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Mercedes-AMG A 35 review: Beyond the hot hatch norm
HOT hatchbacks are a much beloved sub-genre of cars since they pair outsized power and driving fun with a hatch's practicality and small footprint.
While they've gained technology and grown in stature over the years, hot hatches still emphasise playfulness over refinement. A mature hot hatch is something of an oxymoron, but Mercedes-AMG aims to prove that wrong with the new A 35.
The "A" indicates it's based on the new, second-generation A-Class hatch, which Mercedes just put on sale in Singapore. The "35" bit denotes a car designed to tempt hot-hatch upgraders who want their pint-sized jollies to come with even more power than usual, with a dose of proper luxury.
The A 35 is not Mercedes-AMG's first stab at a hot five-door. The now-superseded A 45 possessed - and was possessed by - the most powerful 2.0-litre engine in production.
It drove like a series of highly entertaining, barely controlled explosions, and was quite maniacal in its need for speed.
Mercedes-AMG is busy brewing a new A 45 that will presumably be just as unhinged, but meanwhile the cheaper A 35 is a more mature, all-round performance hatch with rivals such as the Audi S3 Sportback to slay.
The "35" tag will also be appended to future compact models in AMG's mid-range, just as "43" now denotes the brand's mid-tier cars.
Given its status as one of AMG's softer core efforts, the A 35's appearance reflects restraint. It looks quite like a standard A-Class hatch, apart from some body kit and an AMG twin-louvre grille. The brand's top models have flared bodywork to accommodate wider suspension, but the A 35's body isn't wider than that of a regular A-Class.
If you want more bling you can option an aerodynamic kit (not shown here) that adds a big rear wing, front and rear aerodynamic spoilers, and additional side winglets.
They add considerably to the pocket rocket theme and would contrast nicely with the cheery Sun Yellow paint.
The A 35's 2.0-litre engine is based on the one that powers a garden-variety A 250 but various tweaks, including a larger turbocharger and improved cooling system, swell the power output to a significant 310hp.
It's a lively, burbling powerplant that, paired with a fast dual-clutch gearbox and all-wheel drive, enables the A 35 to reach 0-100km/h in a sports car-worrying 4.7 seconds, with a crackling soundtrack, too.
On everyday roads, hot hatches are pretty much the quickest things around, which is certainly true of the A 35. AMG's engineers have made significant changes to the chassis so a committed driver can blitz around corners with ease.
Adaptive dampers give it a sporty but pliant ride, a brake-based e-differential system helps the car rotate with greater urgency, while a new, electronically controlled all-wheel drive system maximises traction in all conditions and enables the A 35 to jackrabbit out of corners with grin-inducing quickness.
Besides general drive modes (there's a new "Slippery" mode for tricky conditions) all of the drive systems - the suspension, gearbox, engine, e-differential and more - are individually customisable on the fly.
The steering wheel even incorporates a useful new feature to help you do that while the heat is on: a new button that instantly switches between drive modes, and two other buttons to control the drive options listed above.
That's a good illustration of the car's character. In contrast to less expensive hot hatches, the A 35 harnesses lots of technology not just to help you go quicker, but to achieve a civility that makes it docile enough for daily use.
That pairs nicely with the car's luxurious cabin, which has features from the new A-Class, including the stunning MBUX interface with dual 10.25-inch screens, although the sport seats, AMG trim, and special steering wheel emphasise its spicy nature.
The ballistic nature of the old A 45 might be missing, but the A 35 has a broader range of talents. It's for fun lovers who still have adult responsibilities.
Mercedes-AMG A 35 4Matic
Engine 1,991cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 310hp at 5,800rpm
Torque 400Nm at 3,000 to 4,000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Top Speed 250km/h 0-100km/h 4.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.3L/100km
Agent Cycle & Carriage
Available Q4 2019