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All hail the Porsche Targa's magnificent glass pop top

The hideaway glass roof is engineering art, a work of mechanical wizardry, a symphony of gently humming electric motors, delicately-shaped mechanical arms, a pair of magnesium roof elements – roof panel and basket handle – and a heated rear window made of two layers of lightweight laminated safety glass.

For that roof, Porsche buyers will pay a $12,000 premium over the basic Porsche 911 Carrera4 and 4S coupe. Yes, the engineers from Zuffenhausen have reinvented the Targa for the 2015 model year ($115,900 for the 4, $132,600 for the 4S).

Porsche spinmeisters have themselves in a lather here in southern Italy as we prep for a sunny but cool test drive, carrying on about the "rebirth of a modern classic" dating back to the first Targa launch in 1965. But really, let's not get carried away.

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While the new roof system is genius – and given that 70 per cent of Porsche cars ever built remain on the road, it should be durable and reliable – the rest of this 911 is the same, from power train to instrumentation, from seats to sound system offerings and so on.

Except it's not. While the Targa is stiffer than the 911 convertible, the 911 coupe with its fixed roof is a little more than two times as stiff as the Targa, and the Targa is 90 kilograms heavier than the coupe (and 20 kg heavier than the convertible).

So there is the weight issue. On top of that, the suspension settings – the dampers, really – have been softened to accommodate buyers who want open-air motoring, but have no desire to bomb about like Mark Weber in Porsche's upcoming Le Lemans entry. The engineers say that whether the roof is open or closed, there is no difference in the stiffness of the Targa. But the steering is less precise than the coupe's. The Targa's steering is good, while the coupe's is great.

We tested those claims on Italian roads that have suffered no small measure of neglect – the kind locals bemoan as the offspring of incompetence, corruption and bureaucratic weight. Potholes are commonplace and no one seems able to find a bag of sand and some tar to fix any of them. The Autostrade – the Italian system of national highways – looks modern and well kept, but driving it at higher speeds reveals bumps, bruises, lumps, and imperfections that turn a highway ride into a roller coaster-like adventure.

The point is to prove that this Targa will not squeak, rattle, whistle or groan no matter how horrible the pavement, no matter how challenged the driver is in coping with a roadway system that is a triumph of apparently amateurish engineering and bad oversight. Bari, a port city on the Adriatic, is a lively, sprawling place that locals say suffered from haphazard development in the 1960s and 1970s – not to mention some measure of organized crime and the usual political system ups and downs that make Italy, well, Italy. The roads are proof of this.

Many of the roadways in Bari are made of either ancient cobblestones or oddly formed pavement. Either way, this open-top Porsche is tested – not for sporty handling as much as for rigidity under conditions that shake your gizzard. The car passes every test.

We roared about, down, along, in and out of some terrifically tight spots and over some truly abominable streets, alleys and things that passed as freeways, but not a peep out of the Targa.

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The area we're touring has a history and a charm worth discovering, even if the roads are in disrepair. This is the olive-growing capital of Italy and a region that produces some amazingly big red wines, too.

Honestly, we came here not to test drive a car, but a roof system. That's what is unique and new. The basic mechanical bits, the "boxer" six-cylinder engine for instance, is 3.4-litres of displacement in the most basic Targa (350 horsepower) and 3.8 litres in the 4S (400 hp) – just as in the regular coupe. The seven-speed manual gearbox is shared, too, as is the $4,660 seven-speed Doppelkupplung (PDK) automatic. Wheels, tires, styling, all-wheel-drive system … all shared.

That's not to say the new Targa is not important to Porsche. Has been for decades. Targa sales going back to the 1960s have represented 13 per cent of all the 911 cars sold. The idea for creating a Targa model may have had its genesis in the need to cope with rollover regulations in the 1960s by equipping an open-top car with a built-in roll bar, but, over time, that safety feature has become legitimate styling element.

And so it's back with a vengeance. The previous 911 Targa, the 993 version introduced in 1996, had one giant sliding glass roof panel that offended many purists. It's gone now, replaced by a 2015 car that, as Porsche says, "fuses the original concept with 911 innovation" of today. It really is something to watch this new glass bubble lift and fold into the rear, tucked away in 19 seconds, no muscle required.

Inside Porsche, then, you'll find engineers who masquerade as artists. Proof? This latest Porsche car.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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