Owning a high-performance model with the three-pointed star once meant shelling out six figures. Yet, with the introduction of the 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35, the price of entry is now comfortably below $70,000.
This newly badged A-Class is to the A45 what the C43 is to the C63 and the E53 is to the E63 – a sporty variant designed to give you more performance than an A250 without treading on the toes of the flagship model.
And with the popularity of AMGs, more models never hurt. Especially one that is the most affordable yet.
The A35 is priced from $67,300, undercutting the original A45 that cost from about $75,000 upwards, and likely a good chunk cheaper than the second-generation A45 due in early 2020.
There are choices, too. For $69,800, you can have a sedan body style instead of the hatchback.
Go for the hatch and you can have your five-door in a more conservative default design, or pay $2500 for an Aero pack that adds some aero flicks to the front bumper and a prominent rear roof spoiler (as with the old A45).
To essentially turn an A250 into an A35, there are several AMG modifications. To improve front-end response, the front section of the car has been stiffened with two diagonal braces underneath, as well as an aluminium plate bolted to the engine.
The A35 uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder like the upcoming A45, though the cheaper AMG’s motor is an upgraded version of the engine found in the A250. Producing 225kW and 400Nm, the A35 engine gains 60kW and 50Nm over the A250 unit.
Enhancements include a twin-scroll set-up for the turbo, which creates separate turbine flow for each set of paired cylinders, thereby improving response. There’s also a water-to-air intercooler and an air intake specific to the A35.
It's all enough to take a 1.5-second chunk out of the A250's 0–100km claim, while the A35's 4.7-second quote is a tenth better than both the M135i and S3. (For reference, the A45 S is 3.9 seconds.)
Fuel economy is rated at 7.6L/100km for the hatch and 7.4L/100km for the more aerodynamically efficient sedan.
You can even choose how the engine sounds when you start it up. Press the start button alone for ‘Silent start’ and you could be firing up an ordinary A-Class model. But pull a paddle lever when pressing the start button, and there’s an angry blip of revs for what Mercedes calls ‘Emotive start’.
The engine could sound more emotive on the move, with a somewhat dull, Dyson-esque noise that, to be fair, isn’t atypical of today’s small-capacity turbo engines.
If you’re in Comfort mode, there can also be a pause in power delivery when you request some extra momentum with a nudge of the accelerator pedal.
Of course, it’s rare to encounter a performance car these days without multi-mode settings, and there’s also Sport and Sport+ for adjusting various vehicle responses, including those of the adaptive dampers.
The three modes – as well as an Individual mode for those who want a mix of settings – are most conveniently selected via a little rotary dial on the steering wheel, though there are also buttons on the centre console.
Switching to the middle Sport mode brings more linear throttle response, without making the drivetrain feel overly lively around town. (If we owned an A35, our initial feeling is we would have the drivetrain in Sport as a default setting.)
Things then become more interesting aurally when Sport+ is engaged, prompting the exhaust system to become more theatrical with pops, crackles and burbles to accompany the more aggressive responses of the engine and transmission.
The engine revs keenly, and it’s just a shame the limiter arrives relatively early at 6500rpm. If you’re in lower gears using paddles via Manual mode and not keeping an eye on the tacho, it’s all too easy to bump into the cut-out.
The damping also becomes more disciplined here, keeping an important lid on vertical body movements on the challenging stretches of Tassie roads we experienced for the launch drive.
What body roll there is simply helps inform the driver of the amount of speed they’re carrying through a corner – which can be considerable courtesy of the turbo engine that provides generous mid-range thrust. The A35 will pull you out of tightish corners, even in fourth gear.
The A35’s handling builds upon the promise of the regular A-Class’s chassis. This is an enjoyably chuckable car that can cope with being asked to make quick changes of direction, while brake-biased torque vectoring on the rear wheels and immensely grippy Pirelli P Zero (or Michelin Pilot) 19-inch tyres combine effectively to keep understeer largely at bay, unless you start to really overcook things on corner entry.
The steering is also an improvement over the old A45’s, notably with a better on-centre feel. With a quicker ratio than the standard A-Class’s, the A35’s steering is also direct, accurate, and offers a just-right meatiness (a fraction heavier when moving from Comfort to Sport+).
As impressive as the A35’s roadholding is, a greater ability to influence the driving line via the throttle pedal would be preferable. This AMG isn’t as playful as a now-discontinued Ford Focus RS, for example.
The A35's 4Matic all-wheel-drive system isn’t as rear-happy as the Ford’s set-up, sending only up to 50 per cent to the back axle when deemed necessary (the Benz is otherwise primarily a front-drive car). Understandably, AMG is holding some tricks back for the A45, which features a mechanical torque-vectoring system complete with Drift mode.
In terms of traction, however, the predictive system is excellent at propelling the A35 out of corners with barely any detectable slip, even if the roads are damp – as patches of our test route were.
Driving around Launceston and on roads familiar to Targa fans for the launch drive, there was plenty of evidence to suggest the adaptively damped A35 will ride more comfortably than the likes of the A180 and A200 that employ torsion-beam rear suspensions rather than multi-link arrangements.
The A35, however, shares noisy rubber with those lower-spec models, if slightly more excusable for the performance bias of the Pirelli and Michelin tyres .
A more positive commonality is the latest A-Class’s high-tech cabin – headlined by the dual wide-format 10.25-inch digital displays that occupy more than half the dash, and the MBUX infotainment assistant who’s activated by saying, “Hey Mercedes”. (Though we found ‘her’ cropping up randomly at times with neither “Hey” nor “Mercedes” mentioned in conversation, which then required a "Cancel" command to stop further interruptions.)
The A35 gains some specific AMG displays, including telemetry with lap times available via the central infotainment screen, and a selection of modes on the digital instrument cluster. (The Supersport mode, with its huge tacho and 3D bars, looks like an escapee from a Nintendo Switch game.)
Two-tone Lugano leather seats with electric adjustment and heating up front are standard, along with an AMG Performance steering wheel in black nappa leather, with AMG Performance seats available, plus other options if you want to further distinguish your A35 from an A250.
As with other A-Classes, rear seat space and boot capacity are decent but far from generous.
The industry’s current obsession with launch editions means there’s the obligatory AMG Edition 1 available initially for an extra $6990. The package includes a Denim Blue metallic coat with a gold stripe along the sills, AMG Aerodynamics Package and 19-inch AMG gold matt alloy wheels on the outside, while inside there’s AMG aluminium trim, and AMG Performance multi-contoured seats in Dinamica/Artico.
The Launch Edition or Aerodynamics Package alone should guarantee no-one mistakes your A35 for a regular A-Class, even if the driving experience errs more towards feeling like an uprated A250 than a detuned A45.
But Mercedes has made a convincing variant in the A35, which has enough AMG-ness in terms of performance and handling to not embarrass the badge, while offering a level of civility for those buyers less interested in the track capabilities of the full-blown A45.
It’s a few grand more expensive than key rivals, however, so understanding just how good it is as an overall package will have to wait for the inevitable comparison. We can’t wait.