Looking back, ‘authentic’ was the key adjective wielded during the test of the MX-5.
The new model proved itself true to its roots even as it went about exceeding them. The Spider’s lack of source material is conspicuous, not least because the gap in expectation is inevitably filled by measuring it against the Mazda.
While that is unavoidable, it is also unfair. Had Fiat launched its version first, we might have been kinder to its interpretation and better able to enjoy the 124 for what it is rather than what it isn’t.
Because what it is, by current standards, is still a country mile better than practically everything else you can remove the roof from for similar money.
Turbocharging and Turin’s chassis tinkering have not corrupted it; there is a benign, brisk and generally very pleasant roadster here, one usefully different from its production line neighbour.
Many of its issues – the unsettled ride, undistinguished interior, the quivering body, the missing diff – could be fixed by a comprehensive facelift.
Right now, it is sufficiently decent to be easily recommendable if the design has you hooked. That is praise enough to justify its existence.
Even so the 124 Spider fails to make our top five small sports cars, with the Audi TT Roadster, Lotus Elise 1.6 Sport, Mini Convertible Cooper S, Toyota GT86 Primo, and its donor the Mazda MX-5, all better shouts in our eyes.