Does the Mercedes-AMG A35 Saloon have what it takes to be a real AMG? Or is it just a ploy to make a few sales? Time to find out.
Mercedes isn’t new to the hot-hatch market. The previous generation A45 sat pretty much at the top of the hot-hatch tree with its almost 400bhp power output by the time it went out of production to pave way for the newest generation A-class. It wasn’t the best, though, not by some margin. Power doesn’t always equal the best, although you know us, it certainly helps. The 45 felt like it was compromised, that its strongest asset was that 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, but only in straight lines and struggled with understeer under hard cornering.
The latest A-class is an intriguing one. The interior is essentially a duplicate of that found in the E-Class and S-Class, which is bonkers given those cars cost double or triple over the regular cars. That suddenly becomes the first weapon in its arsenal, something that has the likes of the BMW and Honda licked.
What’s also new is a cheaper, slower version of the big, bad A45, in the form of the A35. It features a development of the previous generation’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, but with 306bhp. You might be questioning why. I know I was to begin with. But when you look at the cars around that segment, the Golf R, Honda Civic Type R, even the previous generation Focus RS, you start to think that 300bhp is about the perfect benchmark for Mercedes and allows it to target a wider audience with its products. Question is though, does the calmer version live up to what’s needed to bare the AMG badging on the rear?
Let’s look at the facts. We’ve got 306bhp, 4Matic all-wheel drive, a 7-speed MCT dual clutch gearbox and both hatchback and saloon variants. 0-62mph is all done in 4.8 seconds and it’ll go on to the standard 155mph. We’re driving the saloon here, which I think, personally, looks a hell of a lot better than the hatch. The problem with the hatch is that without the aerodynamic pack it looks almost too ordinary, and with the aero pack it looks too over the top. The happy medium is the saloon, which can be opted with various packs, but all of which just add small amounts of aggression, like a lip spoiler and diffuser, rather than splitters and wings, which you can opt to do at a later date. Oh, and those 19-inch AMG black wheels, which I think look teasingly beautiful.
Inside, the new A-class is sublime. It comes with a dual screen that’s interconnected. This car was optioned with the premium pack, so you get a wider set of screens. You can’t fault the interior, it’s bang up to date, feels more than premium enough with everything laid out appropriately. It’s a delightful place to sit and you feel yourself never wanting to get out. This is the joy of having far more expensive cars from the same manufacturer. These cabin first featured in the E-class and has finally found its way to the baby in the range. But, that also means that the baby in the class doesn’t carry baby prices, instead, this, options included, is £42,540. Now from the off that appears to be astronomical. But when you break down what you get, this is all the car you ever need. It balances its performance with luxury beautifully, and given no one buys cars outright these days, that £42k is about as relevant as a Nigel Farage news appearance…
It’s also worth bearing in mind that this did have over £6k of options, too, the base price is just over £36k, which is slightly more acceptable, given the outgoing Golf GTI finished its pricing at the same point, but lacks the sex appeal of the Mercedes.
This is why we’re here, this is the important bit. It’s all good and well looking the part, but with a market so saturated and thriving with talent, the A35 needs to deliver. The good news is that it does. The engine is an absolute peach. It may only be 2.0-litres in displacement, but it pulls strongly throughout the rev range. The throttle response isn’t the sharpest, particularly in the lower drives modes, but flick it into sport and the car comes alive.
There’s a hint of turbo lag as you bury the throttle, but the MCT is lightning quick in its reactions that during kickdown you barely notice a delay. Upshifts are quick and deliver a signature “fart” as it’s come to be known, under full throttle acceleration.
The intriguing part is the chassis. Mercedes has done a hell of a lot of work underneath to try and improve the cars dynamics. The A45 suffered heavily with understeer and a numb drive, it’s what hampered it from being considered at the top of the hot-hatch competition. These revisions have certainly improved the way the car handles through the corners, the front end is darty and precise, but the steering feels numb and lacking in feel. It does get heavier, but it replaces feel altogether. There’s a distinct lack of understeer though, and even in wintery conditions, pushing on through damp back roads, the car remained stable at all times.
At times, though, I felt the ABS system kicking in quite early, which is odd given we were driving on the road. It could be down to damp patches and undulations on the road, but gave you a reminder that this is still a car nudging on 1600kg; suddenly with two passengers you’re into the 1700kg bracket, which is heavy for a car in this sector.
There is no lack of pace though. String a set of corners together and the car delivers with great precision. It feels composed, and that weight has helped with this. Thankfully, the weight has harmed its agility, and you can quite comfortably negotiate quick direction changes with confidence.
But, I don’t want speed and confidence to mask the enjoyment aspect. This is critical for me in this sector, as far too many of these pimped up premium cars are lacking any sense of enjoyment. Yes, they’re phenomenally fast; arguably a lot more capable than the people out their buying them. But the A35 didn’t inject that fun aspect that AMGs have done and continue to do so. It didn’t leave me wanting more at the end of it, I felt as if I’d driven the car well and now know its ins and outs, and from an hour’s drive in the car, that’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s predictable, safe if you will. But that’s not what an AMG is all about.
It might be a tad harsh to say but I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. Yes it’s very capable; in fact, there are few cars that could trouble it from point A to B, such is the wide array of its abilities. But it’s not always about being the fastest, the driver has to enjoy it. For the most part, I reckon 95% of drivers will ignore what I’ve just said and focus on the fact that its blisteringly fast, but even the most ordinary hot-hatch out there, the Golf R, felt more exciting than this. This is a car that’s crying out for some modifications, to inject some fun into it.
That being said, the A35 Saloon tops its class for looks, equipment and comfort. Other cars in its sector can’t match it for the way it makes you feel while sat inside. But on the flip side, it doesn’t have enough character for me to love it. I wanted to love it, and Mercedes has certainly improved upon the previous A45, even if this car is the entry level AMG A-class. I hope that the A45 and subsequent S model plugs the fun-factor void that I’m craving. After all, AMG stands for AHHH MY GOD, doesn’t it?
Tech Spec: Mercedes-AMG A35 Saloon
Performance: 306bhp @ 5,800rpm, 295ft lb
0-62mph: 4.8 seconds
Top Speed: 155mph
Engine: 1991cc in-line four cylinder,
Fuel Economy: 35mpg