Mercedes-AMG A35 Saloon 2020 review
This is the Mercedes-AMG A35 Saloon, a compact booted version of the rather good A35 hatchback. The saloon differs from its hatchback sibling only with its small three-box bodyshell, which is 122mm longer and 29mm lower than the hatchback. To fit this new saloon into the range, the new CLA has grown substantially over its predecessor, so is an additional 137mm longer and 37mm wider than the saloon, while its super-sleek roofline genuinely makes it look like a miniature CLS.
The power and drivetrain that resides under the skin is familiar though, with an identical combination of engine and gearbox to that of the A35 hatchback – a turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, sending power to all-four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Power is rated at 302bhp, slightly more than the current Audi S3 saloon offers – although its replacement with an all-new model will happen later this year.
One could be forgiven for thinking its entry-level status means that the A35 Saloon is a cynical exercise in AMG logo placement, but the changes to the chassis go further than you might expect.
It may do without the broadened axles and arches of the A45 S, but the A35 does adopt bespoke geometry, with new aluminium MacPherson struts and bespoke steering knuckles – all reducing unsprung weight and adding stiffness to the front axle. Stiffness across the nose is further increased by a bespoke shear panel beneath the engine and two diagonal braces connecting the front suspension towers to the firewall.
This inherent increase in stiffness across the chassis gave engineers a better starting point to best tune each of the respective hardware inputs with more precision than in the mainstream A-class – something you can certainly feel in the A35 on a challenging road surface.
What’s it like to drive?
It might not come as a shock to hear that the A35 Saloon drives pretty much the same as the hatchback, which is no bad thing. The tangible feeling of a saloon chassis offering improved stiffness and noise suppression compared to a hatchback doesn’t really hold true in 2020, making the two A35s feel identical behind the wheel save for a slightly different view out from the rearview mirror.
Right from the off, the gruff four-cylinder is perhaps a little less refined than you would expect given the three-pointed star on the grille, but once inside it's quiet enough, your attention instead drawn to the glitzy interior. Pull away and it's not obvious the A35 is anything other than a standard A-class, but start delving into the (seemingly endless) driver modes via the poorly placed switch and the A35’s character changes quite dramatically, gradually sharpening the steering, throttle, transmission and, where fitted, the adaptive dampers.
The result is that in its most assertive Sport+ mode, the A35’s character is extroverted and without being too contrived with steering that’s overly heavy, or dampers that are too stiff. Like all AMGs, the individual elements are able to be changed too, so where the conditions don’t suit a certain mode, you can customize them to best suit.
The otherwise workmanlike engine finds its voice as the volume from the induction system and cabin speakers intensify, goading you into driving harder and faster. Drive is certainly front-led, but power is transferred aft seamlessly and without any noticeable scrambling at the front wheels. Enter a corner on the brakes and the tail does lighten, but it’s never intimidating, especially with the well-judged stability systems in place.That’s not to say the A35 Saloon isn't rewarding to drive hard, but push to its limits and there isn’t a huge amount more to it – not like with its A45 S sibling or our current hot hatch favourite, the Honda Civic Type R.
The differences between AMG’s A35 saloon and hatch reside in image. The test car’s black-on-black-on-black colour scheme might have been the bane of our snapper, but it certainly helps the saloon channel a mini-E63 S vibe that could well fix one of the standard hatchback’s biggest issues: its genericness, an unfortunate result of its own commercial success.
Price and rivals
Prices for the A35 Saloon start at GBP 37,290, (Rs 34 lakh, excluding Indian taxes and duties). For this entry price, the A35 is relatively well equipped with heated leather seats, LED headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, an AMG steering wheel and Merc’s 10-inch media display paired to a small driver’s info screen.
It takes the GBP 6000 (Rs 5.5 lakh) Premium Plus Package to include all the bells and whistles though, adding a panoramic sunroof, electric seats, adaptive headlights and an upgraded Burmester sound system to the list. If there is one aspect that is misguided, it’s that the adaptive dampers are only able to be bundled into this very expensive top-tier package, meaning that for the best-driving A35 you have to stump up close to GBP 44,000 (Rs 40 lakh)– a lot of money for a small saloon.
The A35 Saloon competes with the Audi A3 sedan and the upcoming BMW 2 Series sedan. The latter will be unveiled sometime in 2021. The Indian market will most likely get the A200 and the A180d alongside the performance oriented A35 AMG. Bookings have already opened for the A-Class limousine in India after its official unveil at the Auto Expo 2020 and a detailed review on how it drives on Indian roads will follow soon.