Asked if he would describe the new Mercedes-AMG A35 as more like a fun car or more like an everyday car, AMG engineering lead Steffen Jastrow is unequivocal. “The A35 is a fun car first and foremost,” he says. That could be significant.
Mercedes-AMG’s first attempt at a hot hatch was strangely unsatisfying, despite its frantic straight-line performance and bonded-to-the-Tarmac cornering grip – as well as what you might tastelessly call ‘driveway appeal’. Costing more than £40,000, the A45 AMG was a touch expensive, too. That made overlooking the fact that it didn’t quite deliver the single most important commodity for any compact performance car, which, we can all agree, is driving fun, all the more difficult.
Nonetheless, the A45 and its coterie of derivatives – the high-riding GLA45, the CLA45 saloon and the CLA45 Shooting Brake – were runaway sales successes. Mercedes-AMG says it shifted double the number of 45-badged models it had originally anticipated, many of those going to younger buyers who hadn’t been able to afford any sort of AMG before.
Eventually, there will be a new A45 based on this latest A-Class – expect it to have more than 400bhp – but for now, we have the A35 to become acquainted with. Priced from £35,580 in the UK, it is several thousands of pounds cheaper than the old A45 and its purpose is a very simple one: bring even younger buyers into the AMG fold so that they might graduate every two or three years up the ranks.
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.