2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 4MATIC Review: Spark Joy

Admin1 - Apr 15, 2021, 2:39pm CDT
2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 4MATIC Review: Spark Joy
Editors' Rating: 9/10
Pros
  • Most affordable way into AMG ownership
  • 302hp engine isn't short of power and sounds great
  • Cabin is well-designed and the MBUX tech is excellent
  • Styling is crisp without looking excessive
Cons
  • Gearbox can be jerky at lower speeds
  • Gets more expensive, fast, when you add the options
  • Rear seat and trunk space are on the more compact side

It’s easy to get addicted to excess, especially when it comes to buying a new car. Bigger engines, bigger trucks, bigger power figures, and the inevitably bigger price tag to go along with it. Sliding sneakily in-between all that is the 2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 4MATIC, a comparative minnow in size, horsepower, and – in AMG terms, at least – price, but which lands even more of a punch because of it.

It helps that I already really like Mercedes-Benz A-Class. The smallest sedan in the automaker’s range looks the part, straddles a reasonable balance between luxury spec and affordability, and its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is unexpectedly well matched to its chassis and suspension.

In short it distills a lot of the appeal of “big” Mercedes into something a little more attainable and, for that matter, reminds us that just because a big chunk of car buyers are going with SUVs these days, that doesn’t mean sedans are passé. It also proved to be catnip to the tuners at Mercedes-AMG.

The result is the 2021 AMG A35 4MATIC, which just so happens to be the cheapest point of entry into AMG ownership. Sales kick off at $45,850 (plus $1,050 destination) though, as with any German automaker, the options list offers an easy way to send that spiraling upward. Even in “base” spec, though, you get a surprising amount.

It starts with an exterior makeover, cranked up even further with the $1,550 AMG Aerodynamics Package with its new front apron with large splitter and flics, bigger rear lip spoiler, and gloss black rear apron and diffuser blade. The $750 AMG Night Package adds different grille, splitter, and side panel inserts, swaps most of the exterior chrome trim for gloss-black, and dresses up the tailpipes to match.

The result is something that builds on the A-Series Sedan’s already handsome, shark-esque aesthetic with legitimate presence. It’s not outlandish, or excessive, but neither do you feel like you’ve been shortchanged by AMG.

At its heart is the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4, as in the A220, but here it’s tuned for 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That’s a healthy 114 hp and 74 lb-ft more than in the regular ‘Benz. It’s an “AMG-Enhanced” engine, not one of the division’s fancy hand-made monsters, but you’re looking at double the cylinders and $20k more before you find one of those in a C63 Sedan.

0-60 mph comes in 4.6 seconds, hitting the gas pedal delivering a brief moment of thought as the turbos consider, and then the A35 surging forward playfully. The steering feels meaty and nicely weighted. On the opposite side, the beefy steel brakes never felt anything less than over-specified. Dare I say I enjoyed it more than I did the significantly more expensive 2021 AMG GT 43 4-Door Coupe?

Excess on paper, or at the track, or even on the Autobahn, is compelling. Out in the real world, it can often just be a shortcut to speeding tickets or just plain losing your license. Like some of the more entertaining cars on the market, the A35’s appeal is intrinsically tied up with its relative limitations, and the fact that you can actually graze the redline without risking it getting impounded.

It barks and crackles, with shouty gurgles on downshifts in Sport and Sport+ mode. Probably some of that is “enhanced” for the cabin but honestly it all sounds great, and manages to miss that edge of fakery some other performance cars struggle with. The 7-speed Speedshift DCT gearbox is suitably named, with its fast changes and its hunger to hold lower ratios as long as possible. The metal paddles, though, feel equally pleasing and snap you up and down smoothly.

The downside is that Comfort mode is, well, not exceptionally comfortable. Even with $990 AMG Ride Control Sport Suspension the limits of adjustable dampers become apparent on longer drives, especially given AMG has clearly erred on the side of firmness rather than Mercedes-esque plush. It’s not outrageously stiff – though the Sport and Sport+ modes are admirably flat even in sharp cornering – but this is not so much a sedan of dual personality as it is a sporting car that will grudgingly restrain itself when so demanded.

Little exemplifies that quite like the DCT gearbox. Everything that makes it so pleasing when you’re driving urgently adds up to a more jerky experience as you slow to a halt. At one point I caught the telltale “oh look, he stalled it” pitying glance from the driver alongside me at the lights, as I juddered to a halt next to them.

Far smoother is MBUX, Mercedes’ generally excellent infotainment system. It gets twin 10.25-inch displays to play with as standard on the A35, crisp and bright, with a touchscreen, a trackpad, and a steering wheel touchpad to navigate. Or, you can bark out “Hey Mercedes” and ask for just about any feature or setting instead.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported – though they don’t expand to make the most of the whole infotainment display, which looks a little odd – and if you add the $1,295 Multimedia Package you get navigation with augmented reality arrows overlaid onto a live camera view of the road ahead. That’s shown on the center screen, mind; if you want an AR HUD you’ll need a new 2022 EQS.

The panoramic sunroof, power front seats, dual-zone climate control, blind-spot warnings, ambient lighting, and keyless start are all standard. So too, for better or worse, is the “AMG Design Trim” which adds shouty graphics across the passenger side of the dashboard. Combined with the color-changing light strips it leaves the cabin either playful or played-out, depending on your taste for such things.

There’s plenty of room in the front, and the dashboard feels a lot like Mercedes’ other sub-E-Class offerings. The shiny black plastic still isn’t my favorite, but the switchgear and trim generally feel solid. In the rear there’s okay legroom and headroom, while the 8.6 cu-ft trunk is also fine if nothing special. It feels right-sized for what it is, definitely more practical than a 2+2 coupe.

My review car had the $500 AMG Performance steering wheel in leather and faux-suede, $400 drive mode pods bolted onto that wheel, $460 for SiriusXM, $850 for the Burmester audio system, $500 for heated front seats, and $200 for wireless phone charging. The $800 Premium Package adds power folding side mirrors, keyless start, and auto-dimming mirrors.

Combined with the styling and performance extras, plus destination, it nudged the 2021 A35 up to $56,020. Not cheap by broad standards, no, but definitely competitive for a performance sedan with luxury branding. Were it my money, I’d probably leave off all but the sports suspension, nicer steering wheel, heated seats, and maybe the AMG Aero package and handsome $800 alloy wheels, and still be under the $52k point. Running costs needn’t be exorbitant either: the 25 mpg figure for EPA combined consumption isn’t too difficult to hit, as long as you resist the urge to play too much.

2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 4MATIC Review

I’m as much a sucker for a big, burbling V8 and a vast performance sedan as anyone else. Nonetheless, there’s something about the AMG A35 which, as Marie Kondo might say, just sparks joy. It feels, quite honestly, cheap for what you get and how it feels put together.

That’s cheap relatively speaking; cheap with all the usual provisos and qualifiers. Much in the same way, those with a family to consider or anybody needing a car that makes more than a vague, passing stab at comfort may find the A35 the round peg for their square hole. It makes compromises, they’re just more around practicality and cosseting than anything else.

I find it hard to pick fault with AMG’s decisions here. And honestly, if you need more of that slick Mercedes’ glide, the A220 4MATIC delivers. The 2021 AMG A35 4MATIC is all about fun, usable and shouty in equal measure, and the only excessive thing here is the size of my grin.


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