2020 Mercedes-AMG A35 review: No chill
You know the episode of Futurama where Fry drinks 100 cups of coffee? That's the 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35 in a nutshell. There is no off switch. There are no periods of calm. It is a ball of perennial energy, a constant frenetic tumult. If you're wondering what sacrifice is required in an AMG vehicle starting around $45,000, it's hidden in the fact that this small sedan can never calm the eff down.
Light as a feather, stiff as a board
OK, the A35's lack of chill is not entirely complete. Starting the car is actually a pretty sedate affair, its 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 jumping to life with (predictably) less clamor than some of AMG's heavier hitters. Considering there needs to be room for the A45 above it, this isn't much of a surprise, although I will admit I'm a sucker for angry cold starts.
Every other femtosecond of existence inside the A35, though, is engineered for high energy -- not always for the better, either. Let's take the engine: Its output of 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet isn't record-breaking, but it's more than enough to send this sedan shooting to the horizon. And that will happen often, thanks to some strange power delivery. The four-pot takes a second to build boost, and somewhere before 3,000 rpm, the car will transition from a leisurely pace to strong forward motion with less regard than I'd like for throttle position as it reaches the engine's peak torque range. Half the time I try to shoot a gap on the street, I miss it because I've rocketed straight past it. Sure, it sounds great while the needle sweeps the tachometer, I just wish the delivery were even remotely linear.
That high-strung feeling extends to the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, too. When the A35 claws through corners, the DCT seamlessly transitions from gear to gear. At any pace below that, it becomes more than a little annoying. Starting from a stop requires what feels like a full second of clutch slip, making it difficult to time a departure from a side street to an artery, and the issue is further compounded when the engine decides it's time for max acceleration. If my brain is working fast enough to say, "No, I won't make this gap," panic-lifting the throttle midslip elicits a rather unnerving clunk deep in the driveline. Slower, around-town shifts feel janky regardless of vehicle mode. A conventional torque-converter automatic would go a long way in making this car feel more normal in daily operation.
Much like the larger Mercedes-AMG C43, the A35 is consistently stiff. My tester's optional sport suspension ($850) contributes to this, but the mode labeled "Comfort" never really lives up to that moniker, as I am keenly and constantly aware of every patch of uneven road. Throw it into Sport and the car will stay flat, which is great for hitting curvy back roads at pace. It's frantic, sure, but the A35 is nicely composed, never once making me feel like the car is unsettled as I dig deeper. The steering is nicely weighted and direct, and combined with large steel brakes that could stop a much larger car, it's very hard not to have fun in the A35. Just make sure you're constantly looking for that kind of fun, because again, there's no stopping it.
Mercedes-AMG must be saving most of the A35's chill for highway speeds, because its fuel economy is pretty decent. I have no difficulty meeting and beating the EPA's estimates of 24 miles per gallon city and 31 mpg highway, although the fuel tank's a little on the small side at 13.5 gallons.
Mean outside, cushy inside
While I'm a little bummed the US doesn't get the A-Class Hatchback found in Europe, I'm just happy we get the A-Class at all. Ever since I first drove this small sedan, I've loved its proportions and its mildly angry visual demeanor. Clad in black paint and devoid of chrome, my tester is quite the menacing little thing, with the standard AMG package offering up a little extra aggression through the fasciae, and it's further enhanced with a $750 AMG Night Package that throws in a whole bunch of black trim.
The interior feels special, too, despite this AMG's (relatively) low starting price. My tester's leather-and-suede seats are grippy and have just the right amount of support. The vents and buttons are largely the same as you'll find in more expensive Mercs, although the vinyl AMG treatment on the passenger-side dashboard is a little on the kitschy side. Other than a $580 heated seat option, all this stuff is standard, too, including the perfectly sized suede-wrapped steering wheel.
The A-Class might be a compact car, but it's not oppressively tight inside. There's sufficient headroom and legroom for all passengers, and the roof isn't sharply raked enough to cause taller passengers consternation -- but don't worry, there's a CLA-Class for that. Storage abounds for a small car, too, with decently sized door pockets and a cubby ahead of the cup holders that's large enough to hold most every tchotchke I've got with me. Its trunk's 8.6-cubic-foot capacity might be an issue if you're trying to take an entire family on a road trip, but it's more than capacious enough for groceries, shopping trips and anything else you'd normally do.
MBUX knocks it out of the park
While the lesser A220 has a variety of screens on offer, the A35 comes with the premium setup automatically. Mounted atop the dashboard is a pair of 10.3-inch displays, with the right side sporting MBUX, Mercedes-Benz's latest and greatest infotainment system. It's leaps and bounds better than the outgoing COMAND tech, with a simplified collection of menus, excellent natural-language voice recognition and the usual Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. It also packs a few tricks up its sleeve, like augmented reality turn-by-turn directions (part of a $1,150 multimedia package) and a screen you can actually touch. USB-C ports manage charging and smartphone data transmission.
The second 10.3-incher, smack-dab in front of the driver's face, handles gauge cluster duty. You can keep it traditional with a large speedometer and tachometer, or you can flick your thumb on the steering wheel's left touchpad to open up a variety of options. You can swap out specific gauges with large maps or fuel economy info, or you can swap to a design that looks a little more futuristic. It might be theater, but it's good theater.
On the safety front, automatic emergency braking is the sole piece of standard kit. Spending $550 opens up blind-spot monitoring, while a $1,090 package adds a surround-view camera system and active parking assist. Everything else is tucked away in the $1,700 Driver Assistance Package, which includes adaptive cruise control with active steering assist, lane-keeping assist, active lane-change assist and route-based speed adaptation. My tester lacks these, but previous A-Class experience dictates that these packages should be pretty useful on long journeys.
How I'd spec it
My tester's not obscenely priced, starting at $45,945 including destination and rounding out to $51,635 with options. My ideal A35 starts with a $720 shade of Denim Blue Metallic, while I add $900 for LED headlights and $750 for the AMG Night Package, since I despise exterior chrome. Since I'm also not a fan of suede, I'll spend $1,450 to upgrade to a leather interior while dropping an additional $950 for heated and ventilated front seats. Another $800 opens up autodimming mirrors and keyless entry, but I'll skip the navigation package since I prefer CarPlay. I'll also pass over the safety systems, but I'll splurge on the $1,090 surround-view camera getup and the $990 adaptive dampers. That brings my ideal A35's price tag up to $53,195. Yowza.
Down to brass tacks
Mercedes-Benz's biggest competitors for the A35 can actually be found on the same dealer lot. The AMG CLA35 offers a shapelier silhouette, but it also costs a bit more. The AMG GLA35 will likely be a hot seller, given the public's predilection for posh, twee utes, and the same goes for the GLB35. Its closest non-Benz competitor is the Audi S3 , and what do you know, there's a brand-new one coming for the 2022 model year. Finally, the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf R is on its way out the door, and it stands as a perfectly suitable (if less luxurious) competitor since dealers should be keen to clear inventories -- not that the Vee-Dub isn't cheaper to begin with.
The 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35 is fun. Tons of fun, actually. It's always ready and rarin' to go, which means it's not hard to have a good time behind the wheel. You just have to be ready to have that good time all the time.