Mercedes AMG A 35 review: Comfort and performance sweet spot
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Mercedes-Benz New Zealand is expanding its range of hot hatches with two new models next year — a new Mercedes AMG A 35, and a top-of-the-range A 45.
Both will arrive towards the end of the year, with the A 35 slotting in between the A 250 currently on sale, and the A 45.
Driven was given an exclusive first drive of the new AMG A 35 on windy mountain roads in Majorca, and it sits flat and true in the tightest of corners.
Powered by a new 2-litre, four-cylinder turbo engine, producing 225kW, the A 35 has a reinforced body shell, variable all-wheel drive, a dual clutch transmission, and a range of driving programmes.
While the A 45 will be a powerful beast (think 300kW plus) the A 35 will be an easier car to live with on the road, delivering comfort and performance wrapped up in a fun package.
The A 35 reaches 100km/h in just 4.7 secs, almost twice as quick as the current Mercedes Benz A 200 hatchback. It also places the A 35 in a similar performance league as other popular hot hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf R and the Audi S3.
Although it will be the AMG baseline model, the A 35 is packed with driver assist and safety features, to help ensure it has the luxury and comfort AMG and Mercedes buyers expect.
The launch drive in Majorca showed it would be an easy hot hatch to live with.
The ride, even in sport plus mode, is smooth and comfortable with none of the back-breaking harshness common in many hard-core sport hatches.
Instead AMG engineers have refined the car to deliver sporting agility and thrill while retaining reasonable comfort and ease of use.
The car sits flat in corners and the steering is firm and precise without requiring too much effort, even when tearing around windy and often rough Majorcan mountain roads.
There is plenty of noise from the twin exhausts, especially when changing down through the gears when the engine produces enough crack and pop to satisfy eager enthusiasts.
This is no mongrel over-powered beast of a vehicle, but rather it combines the delivery of enough sporting performance to engage any enthusiast. It has a claimed maximum speed of 250 km/h.
AMG engineers at the launch were eager to point out just how much influence they have had on the A 35’s design. They were involved from the beginning of the A-Class project, and as a result this is almost more an AMG than a Mercedes-Benz.
The engineer in charge of driving dynamics at AMG, Rene Szczepek, said much of the Mercedes model had been changed to meet the requirements of AMG customers.
There is strengthening of the body to improve rigidity and so handling qualities, major upgrades to the suspension and other underpinnings, and of course the engine has been re-engineered to deliver additional performance.
While it is the same engine as fitted to the A 250, it has been boosted to deliver 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque. It is also fitted with a twin scroll turbocharger that kicks in early in the rev range, ensuring there is a smooth and even delivery of power.
Certainly, there is little evidence of turbo lag when accelerating hard. Helping to contribute to this agility is an AMG Speedshift DCT 7G dual clutch transmission.
There is also a RACE-START button (on the steering wheel) that helps provide quick off-the-line acceleration.
Like the whole family of what by the end of next year will be five A-Class models, the cabin of the A 35 is a pleasant place to be. There is the long multi-media screen on the dashboard familiar from other Mercedes models, with the two screens merging into one to create a true cockpit feel.
There are new instrument cluster options on the A 35, with “Classic”, “Sport” and “Supersport” available. The Supersport option has a central round rev counter with bar-shaped additional information to the left and right of the rev counter effectively flairing out to each side.
The A 35 steering wheel also has a round controller button and the AMG drive programmes can be selected with the controller, when shown on the LCD display.
Essentially there is full control of what driving mode you want without your hands leaving the steering wheel.
There are also gear paddles on the steering wheel stalk, and this is a car that must have them — it responds almost instantly to the shifters.
The mountain roads inland from the Majorcan capital of Palma provided an ideal test for the A 35, with our sun yellow model fitted with hugging sports seats. You sit low in the A 35, a position that accentuates the thrill of the fast ride. But even though the seating position is low, there is good all-round visibility.
It was my good fortune to be driving with an experienced Australian Targa rally competitor, who knew how to smoothly throw the car around the tight bends, and even drive swiftly during a period of night-time road with no street lighting.
In her masterly command (and during my less smooth and probably slightly less swift) driving the A 35 handled the conditions without worries. It turns into tight corners with direct and accurate steering, and bounds out of them smoothly, with even power output scrolling through the rev range.
The 4MATIC all wheel drive system helps keep the A 35 grounded, and provides lots of driving fun at the same time. The torque is split between the front and rear by a multi-disc clutch integrated into the rear differential.
The A 35 will be expensive when it arrives in New Zealand late next year, but it will provide barrels of fun and swift yet comfortable sporty performance. We can’t wait to drive it on our roads.