Hot hatches are back in fashion and Mercedes-Benz clearly wants a piece of the action.
Its previous foray into this field – the AMG A45 from the previous-model A-class range – was wide off the mark, being too extreme (with 381bhp and rock-hard suspension) and too expensive (at close to $300,000), to be on the radar of someone considering, say, a VW Golf GTI or even a Golf R.
The new A-class line-up therefore features an AMG A35, to slot in just below the yet-to-be-unveiled A45.
The A35 may be the cheapest car in the AMG range, but it lacks nothing in the looks department – with a lowered ride height, 18-inch (or optional 19-inch) rims, an aggressive front bumper sporting gaping (but non-functional) intakes at its extremities, a big rooftop spoiler and a diffuser under the rear bumper.
And if that is not enough, you can opt for an Aerodynamics Package which adds a splitter under the front bumper, a pair of diagonal “flics” on the bodywork ahead of each front wheel, an even larger rooftop wing and an additional horizontal full-width element beneath the rear diffuser.
These give pitlane cred, but they also serve a genuine purpose. Where the A35 at high speed has slight aerodynamic lift at the front and none at the rear, the Aerodynamics Package-equipped car has zero lift at the front and slight downforce at the rear, although engineers at the launch were unable to supply actual downforce numbers.
The A35 uses a tweaked version of a 2-litre turbocharged four-pot from the A250. It delivers 306bhp and 400Nm of torque, channelled via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox to all four wheels.
These figures pitch the A35 squarely into a frenzied battle for performance honours with the likes of the Honda Civic Type R, Renault Megane RS Trophy, VW Golf R, BMW M140i and Audi S3 (although that last one is a saloon).
Being an A-class, the A35 has class-leading cabin style and quality, with a generally solid, reassuring feel to all materials and fittings. Its sporty, heavily bolstered seats look good and have support in all the right places. And while rear-seat space is not overly generous, it is about par for the class.
On the twisty Mallorcan mountain roads, the A35’s ample power and wide torque spread make short work of inclines and straights. Its brakes quell speed with authority and are easy to modulate.
Grip is tenacious into and through bends. The car remains flat and planted, and traction out of turns is almost unimpeachable. With all-wheel-drive (front-biased in normal driving, but can channel up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear), the A35 always feels surefooted, punching calmly out of even the tightest bends without drama or wheelspin.
But despite its impressive pace and ability, the car lacks that last degree of sparkle.
The steering, while quick-geared, is short on feel and immediacy. Driving enjoyment is also hamstrung by a conservative 6,500rpm redline, which means the engine frequently hits its limiter just when it feels like it is getting into its stride. And the gearbox occasionally refuses a downchange command because revs have not fallen enough to permit a lower gear.
The engine, while eager and punchy in the low-to mid-range, sounds fairly anonymous, save for the pronounced exhaust crackle in Sport Plus driving mode when lifting off and on downchanges.
The ride, however, is superb, even with the (optionally) adjustable dampers in the firmest of three settings. The A35 proves itself an able cruiser on the motorway as well – swift, long-legged and refined.
So, while the A35 may not thrill like the most driver-focused hot hatches, it is every bit as fast and capable as the best of them, while at the same time delivering a level of technology, luxury and ride comfort that none of them can rival.
Price: To be announced when the car arrives by early 2020
Engine: 1991cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch with paddle shifters
Power: 306bhp at 5800rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 3000-4000rpm
0-100kmh: 4.7 seconds
Top speed: 250km/h (electronically limited)
Fuel consumption: 13.5km per litre
Agent: Cycle & Carriage