The A-Class sedan radiates with European flair, but here, in the land of large crossovers, the market for premium compact sedans is slim but interestingly, it is filled with impressive competition from Mercedes’ premium German rivals. This mid-level AMG performance trim adds a lot of character to the practically minded A-Class sedan but Mercedes squeezes its role into such a narrow space that this A 35 has become a one-year wonder.
It will take a keen eye to visually identify the A 35 apart from the standard-fare A220 that’s been equipped with the AMG visual package – a standard statement that applies across the Mercedes line-up – although those subtle changes are effective. The unique grille, large exhaust outlets, and prominent rear bumper diffuser (and the AMG badge) make it known that this is a performance Mercedes model.
Inside, the A 35 is distinguished by an AMG steering wheel with mounted drive controls and high-quality paddle shifters and several unique AMG performance displays. The rest of the interior largely matches the A220 with high-quality materials and a well-executed design that makes for a reasonably spacious and ergonomically friendly space that is a genuinely nice place to spend hours on the road.
Where the A 35 earns its AMG badge is underneath the sheet metal. Its “35” nomenclature says that its the lesser version in the AMG hierarchy (among 43, 53, and 63 models) but still, the tuned 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder’s peak figures of 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque translate to impressive levels of thrust albeit with a significant amount of turbo lag – something that can be expected with such big power coming from a small engine.
To help with the wait-for-the-boost moments when accelerating off the line, the AMG-specific seven-speed dual-clutch transmission allows an unnatural amount of clutch slip to pick up the engine revs. The harder you accelerate, the more clutch slip occurs. It creates a feeling of being sluggish off the line and the sound is a bit cringe-worthy. It is smooth, however, and once underway, the transmission fires off crisp and fast upshifts with an exhaust bark when in the sportiest of drive modes. When driven normally, the transmission logic is smart and delivers a refined feel that is entirely suitable for heavy traffic commuting.
The other part of the AMG magic lies with the suspension tuning. While the ride is decidedly set on the stiff end of the spectrum, the adaptive dampers keep the A 35 stable and predictable over fast bumps and sharp impacts – a notable feat considering the short wheelbase. Effective power distribution from the standard all-wheel-drive system and an informative steering feel add confidence when hustling the A 35 on winding roads. Road noise is more pronounced than in most other Mercedes models (although they are thousands of dollars more than this well-equipped A 35’s $53k price tag) but long drives never felt tiresome and the different damper modes provide a wide performance scope.
Making the case for the AMG A 35 in the States was always going to be a challenge. For those looking for a compact yet roomy premium ride, Mercedes offers the GLA crossover and for those looking for a sedan with a coupe-esque shape, Mercedes has the stylish CLA – and each offers their own mid and high-level AMG versions. So with that writing on the wall, Mercedes will not sell the AMG A 35 for the 2022 model year, making this a 2021-exclusive model. See it not as a failure of success but instead as a small treat from across the pond.