The new Mercedes-AMG A 35 is the most potent A-Class for now, and is a real barnstorming hot hatchbackVerdict4.5Sitting between the standard petrol models and the forthcoming AMG range-topper, the A 35 is seen by Mercedes as the perfect middle ground. Yet that’s underselling it. Everything Mercedes-AMG touches turns to gold; this a fine hot hatch that deserves as much of a following as the firm’s hooligan V8s. AMG’s future is looking brighter than ever.
The hot hatch power war shows no signs of slowing. You can now buy a BMW 1 Series with 335bhp, a Ford Focus with 345bhp, or an Audi A3 with as much as 395bhp. So the new AMG-badged A-Class must be nudging 400bhp, right?
Wrong. This is the all-new Mercedes-AMG A 35 – designed not as a range flagship, but to plug a gap between the A 250 and the forthcoming A 45. It’s a VW Golf R rival developing 302bhp and 400Nm of torque.
• Best hot hatchbacks currently on sale
Yet the A 35 will still sprint from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds and hit an electronically limited 155mph. That pegs it pretty close to the latest Porsche 718 Cayman S, and not far off Ferraris from a decade ago.
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Mercedes is keen to reiterate this isn’t a replacement for the old A 45. Instead, as the market grows and the average A-Class buyer gets ever younger, the brand’s customers are asking for even more choice. Bosses see this car as a stepping stone to bigger, brasher and more powerful AMG products.
The A 35 has a new 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which transfers power to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. There are five drive modes to choose from, and owners can also select an Individual setting, which allows separate adjustment of elements like the dampers, throttle and gearbox responses.
Flicking the A 35 into its most aggressive mode transforms the car’s behaviour. Far from being the A 45’s poor relation, the hot hatchback feels composed, grippy and lightning fast. It flatters in a way the old A 45 could not, mimicking the Golf’s incredible all-weather ability with a welcome degree of added involvement.
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The steering isn’t brimming with feel, but is well weighted. The way this car turns into a corner is astounding; you’ll have to be going at it with real commitment to discover any understeer. The A 35 encourages you to drive harder, but never feels as though it will bite if you overcook things on the way out of a bend.
Also fitted is a new AMG Dynamics programme, which uses the brakes on the inside wheel at the rear axle to boost agility. But the car is so capable, you never notice it working. It sticks to the tarmac with limpet-like grip, covering ground at an alarming rate.
The suspension comprises a MacPherson strut and aluminium wishbone on the front axle, and a multi-link set-up at the rear. Customers can opt for adaptive dampers, which serve up three suspension modes. It’s not easy to judge the ride on pan-smooth Mallorcan tarmac, but it does feel like a car that’s more adept the faster you go. While sharp edges and potholes can make the A 35 feel unsettled around town, it flows beautifully at speed. You get all the usual pops and bangs in Sport+, yet the noise never sounds artificial, like in a Golf R.
Despite being ever-so-slightly quicker than the most potent VW, the A 35 will return similar fuel economy. WLTP test figures of 38.7mpg suggest this is a fast family car that allows you to have your cake and eat it.
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Prices start at £35,580 (a Golf R DSG costs £34,340), with the first cars due in the UK early in 2019. As standard, all models have two seven-inch digital displays. You also get a reversing camera, sports exhaust, climate control and keyless go. The AMG Premium Plus pack adds a Burmester stereo, electric seats, adaptive LED lights and a panoramic roof. Specifying this when you order also adds a 10.25-inch central display, which lifts the cabin to a level that allows the A 35 to compete with cars costing twice the price.
The A 35 looks and feels like a premium car and makes an Audi RS 3 seem dated, while the AMG interior ensures you don’t forget what you’re driving. Even so, a prod of the throttle dispels any question that this is anything but the fastest A-Class currently on sale.
- Model: Mercedes-AMG A 35 4MATIC
- Price: £35,580
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo
- Power/torque: 302bhp/400Nm
- Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
- 0-62mph: 4.7 seconds
- Top speed: 155mph
- Economy/CO2: 38.7mpg/167g/km
- On sale: Now
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