The 2021 Mercedes-AMG A 35 hatch is priced at $49,800.
Pricing is the A 35’s only true weakness.
This car is all about the fizzes.
Hot hatchbacks are automotive royalty. For more than four decades, these sporty compact cars have defined youth, driving enjoyment, speed, and everything else associated with all of this. Without exception in North America, at least up until now, all these cars have been affordable or nearly. The new Canada-only Mercedes-AMG A 35 hatch somewhat changes this final fact.
Up until now, and if we limit the timeframe to the last 15 years, $30,000 to $35,000 was enough to land an incredible example of a compact hot hatch. Be it the Mazdaspeed3, Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart, Dodge Caliber SRT4 (don’t mock it), Volkswagen Golf GTI, Subaru WRX (when it was ugly), or Ford Focus ST, attainable performance was very real. Those with a little more pocket change can/could wrestle up some $40,000 to get a Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf R, or a Subaru WRX STI (still the ugly one). Honorable mentions must go out to the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO, current Subaru WRX, and STI, as well as the only hot hatch to ever dare to straddle the $50,000 mark, the very short-lived Ford Focus RS.
You’ll notice that all of these cars are from mainstream brands. With the possible exception of the also short-lived Audi A3 hatchback, once fitted with a 3.2-litre V6, no premium automaker has seriously ventured into this niche category, until now.
The AMG A game
The all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class is a superb small premium car entry in a low-volume segment. Within its compact family resides both a sedan and a Canada-only (in North America) hatchback. It is with this car that AMG’s done its thing and created a true-to-form compact hot hatchback. Although the A-Class has done extremely well for Benz for generations in other markets, it is something of a departure here for habitual Mercedes-Benz owners.
While the sedan A 35 is pretty, the hatchback is truly the only one to consider in this trim. Physically, it meets all hot-hatch criteria: it’s tall, low slung, wide, and determined-looking. The only visual barrier to the tested car is its insistent everything-black look. With ten other shades to select from, including Sun Yellow and Patagonia Red, black is just incredibly boring. Although 19-inch wheels are available, the standard 18s fit the bill.
The cabin is nearly identical to what you’ll find in a typical A-Class however the A 35 features the impressive double 10.25-inch screens, the ultra-cool vents, and numerous other elements. The front passengers are wonderfully treated in every respect however rear passengers can’t be too tall – this is a compact car after all. Overall, fit, finish, materials, and general aura of class are fitting for a Mercedes-Benz.
Drives like a Hot Hatch should
But all of this is not intrinsically why anyone would purchase a 2021 Mercedes-AMG A 35 hatch. The basics to the reason why one ticks the A 35 box is for the drive. And it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. And this is quite possibly why it will be a very rare sight on our Canadian roads.
Like most of the smaller or lesser AMG cars, the A 35 hatch swaps expected refinement for sharpness, something that completely ruins the likes of the C 43 (exception made for the wagon), C 63, and E 53 (wagon exempt from criticism also). On the other hand, this rough-around-the-edges personality gratifies the likes of the CLA 45 and this A 35 hatch.
The most apparent trait rises from how the A 35’s chassis is tuned. The AMG sport suspension’s dampening is limited in the sense the road’s surface and the passengers are connected at all times. There’s little to no “comfort zone” in the dampers. The optional AMG ride control with 3-stage dampers might partially remedy this by providing a comfortable setting, but they do include 19-inch wheels so they might offset the extra damping. Regardless though, the ride is wonderfully involving, not punishing, and quite dynamic.
The latter explicative also applies to the steering and braking systems. Like the chassis, both are unapologetically tuned to make the driver feels as though his or her inputs are important and count. The entire experience is very convincing. The A 35 feels alive in the driver’s hands and the fizzes (thank you May) are felt.
Very entertaining power
When the turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine’s boost comes online, all 295 lb.-ft. of torque and 302 horsepower are delivered with immediacy. Thanks to the standard AMG Speedshift DCT 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and 4MATIC AWD, the A 35 launches to 100 km/h in only 4.7 seconds. From the driver’s seat, the number almost seems conservative as acceleration is insistent. The AMG is at least as quick and responsive powertrain-wise as the Civic Type R and more forceful than the Golf R.
The DCT is brilliant in that it can seamlessly glide from one gear to another or play hardball and pound away through the cogs without hesitation. Speed piles on fast and the desire to push ever harder is almost irresistible.
The bottom line is that the 2021 Mercedes-AMG A 35 hatch is immensely entertaining. It absolutely warrants the title of “hot-hatch” but unlike the vast majority of the members in this exclusive club, it’s nearly out of reach for most.
Priced too far out
For all of its pros, at $50,000, the A 35 does not justify its $5,000 to $10,000+ premium (in part to get options to match standard features on others). Yes, the AMG’s cabin is lovely but what truly matters are good seats and a serious steering wheel to get the job done.
I thoroughly enjoyed the A 35 hatch but, with respect to hot hatches, I’d get a new Type R or save about $15,000 and find a good previously-loved Golf R.