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Mercedes-AMG A35 test drive

The A35 is an entry-level hot hatch with top tier performance, but does it dilute the AMG ethos?

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Mercedes-AMG A35 test drive 1
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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 Mercedes-AMG A35 model we’ve been driving. Starting at about £35,000 and with 310hp on tap, 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?

What’s new about the Mercedes-AMG A35?

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 Mercedes-AMG 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.

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 the spec like?

Standard specification is decent, with the aforementioned kit supplemented by voice control for the infotainment system, DAB digital 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.

Safety-wise, the Mercedes-AMG A35 inherits all of the existing tech from the regular A-Class range. That means a five-star Euro NCAP rating and considerable industry recognition for its performance in an emergency.

What’s the Mercedes-AMG A35 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.

2019 Mercedes-AMG A35 review - interior and dashboard  | The Car Expert

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 under the bonnet?

The Mercedes-AMG 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 the Mercedes-AMG A35 like to drive?

The short answer to how the A35 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.

Verdict

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.

Similar cars

Audi S3 | BMW M135i | Honda Civic Type R | Hyundai i30 N | Volkswagen Golf R

Key specifications

Model: Mercedes-AMG A35
Price (on-road): £35,580
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol
Gearbox: Seven-speed automatic
Power: 310 hp
Torque: 400 Nm
Top speed: 155 mph
0-60mph: 4.7 seconds
Fuel consumption (combined): 39 mpg
CO2 emissions: 169 g/km

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Darren Cassey
Darren Cassey
Articles by Darren Cassey are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.

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