This Porsche 911 is On Target (er, On Targa)

Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) — A truly magnificent instrument translates whim into fact. At the moment, whim is suggesting that I cut the “S”-curve up ahead scalpel-sharp, slingshot out of the second corner and rocket over the next humpback hill. The moves happen as fast as the thoughts enter my mind — in less than, say, five seconds.

The instrument is the 2007 911 Targa 4S, one of the latest variants of the Porsche 911, currently available in 12 models. The “4” stands for all-wheel-drive, the only way the Targa comes, and the “S” for a more powerful engine. The S version has a $10,000-plus premium over the $85,700 Targa 4.

Let’s be clear: The Porsches built since the 1990s may be mild-mannered compared to those of yesteryear; gentle in traffic and pliant under a novice’s hands. Save your argument, though, about their German dependability and relative practicality for your significant other when you drive a new one home.

The Porsche remains glorious for its silly speed and curve- sprinting agility — the very things that most divorce it from practicality. (“Hon, we’ll get to the opera a lot faster!”)

The main difference between the Targa and the standard 911 is the Targa’s roof, which is entirely transparent glass. A large panel operates like a moonroof, retracting into the rear section. (While the glass is UV-protected, you can also deploy a semi- transparent sunscreen that slides under the glass.)

The upshot is much more light and better visibility than a standard coupe in any configuration, bringing you closer to the outdoors while not quite in it. Hairdos will remain intact, as will conversation volume. Best of all, the pleasing silhouette of the coupe is retained.

Barks Gamely

The S model features a 3.8-liter, six-cylinder rear engine that generates 355 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It barks gamely when you nudge it — all the soundtrack an enthusiast could desire.

Which is just as well: The stereo system on my car had no satellite radio, the stations rarely came in clear, and who carries CDs around anymore? The navigation system’s interface is clumsy, annoying and ineffective.

Porsches have always been designed to go autobahn-worthy speeds; I’ve achieved my unnerving and exhilarating top speed of 176 mph on the German freeway system in one. Still, they are most impressive on winding tracks that showcase the suspension’s ability to transfer the auto’s weight — something akin to an NFL receiver smoothly shifting directions on a passing route.

So on a recent day I’m in New York’s Hudson Valley, having stumbled upon the wonderfully named Gypsy Trail Road, replete with hills and curves worthy of a pinup girl. For those who’ve never experienced a true sports car at speed, the ability to rip through curves and come to head-snapping stops will either delight or terrify.

No Wheel Slip

The roads are damp and the optional snow tires it’s equipped with don’t perform as well as regulars would. Yet even through deep curves at speed, the Targa shows not a wiggle of wheel slip, courtesy of both the AWD and the Porsche Stability Management (PSM), the car’s electronic supernanny, which intercedes when the driver makes a poor or rash maneuver. While the S model’s extra 30 horses are fun, they’re not strictly necessary. Few drivers will begin to reach the performance threshold of these cars.

The interior won’t cramp even tall types — I once parked my 6-foot frame in a 911 cockpit for 36 hours straight as part of a charity event — and ingress and egress are acceptable. The Targa’s storage is exceptional for a sports car: The tiny back seats might not fit actual humans, yet they flip down to create a golf-bag-sized space that can be accessed through the rear hatch. (“See, hon, it really is practical!”) The test vehicle has double-stitched gray leather, and the fit and finish are perfect.

Arc of Glass

The latest generation of 911, known as the 997 series, was introduced in the 2005 model year, and this is the first year the Targa has been part of the new generation. This new look is more dynamic and eye-pleasing that the previous one, and the Targa’s graceful arc of glass works organically with the new body style. If you can’t decide whether to buy the coupe or cabriolet, the Targa makes a fine compromise.

Back in the Hudson Valley, I turn the wheel over to today’s passenger, my friend Joshua Paul, a professional photographer and car nut. In childhood he’d been in two Porsches — including a 1975 911 Targa — and recalls both in vivid detail.

Though he rarely drives a stick, the Porsche’s six-speed manual moves easily under his hand, and he professes himself amazed how easy the car is to drive — especially after seeing it pushed.

We eventually switch back, and I can’t help myself: I send the tachometer back into the red, and we launch down a straightaway that ends in a bad curve. Josh hangs on, though I think he’s smiling. He won’t be forgetting this Porsche ride either.

The Targa 4S at a Glance

Power: 3.8-liter six-cylinder, with 355 hp, 295 pound-feet of torque.

Drive train: Six-speed manual (Tiptronic S available).

Speed: 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds.

Price (as tested): $109,255.

Best Features: Handling, engine note, overall drivability.

Worst Features: Stereo and navigation systems.

Target Buyer: The performance-loving drivers who still want to be able to drive their car to work in the morning.

(Jason Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)