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Steering, suspension and comfort

No tester much envied the job of Turin’s chassis engineers, charged with stamping an alternative, Fiat-style identity on a model already plainly doing a first-rate job of being a light, modestly powered roadster.

Simply clarifying what ‘Fiat’ would signify and feel like ought to have taken time, given that the firm has not applied itself to a sports car since the 1990s.

Quick direction changes show up the amount of slack in the chassis; flicks from one lock to the other need to be handled smoothly

The resulting ride and handling compromise, struck without hardware changes, is logical, credible, distinct and not unlikeable, but it isn’t unblemished, either.

The objective, broadly speaking, appears to have been a subtly softer, mellower two-seater, less overtly reactive to inputs than the balletic MX-5, smoother-riding, more consistent to steer and, for want of a better word, more grown-up.

Such a roadster would be better attuned to the Multiair’s torque-heavy power band and would presumably suit a slightly less enthused driver than those who typically buy the Mazda for its rear-wheel drive exuberance.

The reality is halfway there. The 124 is less on its toes than the Mazda and works harder to smother a road with a more lethargic brand of pliancy, exchanging the MX-5’s stone-skipping buoyancy for a blunter long-wave bob.

It feels heavier, too, partly because it is and partly because its more ponderous suspension settings tend to get caught out by secondary intrusions midway through ruminating on their primary response.

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Consequently, while trying to be tender, the Fiat ends up feeling brittle at times. This unevenness is worsened by meandering, fluctuating vibrations that cause a mild judder in the steering and scuttle.

Its absence in the MX-5 must mean it’s a result of Fiat’s own alterations, which is a shame because it overshadows the moments when things come good for the 124 and its thicker steering feel and more deliberate front end indulge a sloppier, less considerate driving style than you’d employ in the MX-5.

A less melodramatic degree of initial lean helps, even if the absence of a proper diff becomes apparent if you press on.

Not that the 124 discourages such behaviour or falters in its feedback; it is feelsome enough to shame far pricier alternatives. But as balanced as an MX-5 it isn’t.

When pushed, the 124 Spider exposes the fact that this is a cruiser in the traditional style, not the hardcore version of this roadster.

Body movements are so soft that you have to take care not to upset it. Give it a ‘bung’ like you might to a Ford Fiesta ST and all you’ll do is upset it. In some respects it’s like an indoor hire kart: if you get it sliding, the engine just bogs.

Instead, be super-smooth, trail the brakes gently, take care with the steering (which is over-sharp off straight-ahead) and plan a route through corners that maximises the amount of time spent in a straight line.

The only control you don’t have to fear is the throttle, which you can get flat pretty much right away. If the car is loaded laterally and you’re accelerating hard, that can induce a bit of wheelspin on the inside tyre.

A limited-slip diff would help in adjusting the car’s line while allowing what power there is to be delivered to the road rather than air.