Mercedes’ range of AMG performance cars is so expansive you could almost have a different one for every day of the year. It encompasses saloons and estates, SUVs of all sizes, coupes and supercars and, when the £2.5m AMG One arrives in 2020, a hypercar as well. Right at the bottom of the line up, bearing the weight of all the rest, is this A35 hot hatch.
In recent times a very clear technical blueprint has emerged for a classier, more sophisticated sort of performance hatchback. Common to all of them is four-wheel drive, a turbocharged engine displacing two litres, power and torque outputs both in the region of 300, a price tag of £35,000 or so and, more often than not, paddleshift gearboxes as well. In every respect the Mercedes-AMG A35 is faithful to that recipe. It goes squarely up against the Volkswagen Golf R – by most approximations the best car of its type – the Audi S3 and, due later this year, the new BMW M135i too.
A SHOW-STOPPING INTERIOR
What the A35 has to distinguish itself from a handful of outwardly very similar cars is a show-stopping cabin. Step from a Golf R into the A35 and you’ll swear you’ve moved from one type of car and into a different sort altogether. Based on their cockpits, the VW and the Mercedes don’t feel like close rivals at all.
The A35 has a very modern and sleek interior, and it backs that showiness up with an impressive level of material and build quality. It’s a very fine driving environment, although if you want the frankly excellent twin digital displays that seem to reach two-thirds of the way across the width of the car – plus leather trim, heated seats, an uprated hifi and more – you’ll need to pay £3,595 for the AMG Premium Plus package. Money well spent. The screens are crystal clear and beautifully rendered. The central display is a touchscreen, but you can also navigate it using the intuitive laptop-style trackpad down by your left hand.
The seating position is good and the seats themselves comfortable and supportive. The new A-class is five-door only and there’s a useful amount of space in the back, plus a very good boot. That means the A35 is practical as well as fast, which is exactly the way it should be with this sort of machine. And shouldn’t a hot hatch all-rounder be relatively subtle, too? Without the £2,595 AMG Style package the A35 looks muscular, but not in-your-face. With the 19-inch multispoke wheels in a matt black finish, heavily tinted glass, prominent rear wing and little aero flicks ahead of the front wheels, however, the A35 is anything but subtle.
DRIVING THE MERCEDES-AMG A35
There are times when the car’s ride feels unnecessarily tough. That’s only on the worst maintained urban roads, though, or on very bumpy country lanes. The wheels tend to thud and thump along heavily, rather than rising and falling in tune with the road surface to keep the body calm and level. The optional adaptive dampers will go some way to rectifying that but this is not a car that will ever glide like a limousine.
What you get in return is an exceptional level of body control and agility. There is very good grip as well, even in sodden conditions, and with four-wheel drive excellent traction as well. All of that, plus the not insignificant matter of 302bhp, gives the A35 a quite remarkable level of cross-country pace. On a tricky, twisty road, particularly in the wet, a Porsche 911 would be no quicker. The A35’s four-wheel drive system is very much front-biased, which means it only drives the rear axle to reduce the burden on the front. You’ll therefore never feel the car wanting to slide when you stand on the throttle pedal.
Unlike many other turbocharged four-cylinder engines the A35’s actually emits a lively and evocative soundtrack. Relatively speaking, at least. The engine itself is hugely impressive, with good throttle response, a very wide power band and bundles of torque. To describe the engine as effective would be to undersell it, because there is enough character to it that it becomes one of the reasons you enjoy pressing on in the A35. The dual-clutch gearbox, meanwhile, works very well indeed and is perfectly suited to the rest of the package.
THE BEST MERCEDES-AMG HOT HATCH YET
Mercedes-AMG has built hot hatches before but none as good as this one. The A35 executes the sophisticated hot hatch brief so well that no other car of its type is substantially better in any way. There are only different shades of the same thing. But it’s important to say there are other types of hot hatch that are more engaging to drive. The Renaultsport Megane 300 Trophy, for instance, is a more rewarding machine, but far less amenable day to day.
The A35’s standard equipment list is generous, particularly in terms of safety equipment. Brake assist, lane keep assist and what Mercedes calls Attention Assist (which monitors the driver and warns when he or she should take a break) all come as standard, as do a DAB radio and the MBUX infotainment system. If you don’t pay to upgrade to the twin 10-inch displays, you’ll get a pair of seven-inch screens instead.
The cheapest AMG of the lot? It is, but with a first-rate cabin, polished dynamics and an excellent powertrain, the A35 doesn’t feel at all like the weedy little brother.
Price: from £35,580. As tested £43,660
0-62mph: 4.7 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 38.7mpg (combined)
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: THE A45 AMG
Mercedes has never built an A35 before this one but it did release the A45, based on the previous shape A-class, back in 2013. Costing £40,000 it was one of the fastest and most powerful hatchbacks ever (in fact it still is) thanks to 355bhp. Though it was undeniably fast, the A45 was always hobbled by an overly-stiff ride that meant its chassis wasn’t at its best on the UK’s lumpy roads. The car was facelifted two years later and power jumped to 376bhp.
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