Mercedes-AMG A35 2023 review
The AMG A35 does an impressive job of being fun and fast, but it isn’t the last word in engagement
Launched as Mercedes-AMG's answer to the likes of the Volkswagen Golf R and other 300bhp-ish rivals such as the Audi S3 and BMW M135i, the A35 sits beneath the range-topping A45 S in its hot hatch lineup. The model has been around for a while now, and while the A45 S continues to hog much of the limelight with its 415bhp power figure, the less intense and less expensive A35 still does a great job of appealing as a more demure everyday driver.
Its underlying ingredients aren’t out of this world – the turbocharged four-cylinder engine and basic suspension layout are derived from the standard A-class – but as AMG has so often been able to do in recent years, there’s some real finesse added into the package. If the hatchback body doesn’t really do it for you, Mercedes will give you options, with this same powertrain available in the A35 Saloon, CLA35 Coupe and Shooting Brake, GLA35 crossover and even the tall, boxy GLB35 that can seat up to seven.
All of these variants, including the A35 hatchback, use a heavily developed version of the M260 engine used in the A250 hatch, not the bespoke AMG M139 engine from the A45 S. For this application the standard turbo has been replaced by a twin-scroll item, and the intake air is cooled via an air-to-water intercooler, not the A250’s air-to-air type.
The A35’s peak power of 302bhp isn’t quite up to the latest Mk8 Golf R’s 316bhp, but it’s more than competitive against the identically powered BMW M135i, and only 4bhp off the Audi S3. This power is complemented by 295lb ft of torque. Combined with a twin-clutch, seven-speed gearbox and four-wheel drive, it’s no surprise that the performance figures are strong: 0-62mph takes just 4.7sec, and the top speed is limited to 155mph.
Virtually no component in the car’s suspension is carried over from the regular A-class, with redesigned joints and lower wishbones combined with careful development of the bushes and even the use of metal bearings on the lower front arms for more steering precision. The rear subframe is now solidly mounted to the body, while the steering rack is also new, as are the beefy brakes with monobloc four-piston calipers up front. There’s a stiffer structure to work with, too, courtesy of an aluminium shear underpanel beneath the engine, assisted by bracing bars.
The four-wheel-drive system now uses an electro-mechanical clutch on the rear axle, but does without the A45 S’s trick torque-vectoring rear differential and ‘drift mode’. The A35 is 100 per cent front-wheel drive in steady running, but up to 50 per cent of torque can be sent to the rear axle. There are five driving modes (Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual), and in the more aggressive of these settings the AMG Dynamics system uses the ESP and torque vectoring to aid corner turn-in. There’s a bespoke tyre for the car, too: a 19-inch Pirelli P Zero.
The A-class’s familiar shape doesn’t really scream 300bhp hot hatchback, especially without the additional body styling components fitted, but in the metal the design is cohesive and well executed.
Open the driver’s door and settle into the slightly too high seat, and you take in the giant one-piece slab of MBUX tablet display, fancy neon-esque interior lighting, and swathes of Alcantara and (fake) aluminium. There’s also AMG’s complicated steering wheel, with the option of its own driver mode, damper and ESP switches, all of which positions the A35 in a totally different orbit to more traditional examples of the hot hatch breed.
But what really matters is how it drives, and straight away you can feel the progress compared to the flat-footed original AMG A-class. In Comfort mode the A35 is reserved, and there’s confirmation that the engineers’ work to broaden the range of suspension settings has been at least partly successful; it’s still a firm-riding car, but you can sense there’s pliancy here. The steering is light and relatively mute in its feedback, but it’s also nicely progressive and accurate, the car heading exactly where you place it.
Switch to a more aggressive setting and the A35 shifts character considerably. The exhaust opens up and the motor chomps enthusiastically through the gears, although there’s a hint of lethargy in the mid-range. It’s hard to say exactly why this is – at 1480kg the A35 certainly isn’t a light car, but perhaps it’s because by its own admission AMG has mapped the engine to maintain power at high revs, so you do need to wring it out to feel the full force of its performance.
Driven hard, the A35’s immense traction, impressive braking and undoubted agility mean it covers ground at an astonishing rate. It’s a more grown-up experience than that of the terrier-like hot hatches of old, but it does feel hugely capable. As road surfaces deteriorate, the A35’s inherent chassis stiffness keeps the car composed and controlled, even if the lack of tyre wall does transmit sharper road intrusions into the cabin.
Cars in the UK only come with 19-inch wheels, but adaptive dampers are only standard on the upper-spec Premium Plus model, which does widen the A35’s comfort zone. On the right road, in the right mode, the entry-level AMG is highly entertaining and finally feels like a properly executed hot hatchback. The A45 S takes this excitement much further, which speaks volumes about the underlying chassis, but it does leave you desperately doing the maths to figure out how to raise the extra £17k required to jump to the most potent A-class...
Price and rivals
At £46,075 the 2023 A35 costs a decent £10,000 or so more than when it first arrived in 2020, but thanks to a wildly changing marketplace, it’s still around the same price as its main rivals from BMW, Audi and Volkswagen.
There are three specifications available for the A35: Executive, Premium and Premium Plus, and all three give the A35 a significant boost in standard equipment. This includes 19-inch wheels, leather seats, the full-width dual-screen MBUX infotainment screen set-up and keyless go. An extra £1500 upgrades you to Premium, which includes different alloy wheels, a digital instrument cluster and illuminated front door sills. A further £3500 will get you into the Premium Plus, throwing in matt black alloys, multibeam headlights, the AMG aero kit, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive dampers and electric seats.
Due to the high amounts of standard equipment included in the Premium and Premium Plus specifications, it’s actually less expensive than a rival Golf R (£44,170) when you even up the specification. Audi’s S3 starts from £43,875, but is a bit light on toys. However, the fully-loaded Vorsprung is your only option to upgrade the spec, and that’ll run you close to £48,000.
BMW’s M135i is the weakest to drive of this little grouping, but at £41,185 it is the least expensive. Standard equipment is relative to the other cars here, with a few option packages able to up the kit and price point if you so wish. To make up for the M135i, though, BMW does make a 2-series Coupe, which in 230i M Sport specification is a great drive and costs about the same at £41,005. It does lack some firepower with only 242bhp, but if you want more power and can stretch the budget, the £49,130 M240i is a brilliant sports car alternative.