Test Drives

Mercedes-AMG A 35 review: Fast chance Saloon



Mercedes-AMG A 35 4Matic Saloon in Singapore

The Mercedes-AMG A 35 4Matic Saloon might not seem like a lot of car for the money, but it’s a source of outsized fun…

SINGAPORE — The main thing anyone should know about “AMG” is that its cars make you shout “OMG!” when you pin the accelerator. So it is with the Mercedes-AMG A 35 Saloon, another pocket rocket from the lunatic, go-faster division of Mercedes, where petrol pours from the bathroom taps.

There’s a ready rival from BMW called the M235i Gran Coupe, and if you’re familiar with that you should know what to expect here. Both cars are German pocket rockets with four doors, both have all-wheel drive and both have 2.0-litre turbo engines with 306 horsepower apiece.

But if the A 35 is your first glimpse at what AMG does, then buckle up for a wild ride…

It doesn’t look particularly flash…
You’re right, the A 35 is surprisingly understated. There’s a small lip spoiler on the bootlid (the hatchback version has a wing that looks like it’s as big as Mercedes-AMG could legally make it), handsome 18-inch wheels (19s are optional) and a twin-fin design within the front grille. 

You’ll notice the bits of silver trim in the front bumper’s air scoops, and over at the back there’s a diffuser with four vertical fins. All very tasty and pleasing to the discerning eye, but nothing that screams “high performance car”, really.

Ah, but there’s a badge on the front wings that says “Turbo 4Matic”, and that spells out what to expect.

What’s it mean?
The little badge tells you what AMGs are famous for: performance. One thing the A 35 makes clear is that in a car this size and weighing 1,570kg, 306hp goes a hell of a long way. Especially when it comes with a torque peak of 400 Newton-metres.

There’s a slight pause from standstill, as if the turbo needs a moment to build some boost, but once the A 35 gets rolling it’s as if it runs on rocket fuel. Lean on the loud pedal the car starts to sprint with a lovely willingness, and there’s a suitably exuberant roar that accompanies the hard acceleration.

The action keeps going as the engine’s revs build, too, so the A 35 doesn’t just feel like it has powerful legs, but long ones, too. Along the way the twin-clutch, seven-speed auto delivers smooth, crisp shifts.

Does it raise hell like an AMG?
If you’re acquainted with AMG cars, particularly the previous A 45, then you might be disappointed: there’s none of the fireworks or sheer drama that the brand’s upper end cars are famous for. Wherever a V8-powered AMG shows up it sounds like a gun battle is going on, but the A 35 is no more obtrusive than, say, a Volkswagen Golf GTI. 

Still, there’s a Sport+ driving mode that adds the requisite pops and crackles from the exhaust to some degree. It also does the usual things: makes the gearshifts snappier, heightens the throttle response, diverts more engine power to the rear wheels and decreases power steering assistance. It works well, making the A 35 feel like it’s on caffeine, not on cocaine.

Interestingly, there’s no Eco setting because saving fuel isn’t what you buy this car for, but there’s a Slippery mode that tames the engine when it’s wet or icy out there. It’s a nice, safety-minded idea that’s migrated to cars from motorcycles, but in the A 35 in Singapore, it feels unnecessary.

Why’s that?
Because the A 35 grips fabulously, even when it’s cats and dogs out there. Anyone can understeer anything into the bushes, but to unstick the A 35 under acceleration you have to be actively trying to crash. The 4Matic system means the tyres never struggle to put the engine’s power down cleanly, and it’s especially good at rocketing out of slow corners.

Mercedes-AMG A 35 4Matic Saloon Singapore price

More importantly, the A 35 is the kind of car that fills you with confidence. It feels crisp, accurate and responsive, and you do get lots of feedback from the steering — a rarity in today’s world.

But does it punish the spine?
Not at all. The passive suspension set-up is actually excellent. There’s a noticeable brittleness at low speed, but the ride never deteriorates into an uncomfortably hard jigglefest, and at highway speeds the Mercedes-AMG A 35 is a car that feels at ease.

The suspension mods that went into the A 35 sound modest, but they’re sensible: bigger brakes (particularly the four-piston calipers up front with 350mm rotors), a quicker steering rack, solid mounting points (instead of rubber bushes), an extra panel to add front-end rigidity, plus stiffer anti-roll bars and specific springs and dampers. All very AMG but nothing over the top, and all very worthwhile in making the A 35 feel like a well-honed machine.

Does it feel special inside?
Our test car came with red seatbelts (now a classic AMG thing) and suede-like upholstery, along with an optional flat-bottomed steering wheel with perforated leather.

You get a smattering of AMG lettering around the cabin, some AMG-specific buttons are on the centre console (one to put the gearbox in Manual and the other to make the stability control system more liberal), but otherwise there’s little to shout about the car’s performance potential. Like the exterior, the A 35 is subtle.

What’s it like to live with, then?
Like a regular A-Class Saloon. That means it’s a small car but it’s fairly practical. It’ll seat five (the rear seats are respectable) and carry 420 litres in the boot, which you can expand by folding the seats down, though there’s only a small opening into the passenger cabin when you do so.

Mind you, there’s a sense of “mass luxury” with Mercedes’ small car family, so you’ll easily spot places where money was saved. It’s not hard to find cheap plastics in the cabin, and the air-con is a simple single-zone affair.

You do get plenty of digital frippery, including twin 10.25-inch displays (ignore the small speedo screen in our test car; customer cars are better-equipped). The cabin lighting is impressively customisable, and you get the MBUX interface, which is one way to separate haves and have-nots in today’s car market.

MBUX’s main selling point is the “Hey, Mercedes!” digital butler. It works well with some things (“Take me to 20, Orchard Road”) but couldn’t make sense of some commands (“I’m feeling warm”), so there’s definitely room for improvement there.

It’s also worth stating that the digital features don’t compensate for the fact that the cabin simply doesn’t feel like one from a car that costs S$219,888 with Certificate Of Entitlement.

So what’s the case for the A 35 4Matic?
Obviously, the fun and laughter. For the money you can get something bigger and plusher, but if driving pleasure is your thing, the Mercedes-AMG A 35 is a car to put on your list. It’s easy and satisfying to throw in and out of corners, and the straightline performance is the kind your parents had to pay half a million bucks for.

It’s also the perfect introduction to what AMG has to offer.

The A 35 is a tier down from the nutty A 45 S 4Matic+, which costs S$293,888 in hatchback form but has 421 horsepower and can hit 100km/h in a Porsche-rivalling 3.9 seconds. Yet, the “AMG-lite” models tend to strike a great balance between pure excitement and, to be honest, the terror that comes with driving a full AMG car. “OMG!” can mean many things, after all.

Mercedes-AMG A 35 4Matic Saloon

Engine 1,991cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 306hp at 5800rpm
Torque 400Nm at 3000-4000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed twin-clutch automatic
0-100km/h 250km/h
Top Speed 4.8 seconds
Fuel Efficiency 7.2L/100km
VES Band / CO2 C1 / 163g/km
Agent Cycle & Carriage
Price S$219,888 with COE
Available Now

Verdict: A compact, exuberant car that serves up big driving pleasure, the A 35 is a terrific introduction to the world of AMG.

 

about the author

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Leow Julen
CarBuyer's managing editor is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 25 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.