New Mercedes-AMG A 35 2023 facelift review
The A 35 is still one of the most refined hot hatches you can buy, but its new facelift isn’t a particularly thorough one
The updated Mercedes-AMG A 35 possesses the same premium-focused appeal as before, we can’t help but feel, however, that the mid-life changes should’ve been more comprehensive. The on-board technology impresses but crucially, the A 35 isn’t near the best cars in its class to drive. Those looking for a well-equipped and refined hot hatchback won’t do much better, though.
We’re going to see facelifts of the current-generation Audi S3 and BMW M135i arrive in the coming months but beating them both to the punch is the recently updated Mercedes-AMG A 35. There are other talented rivals for the Mercedes in the shape of the Volkswagen Golf R and the Honda Civic Type R, so this premium hot hatch certainly has its work cut out.
First impressions of the A 35 are ones of familiarity because the exterior tweaks aren’t immediately noticeable. There are slightly revised front and rear bumpers, new headlight and rear light signatures and a fresh set of alloy wheel designs, but overall it’s the same premium-looking hot hatch as before.
Our car is the range-topping Premium Plus version featuring the ‘AMG Aerodynamics package’. It means there’s a huge rear spoiler - which wouldn’t look out of place on a DTM racer, front bumper canards and a lower lip spoiler. At first glance it makes the A 35 almost identical to the flagship A 45 S, which may well jar with buyers of the more expensive model.
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While the exterior is that of a Mercedes A-Class taken to the extreme, the interior is much more sedate. The first thing you notice as you settle in is the high, rather firm seat. In front of you, the dash is all pretty standard A-Class with the dual-screen setup (which still looks fresh four years on from its introduction) and the twin-spoke steering wheel (the buttons on it remain a pain to use). The head-up display strikes a neat balance between being informative and not too distracting, although the augmented virtual reality display that occasionally pops up on the central screen takes some time to get used to.
The most significant change that has come to the A 35 and other models in the A-Class range is the adoption of mild-hybrid technology. This means there’s now a 48V mild-hybrid module adding 13bhp to the powertrain at low-revs while also powering the car’s ancillaries. This electrification doesn’t change the A 35’s total outputs, however, with 302bhp and 400Nm of torque available from the turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine.
That means the A 35 is 22bhp down on the Civic Type R and 14bhp down on the Golf R, although the Mercedes matches the VW from 0-62mph (4.7 seconds) and beats the Honda by 0.7 seconds thanks to its 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. Although the A 35 doesn’t get the torque-vectoring rear differential of the A 45 S or its resultant ‘drift mode’, there’s still a lot of fun and flexibility to be accessed from this drivetrain.
Up to 50 per cent of torque can be sent to the rear axle which helps the A 35 feel quite lively at times. The front end is receptive to quick steering inputs although the onus is on traction (especially with the standard-fit Pirelli P Zero tyres). You immediately get the sense the A 35 is set up for precise point-to-point driving rather than backroad frolics. Our car’s brakes didn’t feel at their best because the pedal travel was getting a little long. This was a shame because we know from previous experience that the A 35’s brakes can really be lent on in the corners and have a decent bite to them.
Those firm seats we mentioned earlier were a bit annoying because there’s also not much bolstering to them either, leaving us wondering how difficult it would be to fit the cocooning bucket seats from the A 45 S to its junior sibling.
As before, Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual are the five driving modes and we suspect most drivers will alternate between Sport and Sport+ with the A 35. This is when the four-wheel drive system and the ESP are in their most aggressive modes and the sports exhaust becomes more vocal, although it still feels a little muted and the upshifts feel forced with the accompanying bassy thump. The A 45 S delivers so much more audible excitement.
There’s a bit of turbo lag in the lower parts of the rev range despite the electrical support but accelerate to the rev limit and you’ll find the power delivery to be reassuringly linear. Manually override the seven-speed automatic gearbox with the steering wheel paddles and you can do a better job of keeping the A 35 on its toes with impressively quick changes being served up from the gearbox. A slight worry we had during our test drive was that we were seeing fuel economy in the mid-teens. We didn’t expect to be approaching the 33.2mpg figure quoted by Mercedes but spirited driving certainly makes the A 35 thirsty.
Despite it being a hot hatch, the Mercedes feels well suited to Comfort mode as well. The 19-inch wheels send a little bit of judder through the cabin at times but it feels like Mercedes has made a good compromise between cornering balance and day-to-day refinement with the suspension.
At £50,825 this A 35 Premium Plus cost £255 more than the A 45 S when it was launched back in 2019, although the range-topper now costs from £63,285. The standard ‘Executive’ A 35 comes in at £46,075 with the ‘Premium’ version weighing in at £47,675. We’d recommend the cheapest Executive model because the A 35’s appeal lies more as an understated performance car rather than a hot hatch hooligan - for the latter you really need to make the step up to the A 45 S.
|Model:||Mercedes-AMG A 35|
|Engine:||2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder|
|Transmission:||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
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