First Drive: The Mercedes-AMG A35 is an entry-level hot hatch with top tier performance
Up until now Mercedes hasn’t had a so-called entry-level hot hatch, so does this new A35 model dilute the AMG ethos? Darren Cassey finds out…
What is it?
Last year brought us a new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and with it a new addition to the firm’s performance car offerings. With the old model, there was a ballistic A45 AMG version that was stupidly fast and, arguably, stupidly expensive for a hot hatch.
That being said, Mercedes was happy, because it offered a lower entry point into the world of AMG, meaning the firm captured a whole host of new, young buyers who couldn’t previously afford to buy into the brand’s offerings.
With this new generation, AMG wants to extend this even further, offering the A35 we’ve been driving. Starting at about £35,000 and with 306bhp, its price and performance puts it on closer terms with rivals – but is it dumbing down in pursuit of sales, or can the A35 live up to AMG’s reputation for building fearsome performance cars? Let’s find out.
The A35 badge might be new, but as is often the case with modern motors there’s a lot of parts sharing from elsewhere in the range. So, while many of the major components aren’t new, they’re packaged and tuned differently, giving the A35 a distinctive character.
What the A35 does get over other A-Classes is a reinforced chassis, with an aluminium plate bolted beneath the engine and two additional diagonal braces under the car to make the front end stiffer and improve handling.
What’s under the bonnet?
The A35 gets the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine used in non-performance A-Classes, but it has been given a thorough going over by AMG’s boffins in Affalterbach. Most interesting is the addition of a twin-scroll turbocharger and some clever manipulation of exhaust gases within it, which improves performance across the rev range.
Mercedes reckons the result is “a supremely lively response,” and it’s difficult to call that anything other than an understatement. Pop the A35 into Sport or Sport+, and the throttle sharpens up, sending the engine surging through the rev range with impressive ferocity for a supposed entry-level model. It leaves you wondering if there’s even any need for a more savage A45 version. (That said, more AMG savagery is always welcome.)
What’s it like to drive?
The short answer to how the A 35 is to drive is brutally capable if falling just short of creating a proper emotional connection with the driver, as all great hot hatches should.
There’s absolutely no denying that the A35 is an incredibly capable machine – in sportier drive modes the engine responds immediately to every input and has a suitably urgent power delivery, while the four-wheel drive system contributes to endless grip with just enough slip to keep you on your toes.
However, if you’re looking for the kind of simple thrills you’ll find in front-wheel drive rivals such as the Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai i30 N – that sense that there’s something a bit silly about putting that much power and mechanical trickery into a family runaround – you might be disappointed.
That’s not really a criticism, though. More of an observation. In the premium hot hatch segment, the fact that the A35 just feels so well-sorted will likely be half the appeal.
How does it look?
The standard A-Class has a rather soft and understated look to it, and surprisingly AMG’s design team has managed to remain relatively restrained in its reworking, likely saving its wildest work for the A45.
There’s a more aggressive body kit that’s most obvious in the rear diffuser and chunky front air intakes, but stay away from the lairy yellow paint job and it brings a welcome level of subtle sportiness without shouting about it. Naturally, a few options will change that, such as the boy racer rear wing for the bootlid, so if you want your A35 a bit more look-at-me, you can have it.
What’s it like inside?
Even standard A-Classes have lovely modern interiors with decent materials throughout, but in A35 trim the ante is upped further. There are cosseting but comfortable AMG sports seats trimmed in leather, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and AMG-specific graphics in the new infotainment system.
Couple the sports seats with an excellent driving position and the A-Class really makes a case for itself as a legitimate premium product. There are high quality materials throughout, making it feel far more special than, say, a Volkswagen Golf R, which could easily be specified to a similar circa-£40k price tag.
What’s the spec like?
Standard specification is decent, with the aforementioned kit supplemented by voice control for the infotainment system, DAB radio, satellite navigation system and a seven-inch touchscreen display.
However, as is often the case in the premium sector, all the really good stuff requires you to tick an extra box and splash some more cash. Our car came with an incredible £12,000-worth of extras.
For keen drivers the adaptive dampers for the suspension are highly recommended and a relative snip at £695, while the AMG Style package added some sparkle with larger 19-inch wheels, extra aerodynamic kit and subtle gloss black finishes to certain trim pieces – at £2,595, though, it certainly isn’t cheap.
However, it’s the Premium Plus equipment line that really elevates the interior and sense of quality, and although it’s incredibly pricey at an extra £3,595, it features all the best kit. For that not inconsiderable sum of money, you get the sleek double infotainment screen setup, Burmester surround sound system, LED headlights, a panoramic glass roof, and more besides.
The Mercedes-AMG A35 is clearly a fantastic bit of kit. It looks smart, has an excellent interior, and has the performance to take on the very best in the hot hatch segment. The fact it’s technically an entry-level gap filler at the top of the A-Class range, soon to be superseded by the ballistic A45, shouldn’t play against it. The A35 more than holds its own.
Keen drivers will enjoy the fruity exhaust note, punchy power delivery and endless grip. And while it might not offer quite the same sense of back-to-basics thrills that so many of its rivals do so well, its sure-footedness and upmarket character help it carve its own slice of the hard-fought hot hatch segment.F
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