► Merc's new junior AMG driven
► A35 is 302bhp AWD hot hatch
► Starting from £35,580 - too pricey?
Affalterbach’s continuous lust for all-out power has pushed its range of cars to the extreme book ends of its cars’ respective classes. The Mercedes A-Class is just one example: the previous-generation AMG A45 was so powerful that it was hard to compare it to much else besides the equally-ludicrous Audi RS3.
A BMW M3 Competition Pack has around 70bhp less than the comparable Merc-AMG C63 S; an AMG GT R is around 84bhp punchier than a 911 GT3 RS… you get the picture.
So, AMG has recently introduced a series of mid-level AMG cars to make the whole range more accessible. So great cars like the C43 and E53 now have a smaller sibling: the new Mercedes-AMG A35.
So what are the Merc A35’s vital specs?
It sounds like AN Other generic German hot hatch when you read out the stats: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo, 302bhp, dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive... Those are eerily similar numbers to that of the VW Golf R and Audi S3, for example.
The 4Matic all-wheel drive system can split power 50:50, and the gearbox is AMG’s specific seven-speed twin-clutch offering. There are Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual and Wet modes selectable via a twiddly dial on the steering wheel and certain facets of the car’s handling traits like the traction control, ride firmness (if you spec the £695 adaptive dampers) and how much parp you get out of the sports exhaust can be tweaked by the switchable buttons attached to the wheel, too. There are 18-inch alloys as standard, 19s are optional.
What about the cockpit?
Inside, the A-Class’s MBUX infotainment system is standard with some cool AMG-specific graphics, fat and flat-bottomed steering wheel and the same sports seats from an AMG Line A-Class in the UK.
Don’t see that last point as a downside, mind – the AMG Performance seats available on the Continent are flatter and less supportive than a hungover backing singer and become uncomfortable quickly.
The bit that stings is the options list. Granted, the high-performance version of any car is never a guarantee of having an extensive options list, but some of the A-Class’s best bits will still cost you extra. The larger 10.1-inch twin screens are still going to cost you at least £2395 for the AMG Premium pack, while the rowdy AMG Style pack that adds some serious visual drama (pictured below on this blue Edition 1 model) is another £2595.
How’s the engine?
Less soulless than you might think for a 302bhp four-pot turbo. Practically no turbo lag surfaces as you pile on the revs but you hear plenty of whooshing in the mid-range. There’s no kick in the back that might really make some feel a thrill but this engine is quite a weapon – especially since a 4.7sec 0-62mph time makes it faster than a Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai i30 N or Renault Megane RS 300 Trophy, and pretty much on par with a VW Golf R, Audi S3 and BMW M140i.
The most entertaining bit is the sports exhaust system. There’s a flap that opens up, with a smidge of bonus fart noise filtering out in Sport. Sport+, meanwhile, is where it gets entertaining with maximum noise and more bangs than popcorn in a microwave on overruns and gearchanges. Makes the hooligan in you smile from ear to ear.
Come on – tell us how it drives
It’s fun – like a Golf R that’s let its hair down. We already really like the new A-Class for its sweet-n-neat chassis, so the A35 emphasises some of the regular A’s best bits. The steering is a particular highlight for the rack’s quick-witted reaction times, delivering real precision – if not quite as communicative as front-driven 300bhp rivals like the Civic Type R or Megane 300 Trophy.
The all-wheel drive tech underneath isn’t quite as sophisticated as a Focus RS (may it rest in peace) so uses torque vectoring by braking to curb inside wheel speed instead of a properly trick diff. It really works, though, anchoring the car down if you’re blasting into the realms of ‘silly’ corner entry speeds. The only time we lost grip during our test drive in Mallorca was driving over a thick layer of gunk that was spread over a hairpin by a damp tree above, which flowed the car into a relaxed four-wheel drift – definitely the environment and not a failing of the AWD system.
All of the cars during our test had adaptive dampers, which did an impressive job of dealing with sudden jolts (something you usually get used to when paired with large wheels) but in the sportier drive modes, the ride would get unsettled over larger undulations. The upshot is almost no body roll when you’re rinsing it. It’s also a decent cruiser in Comfort but if you go for the optional 19-inch alloys, there’s quite a lot of tyre roar that echoes through the car at motorway speeds.
The AMG-Speedshift dual-clutch’s cog swaps are instantaneous and the manual mode activated by you flicking a paddle remains active for a comfortable amount of time. Our only irritation is that it was a bit nannying, not letting us wind the engine up to maximum revs; it would shift up a few hundred rpms before we would and change up. A couple of time it changed up a split second before our paddle flick, forcing the gearbox to change up twice.
You mentioned a lot of options...
Yes... Other than the fruity exhaust, most of the stuff that really makes the A35, heck even a basic A-Class, stand out is still relegated to the options list. A high-performance model of a car is never a signifier of a car with bountiful equipment, but when the larger and crisper instrument screens that AMG overlays with some great graphics are still optional, a proper hot hatch body kit is optional and adaptive dampers that bring the best out of the A35’s chassis are optional, it’s certainly a fly in the Sun Yellow ointment.
It also means that the next-generation A45, expected to come with around 400bhp (and maybe a little EQ Boost tickle), might have a price that launches it into the stratosphere. We’ll have to see.
Mercedes-AMG A35: verdict
Merc’s new baby AMG might be considered a ‘half fat’ car in the eyes of the wider Affalterbach range but it’s far from a half fat hot hatch. It’s desirable, faster than plenty of sports cars, grippy in that very planted German way but with just a smidge of theatre that most hot hatch fans will love. We certainly enjoyed it.
It won’t thrill like a Civic Type R and it isn’t quite a Focus RS-level hooligan enough for some, but it’ll be just as fast point-to-point and will still slap a smile on your face. Shame you have to pay so handsomely for what really makes the A35 unique.
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