Test Drives

Mercedes-AMG A 35 Review 2019: Tempered Steal



 

Mercedes will finally have a flexible hot hatch suitable for Singapore’s daily drive: the A 35 is what makes the mid-range AMG go mainstream

Photos: Mercedes-AMG

Mallorca, Spain

This is the Mercedes-AMG A 35 hot hatch. It’s the logical, more sensible descendant of its famously fiery forebear, the Mercedes-AMG A 45, although it’s not a direct replacement for that car.

Instead, the A 35 is toned down, the better to compete against mega-hatches like the Audi S3 Sportback, the BMW M140i, and to a lesser extent, the Volkswagen Golf R, Renault Megane RS and the Honda Civic Type R.

If there’s any Mercedes the A 35 draws from, it’s the second-gen A-Class sportiest normal model, the 211hp A 250 Sport, which was at best lukewarm and far from hot.

It’s thus best to consider the A 35 part of the new breed of mild-AMG cars, like the larger mid-range ‘43’ models. Theoretical future compact AMG models like this will receive the ‘35’ name, and select models, like the CLS, will have AMG 53 naming.

As proven in our test of the facelifted C 43 sedan and coupe (facelifted C-Class has been launched in Singapore on Dec 7) they deliver on the promise of AMG-tuned thrills, but with a more adaptable, less hardcore nature, and can mix it up strong with the potent competition from M Performance and Audi S.

Looking at the spec of the A 35, that’s exactly what’s promised. It has ‘just’ 306hp, compared to the rather feisty 380hp the A 45 had by the end of its life cycle, but get this: The A 35 is only 0.2 seconds slower in the 0-100km/h than that car was, a clue to the sheer amount of progress in traction that AMG’s engineers have made with the new fundamentals they were given.

The exterior design is much more subtle than the A 45’s. For instance, you have a choice of massive rear wing, front aero splitter, winglets and rear diffuser/spoiler, but that’s part of an additional Aerodynamics Package (shown below, though it could be standard equipment for Singapore at launch).



The A 35 looks pretty stealth-fighter without it, thanks to the lack of obvious fender bulges, but it does cut a bright spot with its Sun Yellow paintwork that’s befitting a smile-bringing hot hatch.

As with the regular A-Class, and B-Class, the new-gen compact interior looks its best with the dual infotainment screens on show, the additional AMG touches include a black headliner, sport seats, piano black finishing.

The steering wheel is a new AMG unit with microfibre and a flat-bottom, but there are two interesting new additions that make their debut here: New driving dynamics controls integrated into the wheel.

The left side has two display buttons with another button below. Each are selectable for a category drivetrain, suspension, ESP, gearbox. Once selected you use the buttons below to modify the behaviour.

The right button is a rotary driving mode selector – like Ferrari’s mannetino – and a press of the button itself brings you immediately to Individual mode (there’s now Slippery, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ too). It’s a very high tech and welcome touch that adds to the A 35’s special-ness.

Driving the hot hatch is surprisingly similar to the C 43 sedan and coupe, there’s an immediate tautness the driver can feel, but it’s not the hard, unyielding terrifying sort, but the kind you can negotiate, and yes, get involved with.

Start off in Comfort and it’s all hunky dory. Besides the slightly weighty steering and lively burble (compared to the B-Class’ tractor drone), it feels like a more muscular A-Class that’s a little more eager to gain forward momentum, and to preserve it in corners.

Sport hots things up the right way, the active flap (it’s constantly variable, depending on the drive mode and RPMs) lets the 2.0-litre clear its throat a little, the car simply becomes more ruthless and unperturbed in dealing with all sorts of bends that come up.

It’s when you start pushing that Sport+ starts to make sense, but there’s even more fine tuning you can do to suit your style of driving.

The ESP Sport handling mode is one, commonly found elsewhere, the tail hangs looser on hard braking (and the signature AMG cheer-me-up, exhaust crackle), the tracking more unruly when you hoof it full blast out of corner exits.

There’s an additional AMG Dynamics option to fiddle with, which controls the brake-based torque vectoring system, you can tweak to two levels of it in Individual mode. Outside of that, it’s in its sedate setting in Slippery and Comfort, and more aggro in Sport and Sport+.  

Overall, the A 35 feels tremendously competent, and more than up to anything you can throw at it, but at the same time, it’s has a predominantly mature, focused feel, rather than the outright gangsterism of the A 45.

The steering and chassis response are still precise when you’ve set everything loose, the powertrain torquey and vocal but not entirely possessed to the top-end sizzle than its bigger V6 brother has.

It’s hugely fast on all roads, like a hot hatch should be, but a hot pace in Mallorca’s mountain roads never got more than a slight squeal from the tyres. It also must be said that for a hot hatch, the A 35 rides supremely well – in this respect it’s the S-Class of hot hatches.

It won’t make you cackle with juvenile delight like an A 45, but it’ll surely help you crack a smile if you can find the space after a long, boring commute. If the car’s Spanish manners are anything to go by, it’ll be well-suited to Singapore’s urban crush especially in Comfort mode.

That’s the A 35’s game – be more mild than the A 45, but also more usable, flexible, and generally sane and accepted into civilised company, the latter of which will include your SO when they see the price.

As it stands, an A 45 now costs roughly $280k with COE, so to stand a chance, the A 35 will have to be cheaper than that when it comes to Singapore in 2019, we’re guessing around $240k with COE.  

That would be a fair price to pay for the first Mercedes hot hatch that has real AMG fire tempered with true all-round livability and civility you could actually use well in Singapore.

Mercedes-AMG A 35

Engine 1,991cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 306hp at 5800rpm
Torque 400Nm at 3000-4000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h 250km/h
Top Speed 4.7 seconds
Fuel Efficiency 7.3L/100km
VES Band / CO2 TBA / 168g/km
Agent Cycle & Carriage
Price $240k with COE (estimate)
Availability Q4 2019

about the author

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Derryn Wong
Has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. Is particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats.