Fast on the straights and in corners. High-end cabin. The cheapest AMG
Curiously light on spice and engagement
What is it?
Welcome to AMG’s diffusion line. We’ve seen it before: CLS53, C43 and so on, each one rung down from the full house machine. So the A35 bridges the divide between the watered-down A250 AMG-line and full-fat second generation A45 (not yet formally announced, but definitely coming, possibly with some kind of ‘EQ’ hybrid boost trickling down (a long way down) from the AMG One hypercar.).
This is the entry-level ‘real AMG’ and that territory, even when discussing hot-hatches, still demands pretty big spec. So the A35 fields a 306bhp engine, a standard seven-speed DCT transmission and four-wheel drive. That rubs it firmly up against the Audi S3, VW Golf R and BMW M240i. It is not, as we’ll see, quite in the A35’s nature to revive the spirit of the lamented Focus RS.
The base price looks tempting, not just for that mechanical spec but also for the brilliant interior quality. But bear in mind this is an A-Class and there’s pretty well zero chance of going on the configurator without clicking the boxes for the signature Imax dash, available in three upgrade states culminating in the world’s biggest and most configurable head-up display.
You can have it in yellow paint with an optional aerodynamics pack of honking great rear rooftop wing, a bladed diffuser and corner flics at the front. It’s actually functional, and my how you’ll be the toast of the trackday pitlane. Albeit a bit of laughing stock anywhere where actual mature and tasteful humans gather. Or you can do without the aerokit and go stealthy in dark blue or grey. Better for the business car park.
The engine’s not entirely a pure AMG unit, having its roots in the A250 motor. Still, it’s modern enough. The transmission is a twin clutch job, with AMG-specific software to sharpen-up the shift times, and AMG-specific gear ratios. The four-wheel-drive system operates on a maths-based torque model. In other words drive goes to the rear not just when the front ones start to slip, but in anticipation of that. Among the calculation’s inputs are how hard you’re going at the throttle and steering, the gear you’re in and other chassis variables.
Suspension modifications are far more than cursory too. Deep breath… the steering is solid-mounted to the body and has its own ratio; the front wishbones have solid joints not rubber bushes; the front uprights are different, the brakes are big discs and four-piston monobloc calipers from the A45. A stamped plate is bolted under the engine to keep the suspension mounts more stiffly located. At the back the subframe is solid-mounted rather than bolted through bushes. The springs, dampers and anti-roll bars are all specific.
It’s a long list of changes and we’ve not been complete, but this is enough to show they’re serious about making it more precise as well as grippy. The claim is it’ll corner and stop as well as the A45. If not accelerate as hard.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
Get your kicks from going quick? Then this is an awesome thing. The engine bolts it forward, and the grip, steering accuracy, traction, transmission and brakes entirely live up to the engine’s demands. It copes with a B-road very well indeed: good damping, crisp responses, secure and confidence-inspiring. Standard versions of the A-Class have disappointing dynamics – this is much, much better. Considering a specced-up A250? Don’t bother, have this instead.
But beyond the sheer forces involved, it’s still not a hardcore thriller. But then it’s not meant to be – an A45, probably with over 400bhp, will be along before the end of 2019 to perform the lairy little badass role. This one is aimed at the Golf R – stealthy, stylish speed. It does that well, even if it doesn’t quite have the VW’s natural balance, finesse and adjustability.
But the A35 has other talents, too. The cabin’s exquisitely crafted and you can pile it up with the kind of connectivity, displays and active driver aids a top-end limo owner would envy. Beyond that, what this does is fast efficiency, and easy on the having to work hard for your enjoyment. Which might make it exactly what you’re looking for.