The Mercedes Benz AMG A35 bridges the gap between normal and nutty, but with plenty of power and gear to keep things very interesting.
I’ll be upfront and honest – I was not a huge fan of the old A-Class. I know it’s heresy to say it, but the A45 didn’t really move me. It was fast, absolutely and I like fast. But it didn’t want to play, it just wanted to run. The gap from A250 to A45 was a yawning chasm.
AMG knew this, of course. It also knew that BMW’s switch from the glorious rear-drive platform of the M140i to the new M135i‘s UKL2 meant that there wasn’t going to be a proper A45 competitor, at least not for a while.
So the A35 was born. Less power, lower price but with all the goodness of the new A Class, which includes a spectacular interior and a much better looking car than the old one.
How much is an AMG A35 and what do I get?
AMG A35 4MATIC hatch – $69,300 + ORC
AMG A35 4MATIC sedan – $72,800 + ORC
Mercedes never messes about with the spreadsheets and hits you square between the eyes at nearly seventy large for a five-door hatchback. Although that price pales next to the mid-$90k cost of the A45.
But let’s be fair, the A35 is loaded up pretty nicely – 19-inch alloy wheels, a nine-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, cruise control, electric heated front seats, leather trim, sat nav, auto LED headlights with auto high beam, auto parking, folding heated power door mirrors, auto wipers, sunroof and a tyre repair kit.
The stereo and various functions are powered by Merc’s awesome MBUX system. It spreads itself across the two huge screens in front of the driver and above the centre console and is way better than the old COMAND system. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (with USB-C connectors, so keep your wits about you) as well as DAB radio. There’s almost nothing between MMI, iDrive (aka BMW OS) and MBUX now, it’s that good.
Except for the voice control. Anything that sounds anything like “Hey, Mercedes”, up “she” pipes. It’s a bit annoying. Having said that, when you ask for it and get it, it’s quite useful.
The AMG High Performance Seat Package ($3290) adds a pair of shell-style AMG seats, the Communications Package ($2690) throws in more speakers, heads-up display and a sick subwoofer. And the wing-and-bits aero package festoons the A35 with black aero bits for $2490.
There are nine colours available. Polar White, Sun Yellow and Night Black are freebies. Cosmos Black, Denim Blue, Mountain Gray, Iridium Silver, Mojave Silver and Digital White all come with an $1190 sting.
Safety – 5 Stars (ANCAP)
The A Class is almost weighed down with safety gear – ABS, stability and traction controls (of course) are joined by nine airbags, active safety bonnet, forward AEB with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, speed zone reminder (GPS-based) and road sign recognition.
Annoyingly it goes without reverse cross traffic alert unless you specify the $1890 Driving Assistance Package which also adds active blind spot assist and active cruise.
Warranty and Servicing
5 years/unlimited kilometre
Fixed-price servicing and pre-paid service plans
I know I make a big deal about it, but Mercedes stands proud as the first of the premium German manufacturers to offer a five year warranty. Late to the party yes, but there we are.
Service intervals are generous at 12 months/25,000km and you can choose a variety of ways to pay for your servicing. Three years will cost $1950, four years $2950 and five years $4500.
For the three year plan, Mercedes says you’ll save $500 instead of pay-as-you-go capped price servicing for three years. That fourth service looks pretty vicious, so a four year plan is probably the way to go, if not five.
Look and Feel
This new A-Class is a much better looking car than the old one. Mercedes’ lozenge phase is – thankfully – coming to an end, with better-defined shapes and surfaces. About the only loss – to my eyes – is the lack of flush fitting on the lights, like on the C-Class. I’ll live.
The A35 has the usual pumped up bits and pieces. It looks great on the 19-inch wheels and you can tell it’s an A35 (for the time being, at least) by the grille and if someone has put the bonkers aero kit on it. I’m not a fan of the aero kit, but to each their own.
I have, on more than one occasion, been a bit mean about Mercedes interiors. Up until the current E-Class, it was absolute granddad express stuff inside Mercs, the A-Class included. Which was supposed to be more for the yoofs, most of whom wouldn’t be seen dead in a Smart. They bought an Audi instead (probably).
This new one though, boy howdy is it cool. Lots of buttons, yes, but up here in the A35 it looks fantastic. The lovely lighting, even on the deadly cool air vents, smashes the high-tech feel out of the park. The steering wheel is that cool, squared-off one seen in other AMGs and it really feels special, which is good, because this car isn’t cheap.
The back seat is still the tight fit of the old car but that’s hardly a surprise in this segment. You get the usual cupholders front and rear and there is actually somewhere to put your phone which doubles as a charging pad. The boot is a decent (for the segment) 370 litres, with 1210 litres available when you fold the 40/20/40 rear seat.
The A35 rides on 19-inch wheels all the way around, with either Pirelli P-Zero or Michelin Pilots for grip.
The car is stiffened with an aluminium plate attached to the engine and two diagonal braces hidden underneath the car. That stiffens up the front end nicely meaning the suspension doesn’t have to be so uncompromising.
A big difference between the A35 and its lesser siblings is the multi-link rear end. Where the lower machines make do with torsion beams, the A35’s adaptive damping has a better set of bits to work with.
AMG fits the M260 2.0-litre four cylinder with a whopping 225kW at 5800rpm and 400Nm. Remember, this isn’t even the A Class’ most powerful unit, with the A45 S packing a gigantic 310kW from the same displacement.
With this kind of power you’ll smack the 100km/h mark in 4.7 seconds, which is not hanging around. It’s 1.5 seconds quicker than the A250 and 0.8s slower than the new A45S.
Like its rivals, the all-wheel drive system only sends up to half the power to the rear wheels and is most of the time a front-wheel drive car.
The M260 has a twin-scroll turbo – like BMW’s B54 in the M135i – and has all the usual direct injection gubbins. The M260 also has a 48-volt power system, which is becoming de rigeur in Euro-spec high-powered four-cylinder engines.
This engine is closely related to the A250’s engine while the A45’s is a whole different machine.
Hilariously, if you hold the right gearshift paddle on start-up, it will bark and carry on like a race car before settling down again. Your neighbours will not dig this unless they’re unreformed petrolheads. AMG calls it “Emotive start.” Someone will emote if you keep using it.
Fuel economy – 7.6L/100km
The usual disclaimers apply here because I didn’t get quite that figure in my week with the A35. I have to admit I didn’t get to drive it as much as I wanted to because a) corona virus and b) I was recovering from a colossal back injury.
Between my wife and I pedalling the thing around – along with a quick, cheeky (but perfectly legal COVID-wise) blast we scored 9.8L/100km.
I’ve driven four quite hot hatches in 2020 and I gotta tell you, in this segment, the A35 punches hard. The old A250 was alright but really wasn’t front of mind for me against anything from either Audi or BMW, especially considering the latter’s now-squandered rear-wheel drive advantage.
I like so many things about this car. It’s comfortable and packed with really cool tech. That double-dashboard set up is awesome and so nice to use. With the optional heads-up, you know what’s going on all the time.
The steering wheel feels great and the driving position, once you’ve perfected it, is lovely. When you’re using the car as an every day driver, it’s nice. Easy to move around, it does the job in Comfort mode you’d expect it to. Fuss-free, easygoing.
Turn it up to Sport+ however (we’ll talk about Sport in a minute) and this car is a proper firecracker. The engine really wakes up in this mode, banishing the double-take of Comfort mode when you ask for more power.
It doesn’t over-do things – that’s what the A45 is for – but it builds a lovely balance between firmness and a fast ride quality that keeps you feeling safe. The steering may not be particularly chatty, but you’ve got a good idea of what’s going on underneath you.
The engine just keeps on giving, too, despite you often finding yourself bouncing off the soft cut-out. The downside of high output/small capacity engines is a low-ish redline so the paddles tend to make more work rather than improve things.
While the power is high, the torque is immense for such a small car. The all-wheel drive system keeps it all in check and while it isn’t especially thuggish, it’s all very neat and quick.
One thing to note is the racket from the tyres. Other cars have these tyres but not nearly as much noise invades the cabin. The steady rumble could get annoying on long trips and one can’t help wondering if AMG doesn’t invest in some active noise cancelling.
Speaking of noise, the engine never really fires up enough to be an aural joy, but I guess you can’t have everything.
And yes, Sport mode. Comfort does make the engine a bit doughy so your Goldilocks mode is Sport. The ride is smooth enough for most people, but having better access to power through a snappier throttle is what you want.
There’s a bit going on here. The Audi S3 is about to be sent to big carpark in the sky but is still surprisingly competitive, if not class-leading. In a way, BMW’s switch to the UKL2 platform brought the market back towards the S3. Some tweaks to the spec have certainly helped and its genuinely timeless style, inside and out, is still a draw.
The M135i’s recent change to all-wheel drive has changed the car’s vibe significantly. I liked it a lot, but its operating window for those who like a fun drive is a bit curtailed. It’s a different beast – it has to be – but is probably a bit benign for me.
The Mini JCW is similarly-priced and powered to the A35 and M135i. It’s more fun than the latter and its cartoonish looks are far removed from the AMG (unless you slap on the A35’s aero kit). I really liked it in Pure form, too, it’s probably the closest to the A35 in character and fun.
Like the S3, the Golf R is about to bite the big one, too. And it’s a VW, so you pay (almost) Mercedes service pricing for VW attitude (yes, until recently I was Volkswagen owner and I was thoroughly unimpressed)(the car was great, though). It’s also nowhere near as much fun to drive, so save your pennies and get a GTI. Or something else.
As you’ve just read, the M135i has fallen back into the clutches of the chasing pack. Yes, the A35 is effectively new, but the old M140i held its own against the vastly more expensive (and obnoxious) A45, even if it left the crushing blow to the M2.
The JCW is great, but its appeal is rather more narrow than the AMG’s.
The AMG is a terrific all-rounder while delivering on the AMG promise of sparkling performance, a bit of brand cachet and, surprisingly, a long warranty and capped-price servicing program.
I never thought I’d say this – I am, as you may have gathered, more of a BMW guy – but the AMG A35 is the car I’d have in this segment. Yes, it’s expensive but it’s by far the best in its class.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.