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Engine options, speed, acceleration and refinement

The last time we drove a 124 Spider, we found its engine was wheezy towards the top end.

But evidently this is an engine that loosens as it goes, because with almost twice as many miles on the odometer (around 2000 of them), this example revved much more easily.

ESP is switchable, but the 124 doesn’t have the power or poise to lay down rubber even out of slow corners anyway

That said, and it being a turbocharged unit, it still does its best work through the mid-range, which is unsurprising given that it develops its 138bhp peak at only 5000rpm and its 177lb ft from as little as 2250rpm.

You don’t wring it out like you would an MX-5. Instead, there’s urge from 2000rpm (but not below), where there’s also some appealing induction noise, which is replaced by conventional mechanical racket by 4500rpm.

Curiously, it’s not unlike an old Ford Kent engine in its note. But even in this freer-revving form, there’s no point hanging onto the last 750rpm.

Despite what looks like, on paper, a paucity of power, the figures it produces aren’t too shabby. The 124 will reach 60mph from rest in 7.3sec, despite needing two gearshifts on the way.

For that, you can thank decent traction that allows a 0-30mph time of 2.5sec, more than half a second quicker than most front-drive hot hatches.

With only one tester aboard and with very little fuel in, we suspect the 124 would be able to dip into the high six-second bracket for the standing start, which would give it near parity with a 200bhp hot hatch – although it’s the traction deficit of the front-driver that shines the Fiat in such a theoretically good light.

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Response is generally good. Clearly the turbo isn’t being asked to work too hard, because there’s little lag, and there’s no audible giveaway that this is a blown unit.

It drives through a fine six-speed gearbox, too, with a clean, positive shift action and such nicely matched ratios that there are few cars in production in which it’s easier to perform heel-and-toe downshifts. The 124 also brakes well, with good pedal feel and short stopping distances.