2020 Mercedes-AMG A 35 Hatch Review: The Last Hot Hatch You'll Ever Buy
Like universal healthcare, AMG's gateway hatch is somewhat of a Canadian exclusive. But is it any good?
Close your eyes. Picture the quintessential hot hatch. What color is it? Probably some loud shade of yellow or blue. How high is the rear spoiler? Quite high. In which direction is the driver's baseball cap facing? Anywhere but forwards. Lastly, what badge sits on the tip of its nose? Probably not Mercedes's three-pointed star. And yet here we are.
Despite the hot hatch's working-class history—mostly told by more down-to-earth brands like Volkswagen, Ford, and Honda—the fancy boys and girls from Affalterbach have taken a break from crafting V8-powered executive machines and have tried their hands at a small five-door aimed at the young and heavy-footed.
Starting at $49,200 CAD, the 2020 Mercedes-AMG A 35 is the least expensive AMG vehicle available. And if you're wondering why its price was just quoted in Canadian dollars, that's because the A-Class Hatch is not available in the U.S. and, like universal healthcare, is somewhat of a Canadian exclusive in the English- (and French)-speaking part of this continent.
It's a car that not only attempts to eat the lunches of stuff like the Audi S3, well-equipped examples of the Volkswagen Golf R, and BMW's M235i Gran Coupe but has also been created as a gateway into the Mercedes-AMG brand—the last hot hatch you ever buy before stepping up to a C 63.
Unlike the C 63 though, it isn't powered by a fire-breathing, hand-crafted V8. Nor is it even built on a rear-wheel-drive chassis, two points which will definitely upset anti-brand dilution types who insist that "real" AMGs consist of both of those things. However, instead of ruminating about whether or not this thing is a "real" AMG or not, I'm gonna try and answer a question that I think is a bit more interesting: Is it any good?
The 2020 Mercedes-AMG A 35 Hatch, By the Numbers
- Base Price (As Tested): $49,200 CAD ($60,050 CAD). In the U.S., the Sedan starts at $45,945 USD.
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder | seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 302 horsepower @ 5,800-6,100 rpm
- Torque: 295 pound-feet @ 3,000-4,000 rpm
- EPA Fuel Economy (Sedan): 24 mpg city | 31 highway | 27 combined
- Curb Weight: 3,428 pounds
- Seating Capacity: 5
- Cargo Space: 13.1-42.7 cubic feet
The current A-Class family is a bit confusing, but here goes.
That compact car platform underpins vehicles like the GLA crossover, A-Class sedan and hatchback, and CLA four-door "coupe." They now come in a wide array of AMG variants. In the US, you can have an A 35 sedan, good for 302 HP; the CLA 35, with the same output; or the full-force CLA 45, rated at 382 HP.
In North America, Canada adds an A 35 hatchback to that mix. Other markets get even crazier, with stuff like an A 45 hatchback or a CLA 45 S shooting brake wagon.
While early hot hatches mostly flew under the radar with only subtle exterior changes over their more humdrum counterparts, things have changed with the A 35. Sure, the aforementioned Golf R (and its GTI brother) retains a relatively muted look, but it's sort of become the exception to the rule. Things like the Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Veloster N, and Ford's defunct Focus RS are not shy-looking vehicles. It's all red-pinstriping, gaping maws, and high-flying rear spoilers.
With the A 35, Mercedes appears to have given buyers the choice of where they'd like their car to fall under that spectrum. In its most basic, option-less form, the hopped-up A-Class matches the Golf R on visual civility, setting itself apart from the basement-trim A-Class with different lower fascias, bigger wheels, a darker grille, and not much else.
Opt for the $1,250 CAD AMG Aerodynamics Package included on this tester, however, and the needle moves closer to the other side thanks to a bigger front splitter, a pair of front canards, a more prominent rear diffuser, and that shopping cart-style rear wing.
In my eyes, it's a lot more interesting from the back than it is from the front. I especially like how low the whole hatch-end sits, squatting like it's priming itself for a rabid launch when parked.
A Beautiful but Flawed Interior
Inside, the A-Class experience is dominated by a pair of 10.25-inch screens running MBUX—a system you can read more in-depth about here. The displays are bright, sharp, boast vibrant, pitch-perfect colors, and when using the AMG-exclusive Supersport theme, provide a cool, can't-miss-it upshift indicator when you're driving in a manner that requires you to reach into the top of the rev range (more on that later).
Some lowlights? The steering wheel will always be blocking some part of the screens. The HVAC switches, while quite premium-looking, are about an inch too far away, and there do not appear to be any physical buttons or switches dedicated to seeking through tracks that doesn't rely on some sort of touch-sensitivity. You can assign functions like track-skipping to programmable buttons, but that's a bit of pain. How am I supposed to quickly skip past the embarrassing amount of Taylor Swift in my Spotify library when I have other people in the car, Mercedes?
Oh, and when I asked the voice-activated in-car assistant to turn the heated steering wheel on, she soothingly replied, "I'm sorry, but this function is not available in this vehicle." A frantic email to my Mercedes Canada rep revealed that the A 35 is, in fact, not available at all with a heated wheel up here. I'm sorry, but selling a vehicle at this price without a heated steering option should be against Canadian law.
(I should note that the US-market A 35 Sedan, meanwhile, does offer it as an option.)
Baffling lack of heating aside, however, the steering wheel itself ironically might be the best part of this cabin. It's essentially the same wheel found in just about every other AMG, $389,000 GT Black Series included, and it feels the part. It's a big, shiny, tech-laden thing with cool-to-the-touch aluminum shift paddles and Dinamica microsuede on the subtly flattened sides. It feels substantial, expensive, and comfortable to hold, like a piece of luxury sporting equipment.
The customizable LCD "AMG Drive Unit" controls placed at 8 and 4 o'clock of the horn are nifty as hell and more useful than you might think. Although—and this will come off as the nitpickiest of all nitpicks—the tiny screens used here are lower-res and not nearly as color-rich as the car's MBUX displays, making them stick out like a pair of older Android smartwatches placed beside a brand new iPad. Something to think about for the mid-cycle refresh, perhaps, Mercedes.
All in all, the rest of the A-Class's interior really is quite nice. It's a considerable upgrade from the interiors of the last A-Class and CLA, which were widely panned for feeling unworthy of their badge. In typical Mercedes fashion, the brushed aluminum looks and feels premium, the suede is soft and fuzzy, the big panoramic sunroof helps the cabin feel more spacious than it is, and at night, the ambient lighting puts you in mind of simpler times, back when bars and clubs were still acceptable places to spend a Saturday night.
Those paying attention will have noticed that the A 35 is priced a good bit higher than the majority of its hot hatch competition from more plebeian brands. If you're wondering where all that extra money is going, this is it right here.
2020 Mercedes-AMG A 35 Hatch: The Drive
On the road, the A 35 Hatch is, as expected from a hatchback, immensely daily-able. Sure, its ride is slightly on the firm side but nothing you wouldn't sort of expect from a car wearing an AMG badge. The start/stop system is unobtrusive while the dual-clutch gearbox is mostly smooth, only occasionally making itself known with a mild clunk and jerk setting off from a light.
Leave the thing in Comfort mode and the A 35 is something you could easily take to work and back every single day, craggy pavement and all.
But if simple commuting is all that's required, one would probably be better served saving the cash and going for a regular A 220. No, you buy a car like this (hopefully) with more athletic intentions and once those intentions are acted upon, the Mercedes-AMG A 35 Hatch is a surprisingly impressive machine.
Under the hood sits a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a single, twin-scroll turbo putting down 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, an engine that is, in a word, effective. It doesn't take long at all for the boost to come on, allowing the little Mercedes to do that German car thing of masking pace, kicking you into extralegal speeds before you know it with just casual boots of the accelerator.
From a dig, Mercedes says the A 35 Hatch will hit 62 mph in 4.7 seconds (the sedan officially does it in 4.8 for some reason). However, I have it on good authority that initiating Race Start on a slightly damp sideroad in 55 degree Fahrenheit weather will yield an onboard drag-timer verified zero-to-62 run lasting just 4.65 seconds. Allegedly.
Brochure-beating pace is impressive but doesn't count for much if it can't entertain. AMG's 2.0-liter isn't as charismatic as some less-regulated, naturally-aspirated four-pots of the past but it's a strong motor that doesn't sound half bad, all things considered. The A 35 lets out a low, angry hum when driven hard, sort of like a little four-banger doing its best impression of what it thinks a V8 sounds like. The various farts, barks, and pops that appear in Sport+ mode add some much-appreciated laughs.
Flicking one of its delightfully metallic aluminum shift paddles while driving with purpose commands the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to hand out gears in a snap provided it has successfully predicted which gear you wanted next, which it does most of the time. The high performance, ventilated and perforated brakes—four-piston upfront and one-piston in the rear—are solid, easy-to-modulate, and just as satisfying to use.
An absolute mechanical highlight, however, is the way this compact Benz steers, both in its precision and feel. The perfectly-weighted variable-ratio rack has been hard-mounted to a chassis that feels composed and competent. Mercedes-AMG has also added an aluminum shear panel underneath the engine and two diagonal braces at the front of the undercarriage for an even stiffer front-end.
With the A-Class being the least expensive member of the Mercedes family, it's only reasonable to expect its chassis to be made to a budget. But hucking an A 35 around a winding road, you get the sense that it was made to a budget by a corporation with 100-plus years of car-building know-how and six-going-on-seven Formula One Constructors' Championships to its name. Because it was.
In that sense, it definitely falls under the newer category of AMGs that prioritize lap times and outright grip over tire smoke and comedy. If that's your bag, then great but if not, there are definitely more emotional ways of spending $60,000.
With everything set to manual, Sport+, ESC off, maximum-attack mode, the A 35 can deliver an experience approaching that of an honest-to-god sports car, able to carve up fast, twisty roads with a high level of confidence. Driving AMG's hot hatch quickly is an ego-boosting showcase of stability and speed thanks to a willing engine, a properly-sorted front end, standout steering, and, let's be honest, those sticky Pirelli P Zero tires.
The Last Hot Hatch You'll Ever Buy
Fairly minor interior usability and feature-set qualms aside, the 2020 Mercedes-AMG A 35 Hatch can be a very solid buy. It's a reasonably comfortable, luxurious commuter when you're not stomping on it and has the chops to hang with the rest of the class when you are.
In other words, it's a really good My-First-AMG, a nice gateway vehicle into the brand's more potent, more expensive, and less forgiving stuff. After this, you're almost certainly off to bigger and better things, like a C 63 S or an E 63 wagon.
And if this truly does become the last hot hatch you ever buy before being promoted into bigger and badder AMGs, you can rest easy with the fact that you'll be leaving the genre on a high note.
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