If they make a German version of “The Hunger Games,” it just might be a documentary shot at Mercedes-Benz product planning meetings.
Resources are scarce. There are a lot of mouths to feed as a brand that already had a bewildering array of models develops a brace of electric vehicles. It’s everyone for themselves. It takes more than a toga and a fancy bow to survive.
Mercedes executives announced that many of its current models will not survive the transition from gasoline power to electricity. Slow-selling, low-profit powertrains and body styles are likely to be pitted against one another for resources.
Now entering the arena, the AMG A35 4Matic compact sedan, Champion of the Compact Car District.
The A35 is the most powerful and expensive version of Mercedes’s smallest car. The automaker’s legendary AMG tuning group reworked its drivetrain and chassis to make it fast and fun. Its interior has Mercedes’ latest digital assistant, upgraded materials and a big AMG label to make sure you don’t forget why you paid more than $54K for a sedan the size of a Honda Civic.
Mercedes is the oldest carmaker in the world, but it’s a relative newcomer to selling cars that size. Endowing them with the level of luxury, exclusivity and performance that justifies the price of Merc’s bigger models isn’t easy, particularly in America, where many people think luxury and size are synonymous.
That’s why the small A-class sedans have to fight for attention as capital-intensive electric vehicles get more corporate resources. Small SUVs, like the appealing GLB that shares the A35 architecture, are probably safe, at least until there’s an EV doppelganger to replace them. Small cars, which make less money, particularly in the U.S., are on thin ice as Mercedes looks to trim a model line bloated with body styles and drivetrain combinations to free investment for an upcoming range of EVs.
Behind the wheel
2020 Mercedes AMG A35
All-wheel-drive, five-passenger compact SUV
Price as tested: $54,970
Rating: ★★★ (out of four stars)
Reasons to buy: Power, handling, instrument displays
Shortcomings: Price, trunk room
How much? What do you get?
A35 prices start at $45,850. That’s a cool $12,200 over the base model, which has less power, front-wheel drive and few, if any, performance aspirations. Adding all-wheel drive raises the tab $2,000. Those models come with a modest 188-horsepower 2.0L four-cylinder turbo and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
All A-class sedans are 179.1 inches long and 56.9 inches tall, about 3 inches shorter and 1.2 inch taller than a Honda Civic sedan. Those stats have always made the A-class challenging for Mercedes: The Civic — any mainstream compact, really — is a fine car. How does a luxury brand justify prices $10K+ higher for a car about the same size, with a similar mechanical layout?
That’s where the A35 comes in. Heavily revised by Merc’s AMG tuning house, all A35s have upgraded running gear, starting with performance-tuned all-wheel drive, a 302-hp turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The A35’s base price is competitive, but a lot of features most buyers will want are optional, so the tab rises fast. I tested a well-equipped model that stickered at $54,970. All prices exclude destination charges.
Features on my test vehicle included:
Panoramic sunroof 10.25-inch touch screen Apple CarPlay Android Auto Ambient lighting Blind spot alert Power front seats with memory Dual-zone automatic climate control Black MB Tex upholstery AMG sport suspension with adaptive damping 19-inch matte black AMG multispoke wheels USB-C adapter cable Burmeister surround audio Wireless charging Navigation with augmented reality and traffic sign recognition AMG exterior trim and aero packages
The A35 competes with performance compacts like the BMW M240ixDrive, Honda Civic R, Subaru WRX and VW Golf R. All but the Civic R offer all-wheel drive.
2021 Mercedes AMG A35 4Matic driving impressions
The A35’s steering is responsive and quick, transmitted through a thick AMG-designed steering wheel with small multipurpose buttons you can swipe up, down, right or left to position displays and other features.
The steering wheel has a flat bottom and the all-wheel-drive system transfers power smoothly, eliminating any hint of torque steer.
Throttle response is immediate, and the dual-clutch gearbox delivers quick, smooth shifts.
Selecting sport mode gives the exhaust a rich note and stiffens the suspension noticeably. The A35 holds level in quick maneuvers, acceleration and stops.
The digital instrument cluster display is sharp, as is the touch screen mounted in the middle of the dashboard. The touch screen and voice-activated digital assistant provide easy ways to control most systems. There’s also a small touch pad in the center console, but I find it less useful in a moving vehicle. Leather-wrapped dash and suede door inners provide appealing touch points.
Passenger compartment space is competitive, but the trunk is small.
The A35 should keep Mercedes’s compact sedan in the game for at least another round.
2021 Mercedes AMG A35 4Matic at a glance
Base price: $45,850
Price as tested: $54,970
All-wheel-drive, five-seat compact sport sedan
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch
Power: 302 hp @ 5,800 rpm; 285 pound-feet of torque at 3,000-4,000 rpm
Performance: 4.6 seconds 0-60 mph; 155 mph top speed
EPA estimated efficiency: 22 mpg city/29 highway/25 combined. Premium gasoline
EPA estimated annual fuel cost: $2,100
Wheelbase: 107.4 inches
Length: 179.1 inches
Width: 70.7 inches
Height: 56.9 inches
Passenger volume: 91 cubic feet
Cargo volume: 8.6 cubic feet
Assembled in Rastatt, Germany