Mercedes-Benz’s specialist go-fast arm AMG once floated in rarefied air with customers of substantial wealth and lust for high-end performance cars.
AMG’s focus on performance hasn’t changed but the price tag and customers have.
The AMG badge can be worn in a car with a $67,200 sticker price (plus on-road costs, of course) without disappointing, ripping from 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds while cocooning occupants in leather, shiny metal (or plastic) and the the guttural roar of a 225kW engine.
It puts a new slant on Merc’s lusted sub-brand and is predicted to do wonders in Australia, luring a new audience who previously only dreamt about an AMG.
The A 35 is the younger sister to the six-year-old A 45, on which it is heavily based. It loses some trimmings and power — now 225kW/400Nm compared with the outgoing A 45’s 280kW/475Nm — and is less raw.
But, at the same time, it’s slightly less ostentatious.
Importantly, it is $10,700 cheaper than the old A 45, which is being replaced with an all-new model next year with a ferocious 310kW/500Nm engine (though final specifications for Australia are yet to be declared), further broadening the moat between it and its newly arrived sibling.
The A 35 has all the aura of the A 45 but is better suited to the driver who doesn’t spend all day living on the edge and doesn’t need the A 45’s hypnotic rush.
The difference in price is a lot more than reducing power. The A 35 has an AMG-tuned engine borrowed from the C-Class C250, while the A 45’s is hand made by AMG’s performance division. They are, notably, not really related. Power goes to all wheels, though up to 100 per cent can be sent to the front wheels, or 50:50 front and rear.
There’s a lot of AMG in the mechanicals, which is homage to the performance brand’s top- end machines but also gleefully welcomed by owners aiming to exploit every ounce of fun.
It has, for example, a “race start” function — aka launch control — plus an exhaust with controllable baffles to, basically, make more noise, three suspension choices from comfort to sport and five drive-select modes for engine, transmission, suspension and exhaust.
The A 35 is identified by its svelte hatchback shape which will be complemented later this year by a sedan version carrying a slightly more expensive $69,800 asking price.
Keen buyers could be interested in the limited AMG Edition 1 package which adds AMG sports seats, aerodynamic pack with a bolder rear spoiler and a pretty Denim Blue metallic paint job for an extra $6990.
The sedan hints at restraint but the five-door is the evocative “hot hatch” silhouette likely to attract younger buyers now more likely to afford an AMG and those who believe it represents the soul of urban sports cars.
It sits low — really low, actually — to give it the impression of being wide and enhancing the AMG-spec twin-louvre grille and deep apron.
There are 19-inch light alloys with 35-profile Michelins and an alluring Tech Gold wheel colour for the AMG Edition 1 version.
Inside is a bit of German over-the-top fluff and while restraint is nice, think Audi and Volkswagen, the brightware inside the A 35 enforces the raciness of the car and complements the need to wear trendy sunglasses.
There’s pretty much everything you will need in terms of function and convenience items. The A 35 — in hatch and sedan, for they share the cabin features — gets the stand-out flat-screen digital screen that looks like one plate of glass. In fact, it’s two 10.25-inch screens butted together to appear as a wide- screen view of navigation, engine and vehicle functions, climate control and connectivity data that is accessed by taps and swipes.
Think of it as an oversize smartphone.
Carryover Benz MBUX system delivers the multimedia features through voice activation and, scarily, can learn the driver’s habits and preferences and for drivers who aren’t married, will “offer helpful prompts”.
The AMG Edition 1 gets AMG-spec seats but the standard A 35 does pretty well with Mercedes’ own premium leather front seats offering a cushioned fit positioning the driver nicely behind the fat-rimmed leather steering wheel, replete with chromium highlights (remember the sunglasses) and a new feature: dial-up excitement.
Lower left and right twist controllers sit on the edges of the steering wheel and allow the driver to flick through the drive-select modes, bypassing the centre console switches. Porsche has a similar design and the effect is equally as dramatic, with fingertip control of how voraciously the driver wants the engine and chassis to behave.
Out on to some sections of Targa Tasmania, irregularly wet and dry with sporadic rain clouds, the A 35 delivered sensible yet satisfying thrills.
Despite the hype, it’s a very easy hatch to drive.
The ride is comfortable and firm, not harsh and certainly without bangs and crashes through the suspension or creaks from the taut body.
This is a hot hatch in the pure European definition, feeling lighter and more nimble than the A 45 and less frenetic, so the experience of a quick drive through the hills is surprisingly relaxed.
Above all, it’s certainly worthy of the AMG badge.
MERCEDES-AMG A 35 4MATIC
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Thirst: 7.6 L/100km
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic