For many years now, AMG’s hot A-Classes have been regarded as one of the finest hot hatches around. The A45, introduced in Australia in 2013, was one of the first superhatches, packing a mighty 265kW of power at launch. Top-end fast hatches have become quite the speciality for AMG: this year’s new A45 S brings a blistering 310kW of power from a two-litre engine – naturally at a high cost. The A45 will set you back $102,106 driveaway.
There’s a market for a hundred-grand hot hatch, no doubt – but the problem for AMG has been that the most popular vehicles in this segment play closer to sixty-large, not six-figures. AMG hasn’t had an answer to popular 200-ish-kilowatt hot hatches like the Audi S3 ($70,552 driveaway) or the BMW M135i ($75,762 driveaway).
Until now, that is: enter the 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35. This car is AMG’s new entry point, a hatch (or sedan, if you prefer) to compete in the really meaty part of the premium hot hatch segment, where if buyers don’t splash for the Audi or BMW, they’re buying the perenially popular Volkswagen Golf R.
The A35’s badge may be ten short of the A45 – and the outputs from its (different) two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine are admittedly more modest (225kW/400Nm) – but it wears a price tag that is $24,300 cheaper than its big brother. At the time of writing, the $69k-list A35 hatchback was being offered for $76,642 driveaway, while a four-door sedan variant commands a $3,360 premium.
So, for the myriad buyers who’ve dreamt of ascending into AMG territory, the A35 is a very interesting proposition. While a pessimist might suggest the A35 will live in the shadow of its A45 S brethren, the simple fact is it’s a different buyer. The A45, with its custom AMG-built motor, is a more practical alternative to a six-figure two-door car. The A35, on the other hand, is a natural fit into the premium part of the hot hatch segment. In other words, it’s aspirational but attainable for far more people.
As our rating of 8.5 suggests, the A35 fits this brief very well. It combines the best hallmarks of a premium hot hatch of this ilk: spirited pace, sharp steering, good traction but sufficient on-limit adjustability, a firm but compliant ride, and layers of fun for the skilled driver to explore. Then, for good measure, Benz throws this segment’s most impressive interior at the A35: this leather-lined and screen-filled environment cossets its driver and wows passengers.
We’ll come to the cabin later. A hot hatch is primarily about engaging the driver on a twisty road – and that’s what the A35 feels designed for. We’ll start with the engine: though this two-litre M260 donk is actually a Mercedes-Benz – not an AMG – unit, it is boosted by a considerably larger turbocharger than its A250 sibling (reviewed here) and it feels it. The A35’s outputs jump 60kW/50Nm over the A250, while the 0-100km/h time falls by a full 1.5 seconds. You pay about $12,000 more for the A35, but the performance jumps by about 25% – and that’s fair.
Straight-line speed is an overly simplistic measure of performance for a hot hatch, we concede, but the A35 pulls away with authority. Launch control is activated by simultaneously pulling both paddles – which feels pretty boss – before the A35 fires off with considerable alacrity, all four wheels finding adequate traction on our (damp) testing roads. The engine isn’t the sweetest-sounding unit, but the exhaust offers up a pleasant serve of crackles and pops on the overrun and snaps loudly between the dual-clutch auto’s shifts in the more aggressive drive modes.
Show the A35 some curves, though, and this all-wheel-drive five-door really comes into its own. A combination of sweet, direct steering, intuitive chassis adjustability and excellent traction from our test car’s Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres saw our confidence – and cornering speeds – quickly rise. Where the new BMW M135i seems to isolate the driver while cornering, the A35 draws you into the experience, delivering plenty of feedback as it reveals its remarkably high limits.
While the A35 doesn’t offer up the giggle-inducing theatre of the Audi S3’s tendency to four-wheel-drift out of damp corners – the AMG distributes torque in a more demure manner – there is more than a hint of push from the rear axle as go is shuffled southward. Though the A35 functions as a front-wheel-drive vehicle in normal conditions, it is proactive with engaging the driven rear wheels as effort is dialled up.
Cornering is especially flat in the A35, with body roll almost eliminated even in the softest suspension mode. Speaking of soft suspension – that’s not something you really find on the A35. The Audi S3, and its Golf R cousin, both offer a more slackened-off character when you want to cruise. The A35 is always compliant and never crashy, but there is certainly a firmer undertone to the ride and it’s noisier in the cabin, too, on the standard 19-inch wheels. You can downsize to 18s for no cost: we don’t think it’s necessary, but if you live at the bottom of a broken-up country road, you’d consider it.
Other no-cost options on the A35 include three solid paints – white, black or a bright yellow – and the option to replace the factory black pack with aluminium trim. Other extras are plentiful, but selecting a number of desirable packages sends the A35’s price northbound, and fast. Our test car was equipped with a generous list of options, including the extroverted AMG Aerodynamics Package ($2,490), the AMG High Performance Seat Package ($3,290), and the high-tech Communications Package ($2,690).
Happily, you don’t really need any of the options to buy into a really good hot hatch: they’re all essentially (expensive) icing on the cake. Our understated tastes point us away from the aero pack’s huge spoiler, but we loved the super-supportive optional bucket seats – with heating and cooling (a further $790) and the excellent stereo found in the Communications Package – though at this price, we think that the blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control found in the $1,890 Driver Assistance Package should be standard.
With or without options, the interior of the A35 is both a sight to behold, and a welcome return to clearly high-quality build quality for an entry-level Mercedes-Benz. The new A-Class feels incredibly solid, and becoming of the three-pointed star. Cold metals, supple leather and an abundance of soft-touch materials adorn the interior of the new A-Class. It feels special.
It looks special, too, mainly due to Mercedes-Benz Australia’s choice to fit what is the highest specification of infotainment on the A-Class overseas as standard for our market: two 12.3-inch screens side by side, controlled either by touch, or a trackpad between the seats, or sensitive pads on the steering wheel. Duplicated controls aside – and it is a learning curve to work out how best to operate the tech – the screens are crisp, clear and present information legibly.
The driver’s screen is highly customisable, the navigation graphics are mature, and the voice command system is much more effective than on many rivals. Plus, your songs sound terrific through the 12-speaker Burmester stereo, which is part of the Communications Package, though we couldn’t see the head-up display through polarised sunglasses.
Room in the second row is tight, particularly toe room given the optional, low-set bucket seats up front – but it’s quite bearable for six-footers and kids will be fine. The reality is that, with so many AMG models now available, few A35 buyers will be using the rear seats with regularity. Even so, the air vents, USB-C ports and flip-down armrest are premium touches. The boot, which opens far wider than the old A-Class, offers 370 litres of space.
On the ownership front, we praise Mercedes-Benz Australia’s recent move to adopt a five year new car warranty, replacing the more common three years in the luxury space. Servicing for the A35 is required at the first of annual or 25,000km intervals, and can either be pre-purchased at a discount or paid per service through a capped price scheme. A prepaid three-year pack costs $2,050, averaging $683 per service. Outside of the pack, the first three services cost $550, $750, and $1,250 respectively.
So, that’s a look at the 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35. This car has quickly become one of our favourite sub-$80,000 hot hatches. Certainly, within the taxonomy of premium fast hatches, it’s more scintillating than the new BMW M135i and a notch or two more sophisticated than the outgoing Audi S3 – though that car has held up remarkably well. We’d still test drive all three – plus the Volkswagen Golf R – but this new entry-level AMG has much to offer.
Key specs (as tested)
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