Porsche doesn't make any bad cars, even any mediocre cars. It's only a matter of good, better or best.
And the 911 Targa 4 GTS is assuredly among the best all-around cars Porsche makes. Sporty, stylish and super-fast, it handles like a dream and is as competent in a sharp switchback as it is comfortable on a long-haul drive.
The 2016 Targa 4 GTS boasts a 3.8-liter six-cylinder engine that makes 430 horsepower and 324 pound-feet of torque, on a vehicle that weights only 3,400 pounds. It goes from zero to 60 in 4.1 seconds, and hits a top speed of 187 mph.
But the Targa is fun at lower speeds too. Sitting go-kart low and square on the ground, it jets from corner to corner and makes great use of the all-wheel drive, torque vectoring and traction management systems that I loved on the Boxster GTS.
This is a driver's car. The electronic steering is stiff. The suspension is stiff. The seven-speed PDK transmission is so finely tuned — intuiting slowing, braking and cornering with rev-matching downshifts — that paddle-shifting is unnecessary. The "sport" mode sharpens the gearing and adds dramatic tone and volume to the exhaust note.
As befits a performance car, the tachometer is front and center on the dash, with the speedometer off to the side. Other dash readouts measure G-force and record zero-to-60-mph sprints. The braking is firm and effective, making 60 to zero just as pleasant. An automatically deploying rear spoiler is also there to keep the car stuck to the pavement.
None of that is surprising. It's a Porsche. It's a 911. Of course it's fast and handles like a race car.
And of course it's spendy. This Targa model starts at $133,795. Fitted with options such as adaptive sport seats, a Bose audio package, Alcantara upholstery and LED headlights, it'll cost more than $156,000.
The surprise is how comfortable the car was on a long drive — from Monterey to Los Angeles, for instance. Enjoying every curve in every mile of Highway 1 headed south, I scooted from Carmel to Big Sur, from San Simeon to Morro Bay, adding extra side roads when they seemed to offer more interesting driving.
After eight hours, I was sorry the ride was over.
"That's what makes a Porsche a Porsche," said Detlev von Platen, president and chief executive of Porsche Cars North America, during the recent Pebble Beach car week. "You can drive it to the racetrack, race the car, and then drive it home."
That's true even if home is a long way away. The vehicle has a fuel range of close to 450 miles, which makes a Bay Area run a one-tank trip. The seating is snug and almost infinitely tunable, legroom and headroom are ample, and the Targa top opens and closes smoothly.
Von Platen said he feels optimistic about future demand. After a dramatic drop with the 2008 global market collapse, sales have rebounded. Last year was the company's best ever, and this year also looks robust.
"Our products have never been more desirable, and consumer confidence is strong," he said.
Porsche sales numbers show that the company has already sold more Targas in the first eight months of this year than it did in all of 2014.
The Grand Touring part of GTS loses a little credibility when it comes to storage. An airplane carry-on bag will fit under the front hood, and there's room for a couple more in the rear "seat" area, but the big bags will have to stay home.
Porsche has made some cynical concessions to American drivers. There is a cup holder, but it's hidden and it doesn't work very well. There is a navigation system, but it's woefully minimal compared with what else is on the market, or on the average cellphone.
A bigger drawback for some consumers will be the noise. Even with the top up, conversation or telephone calls at anything above 60 mph will be strained, as will listening to that Bose sound system.
For the real enthusiast, maybe that won't matter. Why would you want to listen to music, or talk to anyone on the phone, when you could listen to that glorious exhaust note? Hang up and drive.