The A 35 is now the entry-level model from Mercedes-AMG. Jonathan Crouch reports on this enticing hot hatch.
Mercedes became credible in the hot hatch segment back in 2013 when it announced the AMG-engineered A 45 4MATIC, offered first with 355hp, then later with 381hp. The only problem was that in terms of power and price, this car sat rather above the core part of the hot hatch segment, the faster part of which is represented by cars like the Audi S3, the Volkswagen Golf R and the Honda Civic Type-R, all of which campaign with around 310-320hp.
When the fourth generation A-Class model was launched in the Spring of 2018, Mercedes decided it would offer a broader-based offering to hot hatch buyers. The A 45 would be retained (with over 400hp) for folk in search of a super hatch, but core sales would be garnered by a new derivative - the one we're going to look at here, the 306hp A 35 4MATIC.
Of course, there will be some who accuse Mercedes of little originality. A small, expensive, German hatch that directs over 300bhp through all four wheels is, to many, an Audi S3 or a VW Golf R. That may well be the case, but if there's one thing that Mercedes has discovered in its competition with its German premium brand neighbours, it's that there's usually space in any given market for several manufacturers, as they all have different buyer profiles. This A 35 is a niche sell for sure, but that's only because of its price. Any petrolhead worth their salt would want to get behind the wheel of this one.
It's technically intriguing. The engine seems to be a slightly re-fettled version of the four-cylinder powerplant that's found in the humbler A250 model, but much has been changed to reliably achieve that 306hp power output and 400Nm of torque. Power goes to all four wheels via a 7G-DCT 7-speed automatic transmission and the A 35 can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 4.7 seconds (about the same as the original version of the A 45 could manage). Buyers get much the same 'DYNAMIC SELECT' driving modes system as you'd find in the AMG-GT sportscar, with "Comfort", "Sport", "Sport +" and "Individual" settings. The AMG 4MATIC all-wheel drive system directs up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear wheel to ensure a playful bias to the car's handling and guarantees a rapid getaway.
Design and Build
All the key elements of premium Mercedes hot hatch design are in evidence here - there's also a saloon variant on offer too. With both versions, distinguishing features at the front include a radiator grille with twin louvres, an AMG Line front apron with flics on the air intakes and a front splitter and silver chrome trims on the louvres in the outer air intakes. From the side, you'll notice aerodynamically optimised 18-inch light-alloy wheels in a twin-spoke design and special AMG Line side sill panels. The back view is dominated by a rear apron with a sporty diffuser insert, the spoiler lip on the roof and the two round tailpipe trims.
Inside, there are seat covers in Artico man-made leather with Dinamica microfibre in black, red contrasting stitching and red belts. Red piping on the microfibre Dinamica trim element and ventilation nozzles with a red ring add further accents. Like lesser new-generation A-Class models, this one features the MBUX multimedia system. Smart centre-dash infotainment screen presentations underline the clear control structure and feature brilliant maximum-resolution 3D graphics. And this display blends into that for the Widescreen Cockpit screen that replaces conventional instrument dials. For the dials, you can select a 'Supersport mode' with a central, round rev counter and additional information presented in the form of bars to the left and right of the rev counter.
Market and Model
There's a choice of hatch or saloon body shapes and A 35 4MATIC prices start at just over £35,500, so it's much more accessible than the old (or new) A 45 models. But most likely buyers will probably want to spend more. The optional 'AMG Executive equipment line' package adds a 10.25-inch media display, heated front seats, a parking package including Active Parking Assist with PARKTRONIC, a leather package and a mirror package including electrically folding exterior mirrors and automatically-dimming driver's side mirror and rear-view mirror.
The 'AMG Premium equipment line' package builds on this with a 10.25-inch instrument cluster, ambient lighting with a choice of 64 colours, illuminated door sills, keyless entry, a mid-range sound system and a rear armrest. Push your spend up towards £40,000 and you can have you're A 35 with the 'AMG Premium Plus equipment line' package which, in addition to the pack features just mentioned, adds a Burmester surround sound system, electrically-adjustable front memory seats, a Panoramic glass sunroof and Multibeam LED headlights with Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus.
Go for one of these packages and you'll also be offered an optional 'Driving Assistance package' of camera-driven safety equipment, including Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Braking Assist with a cross-traffic function, Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Active Lane-change Assist, Active Speed Limit Assist, Active Steering Asist, Evasive Steering Assist, Pre-Safe Plus and route-based speed adjustment.
Cost of Ownership
You might need to keep some self-control when faced with the options list if you're not to put the kibosh on residual values. BMW and Audi have both realised that their super high performance smaller cars tend to be in big demand on the used markets, despite being relatively expensive to run in terms of fuel and other consumables. Mercedes claims an average fuel economy figure of 38.7mpg for the A 35. Clearly this figure will head south if you use the throttle pedal as intended, but it's hard to argue with the 167g/km emissions figure. Insurance cover may well be a different matter.
What else? Well, we'll tell you that the comprehensive three year warranty is built upon by Mercedes' Mobilo scheme which delivers breakdown cover for up to thirty years, as long as you continue to have your car serviced at a Mercedes main dealer. And it's worth knowing that your maintenance outlay can be kept a little in check by going for the optional Service Care package that takes care of routine maintenance, spreading the cost of regular servicing, guaranteeing the price of parts and labour for up to four services and covering the cost of all recommended service items such as brake fluid, spark plugs, air filters, fuel filters and screen wash.
The A 35 represents such an obvious product development that you wonder why Mercedes didn't introduce such a car into the previous generation A-Class range. Take everything that's great about the top A 45 model, then make it a little more accessible, both in terms of power and price. The result is a car which really can furnish the brand with a platform to go stalking the likes of Volkswagen, BMW and Audi.
Everything's been beautifully engineered, from the AMG 4MATIC four-wheel drive system to the seven-speed twin-clutch gear change and the fiendishly clever multi-mode ESP stability control system: it all combines to offer the driver time and space to act. This is automotive evolution happening before us, the distillation of everything Mercedes knows about performance cars into one small package. It's all there. The hand-built AMG engine, the manic performance balanced with class-leading safety systems. An interior that looks as if you've spent over £50,000 on your car. All-weather ability that leaves the rest standing. If you want what is arguably the most consummately-engineered hot hatch in the volume part of the segment and can afford this one, then you have to consider it.