There are only two bona fide rivals for this new Mercedes, and they the hugely successful Volkswagen Golf R and its corporate cousin, the Audi S3. This is an interesting pair, because if the expensive A35 can closely match the dynamic breadth of the former and couple it with the latter’s outright sophistication, it will stand a good chance of topping this versatile corner of the class.
It's an expensive corner, mind, and while the A35's basic price puts it on a par with the S3, you’ll probably want to spend more. This example, in Mountain Grey metallic paint (£595), was fitted with the AMG Style Package (£2595), which gets you 19in alloys, tinted windows and the questionable rear wing. For the full digital showcase within, you’ll need the AMG Premium Plus Package (£3895) and the AMG Advanced Navigation Package (£1295), which adds an excellent head-up display and augmented reality for the sat-nav. All in, the outlay for a well-equipped A35 isn't a million miles away from what you’ll pay for a BMW M2 Competition, which should give serious pause for thought before you even push the engine start button.
What's it like?
From increased camber angles to bespoke lower front wishbones and wheel carriers and a solidly mounted rear subframe, there's more that mechanically separates the A35 from the best-of-the-rest A250 than meets the eye.
The stiffer shell of the W177-generation A-Class is also bolstered by a pair of A35-specific front strut braces and an under-engine shear panel, which provide further basis for terrifically precise steering response.
And it's precision that defines the driving experience relative to this car's rivals. Roll and pitch movements are very well contained even over the tortuous country roads, and to elicit even a whisp of wheelspin you'll need to overdrive the car in a way that offers little if any satisfaction. Better to instead splice methodically through corners, carrying more speed than expected and wringing as much out of the front axle as possible. The convincingly weighted electromechanical steering helps in this respect, and driven quickly the A35 feels light on its toes.
It can, however, seem as though you're merely joining the dots, albeit with enjoyable accuracy. The chassis balance feels purposely front-biased, and that inevitably limits any real sense of flow. The Honda Civic Type R – purely front-driven – counters this with a mobile rear axle and considerable adjustability, but the A35 doesn't sacrifice stability in this way, and, in fairness, the majority of owners wouldn't want it to.
Even so, only with the ESP in its midway Sport setting (or off entirely) and with considerable commitment does it begin to express itself, and then only shyly. Using the throttle to subtly tweak your trajectory is mostly a fruitless exercise, and yet this chassis won't indulge a brasher driving style. Throw all 295lb ft of torque at it and, with an electromechanical multi-disc clutch pre-emptively directing up to half of that rearwards, you might tease out a slither of oversteer on a wet day, but there's never the indulgent sensation of the rear outside tyre helping thrust the car through corners. Locked-down cross-country pace is what the A35 is designed to do, and it does it well – extremely well, at times. But don't expect the levels of dynamics expression we typically associate with AMG.