AS THE A35 GETS PASSED AROUND LIKE A SPLIFF AT A REGGAE FESTIVAL, ITS ADMIRERS INHALE DEEPLY AND SAY, “YEAH, MAN!”
D ING! Text message: “Bloody hell this A35 is nice!” Ding! “The right balance of fun performance and daily sensibilities.” Ding!
“It’s almost a perfect long-termer…” So read the excited texts from Wheels online editor Cameron Kirby; a man clearly stoked that he’d managed to pry the AMG key fob from my grasp for his first proper steer in the A35.
They say sharing is caring, but until now, I’d managed to successfully dodge that most cliched of sentiments. Every one of the A35’s 3000 or so kilometres as part of the Wheels garage had been at my hand, but that changed this month.
On top of Kirby’s stint, the A35 also spent time in the care of Trent Giunco who’d successfully argued that in order to deliver an accurate and considered verdict in his A35 vs BMW M135i comparison on p94, he needed to spend some quality time in the AMG.
“It’s much closer to the old A45 than I thought it would be,” he said after a few days, reinforcing the notion that this is a proper AMG product and not just a lightly warmed-over A250. And that, more than anything, is likely to dictate whether the A35 is for you.
It’s steelier in its focus compared to a Golf R, and much more overt in its performance intent than the BMW M135i. It’s also not as comfortable or as refined as either of those rivals. The ride is firmer (though never harsh), surface changes and imperfections are transmitted into the cabin with greater clarity, the bucket seats have less padding, and the tyre roar from the (excellent) Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber is more intrusive. Those are the compromises.
The positives are that this is easily the more engaging performance car. Throw all three up a challenging road and the A35 won’t only be quicker, but it’ll deliver a level of connection and confidence that the others can’t match.
Trent’s comparison test has already delivered a detailed description of the A35’s dynamics, so I won’t double up here, but the key takeaway is that this is an easy car to drive quickly. On dry tarmac the A35 is agile and tactile, with a neutral balance that seems to place the driver smack-bang between the axles. Slip angles are kept to a minimum, which only serves to boost your confidence, especially in the wet. And the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is a willing companion at enthusiastic speeds, thanks to crisp upshifts and a suitably addictive level of pops and bangs on the overrun when you downshift.
It’s less gracious around town, where the usual DCT gremlins of jerkiness and frustrating moments of hesitation can rear their heads, but on balance, the A35’s compromises in everyday driving are nicely judged. Is it, as Cameron suggests, “a perfect longtermer”? For me, it gets pretty close.
The cabin isn’t for everyone (see panel above right), and why doesn’t it have a head-up display when the lesser A250 does? The biggest question mark, however, surrounds its value proposition. Is it really worth $20K more than a Golf R? It certainly feels more special and has a greater depth of dynamic talent, though there’s no escaping the fact that the A35 suffers from the law of diminishing returns.
I have a month left to ponder whether this means it represents poor value, but in terms of delivering on its core promise – ie, being an exciting hot hatch that you can use every day – the A35 rarely puts a foot wrong.
Price as tested: $76,792
This month: 1589km @ 9.7L/100km
“The dash is an unsophisticated chintzy design mishmash with so many different materials (five) and textures (six)”. Wheels reader Robert Ius didn’t hold back in his opinion of the A35’s cabin, offering further proof its design can be divisive.
Personally, I like it. Except for the heavy use of piano black plastic.