Hit the corners and the A 35’s ecstatic nature continues to please.
Mercedes-Benz introduced their entry-level A-Class to North America last year. I have never seen the brand spend this much on marketing, as they did on that model launch. Not only did the new A-Class attract a new generation of buyers, but it also debuted with the new MBUX infotainment interface, a complete game changer for natural voice recognition. This year, a new model has been added, one that brings the Germans dead center into the world of hot hatches. We spent a week with the 2020 Mercedes-AMG A 35 4MATIC Hatch, a sharp little hornet, to see how it fares against some heavy hitters from mainstream brands.
Armed with a 2.0-liter boosted inline four-cylinder outputting 302 horsepower at 5,800RPM and 295 lb-ft. between 3,000 and 4,000RPM, the A 35 is up against some tough competition. It’s a rambunctious little thing, with an eagerly loud exhaust emitting pops, crackles and bangs on acceleration. A dual-clutch seven-speed automatic sends power to all four wheels, though as expected, the A-Class uses a front-biased 4MATIC system. There’s definitely some turbo lag from idle, but once it gets spooling, the A 35 runs like a puppy let off its leash to 100km/h in 4.7-seconds.
Hit the corners and the A 35’s ecstatic nature continues to please. A dial on the steering wheel adjusts the drive modes between Comfort and Sport Plus, toggling parameters like steering feel, throttle response, transmission shift points and the dampers. Steering is direct and the chassis responds well. Handling is crisp and immediate, with plenty of feel making its way to the driver’s fingertips, and the A-Class has a genuinely communicative platform. Ride quality is on the brittle side of firm, though it’s perfectly compliant on most streets in Ontario. It’s worth noting that our test vehicle was equipped with the optional adaptive dampers, which smooth things out considerably when cruising.
The A-Class’ styling is, objectively, much more subtle and modern than the stumpy-looking B-Class which it loosely replaces. The AMG model gets more aggressive bits all around, including the optional 19-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels on our tester. The AMG Aerodynamics Package equipped on our tester also adds black accented winglets on the front bumper, a black wing spoiler on the rear decklid, and a big rear diffuser. Combined with the LED lighting all around, the A 35 is a touch over the top, but nowhere near as wild as a Honda Civic Type R (reviewed here).
Inside, Mercedes-Benz continues to be a leader in cabin design, especially when it’s dark out. The ambient lighting is nothing short of stunning, and users have the ability to customize different colour schemes. Information is transmitted to the driver using two adjacent 10.25-inch touchscreens, the one on the center console being a touchscreen. It houses the MBUX infotainment system, which is controlled using a touchpad, voice commands, or by touching the screen itself. It’s capable of a whole lot of things, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and all vehicle customizations.
Interior quality is a bit of a mixed bag. With excellent visuals and a well-designed cabin, most major controls are easy to find and press. The performance seats are very comfortable, though could use from some additional adjustability. While everything on the dashboard and all switchgear does look well-built and to par for the luxury segment, the buttons and some dashboard pieces make a creak when touched. Rear legroom is sufficient and surprisingly roomy for a compact hatchback, and the cargo area is sufficiently deep, too.
Both body styles of the A 35 (sedan and hatchback) start at an identical $49,200, which is a four-figure price premium over the Golf R and Civic Type R. Our test car was jam packed with the AMG Aerodynamics Package, AMG Night Package, AMG Driver’s Package, Premium Package, and Navigation Package. Tack on $1,400 for the designo Patagonia Red Metallic and $500 for the wheels, and you’re at the $60,050 sticker for our test vehicle. For context, the last GLA 45 (reviewed here) we had in our garage delivered less engagement despite having a bit more power, and stickered at $62,500.
Mercedes has found themselves in an interesting position. The A 35 goes up against hot hatchbacks like the Honda Civic Type R and the Volkswagen Golf R. Audi’s S3 is up there, but it doesn’t come in hatchback form and also doesn’t have as aggressive of a personality. It’s closest to the now-defunct Ford Focus RS (reviewed here), in its menacing demeanour and sharp dynamics, but obviously forgoes a manual transmission in favour of a dual-clutch unit.
No fuel ratings have been published at the time of writing, but we averaged 10.6L/100km on 91-octane premium fuel, which the A 35 requires. This is right in line with the other hot hatches and notably more efficient than the Focus RS. As a hot hatchback, the 2020 Mercedes-AMG A 35 4MATIC Hatch is a massive hit. It offers buyers that distinct characteristic of the German hot compact, with a great out-of-the-box personality and a price point that provides easier entry into the AMG brand.