What if you want a brand-new compact Mercedes-AMG sedan, but your budget can't quite stretch to a CLA 45 S? Well, the Affalterbach-based brand has something up its sleeve just for you in the shape of the A35 4Matic. We headed to the Mercedes-Benz Advanced Driving Academy at Zwartkops to put the brand's new compact "35" offerings through their paces.
What is it?
Mercedes-AMG has broadened its portfolio to include the 35-range of compact cars. Given the sizeable differences in power and torque between the 250 derivatives in Mercedes-Benz's A-Class and CLA line-ups and the headlining 45 S and CLA 45 S 4Matic+ derivatives, which now cost comfortably in excess of R1 million, the Affalterbach-based brand has introduced the 35s in South Africa to offer a more sensible compromise between performance and attainability.
There are serious rivals to the A35 4Matic hatchback, A35 4Matic sedan and CLA 35 4Matic: the BMW M135i and M235i Gran Coupe xDrives are already on sale, and Audi Sport should introduce its S3 hatch and S3 sedan in early 2021.
Visually, you can spot a 35 by virtue of an AMG-specific grille, bigger wheels (18-inch rims are standard) and a neat 2-pipe exhaust system at the rear. There are subtle Turbo 4Matic badges on the flanks and AMG logos adorn the nose and tail. Inside, you get sportier seats, a great-looking sports steering wheel complete with drive mode selectors (like those found the in the C63) and, for those who love their tech, the MBUX "Hello Mercedes" infotainment system.
For detailed specifications on this vehicle, click here.
Is it fast?
The A35's powerplant is closely based on that of the 250, but it emits all the right racy noises to please hot-hatch fans.
All models in the 35 family share a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbopetrol engine that generates peak outputs of 225 kW and 400 Nm. It's essentially the A250's powerplant, but with a few upgrades, such as a twin-scroll turbocharger. Drive is chanelled to all 4 wheels via a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and Mercedes-AMG reckons the hatch, sedan and CLA versions will dispatch the 0-100 kph sprint in just 4.7, 4.8 and 4.9 seconds respectively (in each case, the top speed is electronically limited to 250 kph). Impressively, these acceleration times are almost on par with the first-generation A45, which had a claimed 0-100 kph of 4.6 seconds. How's that for progress?
We had the opportunity to safely sample the vehicles' Race Start launch control functionality on the Zwartkops race track. The function is now even easier to engage than before: simply turn a dial to engage Sport+, put your left foot on the brake and plant your right foot fully on the Benz's accelerator pedal. The Race Start graphic will appear on the dashboard and the engine revs will climb. Release the brake when you're ready and the A35's 4-wheels will duly grope the asphalt and launch the vehicle toward the horizon. Mercedes-AMG says the 35 model is driven mostly by its front wheels for efficiency, but when needed (like a Race Start), the vehicle can send up to 50% of its torque to the rear axle.
What's it like to drive?
The Mercedes-AMG A35 cabin features all the gadgets and gizmos you'd ever need, including the MBUX infotainment system.
For those who haven't driven on the Zwartkops Raceway before, the circuit is an entertaining ribbon of tarmac that offers quite a few interesting corners. After a quick out lap (to reacquaint ourselves with the layout and to test the Race Start function), it was time to put the hammer down. There are various driving modes, which alter the engine and transmission's responsiveness, steering feel and the settings of the suspension's adjustable dampers (if specified).
Based on our first impressions, the A35 4Matic is a surprisingly punchy compact sedan that offers commendable levels of grip. In Sport+ mode, the variable exhaust is wide open and enthusiasts will be pleased to hear that the newcomer emits all the prerequisite pops and bangs with every gear change. You can let the car shift cogs automatically, or take control yourself with the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. The benefit of doing the latter is that it eliminates the box's habit of kicking down automatically in response to sharp applications of the accelerator pedal (in sportier drive modes). In general, the 'box is responsive and shifts up crisply. Downshifts are satisfactorily brisk too.
The steering setup is light and sharp – there's much delight to extract from twirling the tiller, even in the tightest of corners. What's more, thanks to the all-wheel-drive system, you'll find yourself clipping corner apexes and feeding in the power sooner with each passing lap. There's very little understeer – an issue that plagued the 1st-generation A45 – because the system smartly apportions torque between the axles. If you're over-eager you'll feel a little squirm, which will put a smile on your face. It's all completely manageable, which will perfectly suit those who purchase a 35 as their first serious performance vehicle. It's wonderfully predictable, which is what we think the majority of consumers will want.
We were impressed with the brakes too, which allowed the A35 down to scrub off speed without fuss. The entire 35 compact family features 350-mm brake discs with 4-piston monoblock fixed calipers at the front and single-piston sliding calipers at the rear. Sadly, being a track launch with no public-road driving, we're not in a position to pass comment or judgment on the ride quality. We'll be driving the A35 extensively across all grades of tarmac when we get it for testing.
Seeing as there is no 45 in the A-Class Sedan range, the A35 4Matic is the flagship version in the line-up.
Despite completing just a few laps in the A35 4Matic sedan, our interest in the new "entry-level AMG" is well and truly piqued. To reiterate, with the new A45 S and CLA 45 S 4Matic+ derivatives priced over the R1 million mark, they're no longer within reach of premium compact car buyers – they're exclusive specialist cars. Having said that, the new 35 compact range has more than enough going for it to keep the Mercedes-Benz and AMG fans happy.
There's enough straight-line performance on offer to see off the front-wheel-drive hot hatch brigade, while those seeking cornering thrills won't be disappointed either. If you want more hardcore performance, then look to the Mercedes-AMG A45 S and Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S, which are VERY quick cars. For the daily commute (with occasional high-speed jaunts sprinkled in between), the A35 4Matic is likely to be punchy and engaging enough to please most buyers.
Inside, there are plenty of luxury and sporty touches that will please the digitally-connected target audience, and we think these models will steal more than a few sales from the aforementioned flagship offerings.
Mercedes-AMG 35 price in South Africa (September 2020)
All 35 models are sold with a 2-year/unlimited km warranty and a 5-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.
Mercedes-AMG A35 4Matic Hatch R841 000
Mercedes-AMG A35 4Matic Sedan R850 000
Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4Matic R948 000