What does the A35 do to earn its AMG badge?
This, then, is the most affordable AMG yet. It hardly seems to be the runt of the litter, though, because the depth of engineering that turns an A-Class into an AMG is even greater here than it was five years ago when the A45 was new.
The new A-Class body is much stiffer than its predecessor’s for one thing and, for the first time, AMG has fitted an aluminium shear panel beneath the engine compartment that reinforces the front end of the bodyshell, while a couple of additional braces do more of the same. Better torsional rigidity improves steering precision and allows the suspension to do its job more effectively. (Imagine trying to hang a heavy light fitting high on a wall while standing on a step ladder with one wonky leg, compared with standing on a perfectly stable one.)
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is a development of a unit you’ll find in the A-Class, but it uses a twin-scroll turbocharger for immediate throttle response. Peak power is 302bhp and torque is rated at 295lb ft from 3000rpm. The gearbox is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and the four-wheel-drive system powers the front axle only in normal driving before sending up to 50% of the available torque aft.
The drivetrain is still somewhat restricted, then, and it’ll never make the car feel as adjustable or as playful on the throttle as the more rear-biased four-wheel-drive system in the recently departed Ford Focus RS, for instance, but AMG does insist that this latest version is a big improvement on the system used by the A45.
The multi-disc clutch that is integrated into the rear axle and is responsible for diverting drive towards the rear wheels is now actuated electro-mechanically rather than electro-hydraulically, so it’s quicker to respond. The system as a whole is predictive now, too, and therefore able to determine exactly when drive should be shunted rearwards, rather than simply waiting for slip at the front axle, by which point it is, by definition, too late.
The 4Matic system also has a Sport mode – activated in ESP Sport Handling or ESP Off – which favours the rear axle more readily for even more agile handling behaviour.
Beyond all of that, there’s a rigidly mounted rear axle and uniballs rather than rubber bushings for the front wishbones, a range of five driving modes with a new one labelled ‘Slippery’, four-piston brakes on the front axle with 350mm discs, optional adaptive dampers and an active sports exhaust that’s standard equipment (and sounds very good indeed in its noisiest setting). The A35’s top speed is 155mph and 62mph is registered in 4.7sec.
Does the A35 drive like a compact performance car?
It all adds up to a car that is not quite as fast as the old A45, but one that is more engaging and more enjoyable to drive. The A35 feels lighter, more responsive and less insistent on belligerently imposing its own will on both the driver and the road. It hardly steers beautifully – no modern hatchback truly does – but its steering is at least precise and intuitive, in the sense that your inputs are made instinctively rather than with any conscious thought, and that’s no small victory.
Whatever your chosen drive mode, you can switch between Comfort, Sport and Sport+ for the adaptive dampers, where fitted, which means you can always find the right balance between bump compliance and body control to suit the road beneath you. On the ultra-smooth Majorcan blacktop of our test route, the A35 was at its best in the two firmer settings, where body control is supreme.