turns and corners and less road harshness transmitted back into the cabin. The Targa’s standard tires are 17-inch radials (the upgrade to 18 costs $1,325). Moving up to 18s costs $1,325.
The 4S has a fixed roof, the Targa a retractable glass roof about the size of a picture window. Great visibility to the world above and open-air motoring without lots of wind turbulence penetrating the cabin.
We’ve reached an age when buffeting wind finds little mane to muss. But even those with long flowing locks can travel with the glass roof fully open without having to reach for the spray.
While the Targa roof is best appreciated when fully open–and when fully open it provides about a 20-inch gap to gaze at the stars–it did present some visibility problems.
When the glass retracts, it slides back directly under the rear window. You’d expect that being forced to now look through two layers of glass would present a problem. It didn’t, but then the Targa roof and rear window glass were perfectly clean.
What we didn’t expect, however, is that when you open the Targa only part way, about 8 inches or so, the solid metal strip that separates roof from rear window–and retracts with the glass–blocks the rear view. Depending on how far you open the glass, you can block out anything following in the same lane.
Not good if someone is approaching quickly from behind. Not good as well if you open the glass part way before backing up from the parking stall.
We’ve found that the public will exude sympathy a nd rush to your aid when a problem develops when driving a Chevrolet or Ford. But the same folks will sit back and guffaw when you have a snafu with a Porsche, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce or other vehicle that caters to those with blue blood and silver spoons.
The 20-inch roof opening is twice that of normal sunroofs. Living under a glass roof, of course, does present some problems along about July, so the Targa comes with a power cloth shade to control the glare and ward off some of the heat directed into the cabin.
Porsche says the shade only works when the roof is closed. Not in our test vehicle, which allowed the shade to operate when the roof was open, too.
What made both Porsches special, and the 4S even more so, was the addition of the German automaker’s stability management system–standard on the 4S, a $1,230 option on the Targa.
The system uses the anti-lock brakes and throttle control so you don’t lose contact wth the pavement. The benefits are even ore pronounced, of course, with the high-performance 4S, which tends to be driven a bit more aggressively anyway.
This is also the first Porsche Targa built off the coupe body and not the cabriolet, or convertible. By coming off the coupe, there’s more built-in rigidity, which translates into a quieter cabin.
As noted, the 4S and Targa share a 3.6-liter, 320-h.p. 6 teamed with 6-speed manual, an upgrade from the former 3.4-liter, 300-h.p. 6. The 3.6-liter also delivers 15 more foot-pounds of torque, to 273 foot-pounds, for more noticeable response to throttle input and more spirited starts.
The 4S claims a zero- to 60-m.p.h. time of 5.1 seconds and a top speed of 174 m.p.h. and the Targa claims 5.2 seconds and a top speed of 171 m.p.h. The reason for the difference despite the same engine is that with all-wheel-drive, the 4S is quicker off-the-line and comes with a three-chamber exhaust that reduces back pressure–as well as giving it a little bark to go with the bite.
While a 6-speed manual is standard in both, a Tiptronic automatic with manual clutchless shifting is optional at $3,430. Only about 25 percent of Porsche buyers opt for Tiptronic, the automaker said.
Base price of the 4S is $80,200, the Targa $75,200.
Standard in both are all the power goodies and comfort amenities as well as ABS and door-mounted side air bags.
Noteworthy touches include a locking glovebox for the first time to go along with the locking console, stowage in the door armrests, back rests on the mock seats in back (there to allow four-seat rather than higher two-seat insurance premiums) that fold to form a ledge to store items; a redesigned cupholder that slides out and sideways from the dash rather than straight back (it gave the cupholder engineer something to do), and also for the first time an optional Bose audio system to atone for the fact that Porsche has never been known as a showcase for sound systems.
The Bose system comes in a package called advanced technic that runs $3,240 and includes a six-disc CD changer and Xenon headlamps. Porsche expects a 75 percent installation rate.
The 4S added such major options as the Bose system and an advanced design package at $4,385, which basically is an interior decor package with the focus on decorative trim around air vents, instrumentation, speakers, switches, dials, and door sills.
The Targa added the Bose package, 18-inch wheels, stability management and a comfort package at $2,100 that includes power seats with height and lumbar adjustment and memory settings, memory inside mirror and passenger-side tilt down outside mirror when backing up.
Sales of the $68,000 to $180,000 Porsche 911 lineup totaled 10,763 in 2001, up from 9,093 in ’00. Boxster, the entry-level $43,000 to $52,000 roadster, slipped to 12,278 from 13,312.
“The 911 buyer hasn’t been affected by the economy. The buyers are Boomers reaching their peak earning s years,” Porsche spokesman Bob Carlson said.
Either Boxster buyers were more affected by the economy or they are waiting for a redesign coming for ’03.