Any enthusiast worth their salt knows AMG. The performance arm of Mercedes-Benz, it turns out some of the most powerful and desirable cars in the world. And to many, the pantheon of AMG products starts with handcrafted bi-turbo V8 screamers like the AMG C 63 S. A 503-hp rocket, it is an incredible piece of work. The problem is, starting at $76,200 and building from there, it’s breathing rarefied air few can afford.
Which leaves many buyers scoping out older or CPO AMG products, just to get a foot (or dip a toe) in to the brand. But AMG also needs to lure new buyers into the fold. Something small, fun, relatively affordable, but still worth of the AMG badge. Welcome to the 2021 AMG A35 4MATIC sedan.
The A35 is based on Mercedes Benz new A-Class, it’s smallest sedan. It’s also a handsome little guy, modern and fresh, and the small dimensions give a more muscular look to the rounded design language we’ve been seeing from the carmaker.
Up front, the AMG creates a little more visual punch with a unique fascia with a simple grille and a subtle AMG badge. Tasteful. The profile is also sleek and pure, with only the massive 19-inch AMG Twin Spoke wheels making it obvious that this little sedan carries some serious intent.
The rear may be the most aggressive-looking part of the A35 – a slightly larger AMG badge, an aggressive rear fascia with two stout looking exhaust pipes bracketing a lower panel with vertical aero wings. It seems only fitting to make this part a visual treat – it’s the view most other car owners will ever see.
Finished in a gorgeous color AMG calls Denim Blue Metallic, the A35 reminded us of one of those Faberge’ eggs – small, but elegant, tasteful (actually the AMG is less ornate) and clearly beautifully put together.
State of the Art Interior
Inside, the A35 definitely wows you. It starts with dual 10.25-inch displays that look like a giant widescreen TV on top of the dash. Mercedes was one of the first to go to full digital dash – we’re seeing in everything now, from VW Jetta to Hyundai Elantra.
But the A35 gauges are especially bright and clear, and the gauge display lets you choose between three AMG displays to suit your needs. Via the AMG menu, the driver can choose various special displays such as Warm-up, Set-up, G-Force and Engine Data.
If that’s not enough, the infotainment side lets you pull up driving programs including AMG TRACK PACE and telemetry data. Track day anyone? And when it’s the more mundane stuff like navigation, Apple CarPlay, and sweet-sounding Burmester audio system, it’s also easily accessed by a touchpad on the center console – but frankly, we like just tapping the touchscreen.
At your fingertips is a fat leather-wrapped AMG steering wheel with metal-tone remote controls that are actually a little hard decipher, but you get used to it. Our tester also had a pair of round controls at the bottom of the wheel that give you quick adjustment of vehicle dynamic control modes and more. It looked like something you’d find in the latest Ferrari – and we found it our go-to during serious driving.
One thing we didn’t get used to was the shift lever – a small stick that comes out of the dashboard and looks like a miniature version of Grandpa’s Impala.
We get it – if you’re getting down to serious driving, you’ll use the paddle shifters, and it frees up space on the center console – but in the week we had it, we kept reaching down for a floor-mounted shift lever that wasn’t there. Old habits die hard!
You can scratch you head about that, but the other design elements are gorgeous. The three round circular air vents are a thing of beauty, and they even change color when you adjust the climate control – going a cool blue when you turn down the temp or a warm red when you up the heat. The perimeter of the interior is surrounded by a cool LED lighting that makes you feel like you’re sitting in a private lounge.
Seats are superb, multi-adjustable and as comfortable and supportive as you’d expect from Mercedes’ performance division, and even though this is a very small vehicle, the rear seat room is adult friendly. Another nice touch – the rear seats fold down and have a nicely-sized pass through, making the A35 a sedan that can haul in more ways than one!
Oh, and Does it Haul!
Ultimately, the crux of the A35 is how it drives – and how it provides the AMG experience. If you’re thinking supercharged V8, this isn’t for you – but it does have a powerhouse under the hood. A turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder pumps out 302 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. Compare that with the BMW M235i Gran Coupe at 301 hp, (but 335 lb.-ft of torque) and it feels like horsepower wars are back.
There is a noticeable difference in engine dynamics. Where the Bimmer feels like a strong linear pull, the A35 feels a little peakier, which reinforces the turbo rush as it pulls relentlessly to the redline. It also feels ridiculously fast, in a car the size of a shoe, 302 hp is a bundle. 0-60 in just over 4 seconds is amazing, and you just scoot around in your little blue car, looking for unwary prey…
Dial in Sport+ Mode and you’ll get more exhaust sound and enjoy crackles and pops from the exhaust as you back off. So much fun. If you can restrain yourself – and that’s a big if – MPG in the mid 30’s are available on the highway.
Another difference from the BMW is the automatic transmission. The Bavarian uses an excellent, but traditional 8-speed auto, while the Mercedes uses a 7-speed dual clutch auto that can snap off upshifts and downshifts incredibly quickly, heightening the thrill of that turbo engine. Like other dual clutch transmissions, it can occasionally be harsh, but it’s a small price to pay.
The 4MATIC AWD system helps dole out the power efficiently and smoothly, meaning you get to use all 302 horsepower if you like. The steering is light but responsive, and the handling provides Velcro-like grip, even when you punch it in the turns. With its short wheelbase, this thing would be a killer at the local autocross! Despite the close wheelbase, ride quality is notably supple and refined. Those big 19-inch wheels and tires do transmit a fair amount of noise into the cabin, but this is an AMG – Mercedes will be happy to sell you something quieter – but you won’t have nearly as much fun.
The Cost of Having One’s Cake
Ok, so how much for a delicious piece of AMG performance? Quite reasonable. The AMG A35 4MATIC starts at $45,850. Our tester proves that restraint is always needed in buyinh European cars – our tester added the beautiful Denim Blue Metallic paint ($720), AMG Performance Steering Wheel in Nappa Leather ($400), 19-inch AMG wheels (a bargain at $500), AMG Drive Unit Steering Wheel functions ($400) and AMG Ride Control Sport Suspension ($990).
We also had Sirius XM radio ($460), heated front seats ($500), Multimedia Package including Navigation with Augmented Reality and Traffic Sign Assist ($1,295), Keyless Go/Hands-free Access ($800) and a USB-C adapter cable ($25). Add in $1,050 for destination, and we rang the bell at $52,900.
Competitors would include the BMW M235i Xdrive Gran Coupe at $51,295, And the Audi S3 at $51,740. Both are superb sport sedans, but the point should be made you’d be saying “I own a BMW.” Or “I own an Audi”. With the A35 you say, “I own an AMG” and that puts you in another league. Never underestimate the appeal of a brand.
So, the A35 is an intriguing take on ultimate performance. Small, incredibly quick, but devoid of any ego – you don’t look like you’re out to impress anyone – although those in the know will be impressed.
The 2021 A35 4MATIC is a delightful entrée into the world of AMG. At the same time, it could be all the AMG you’ll ever need.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.