The gateway car to the world of AMG.

One of the most exciting cars of the 2010s was the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. That car, that insane little coupe-sedan, could put the biggest smiles on people’s faces, but it had no business wearing a three-pointed star on its nose. I once managed to cover 1,200 miles in one over the course of three days, and the noise, the brittle suspension, and the absolute focus on performance left me broken – it was way too much AMG and not enough Mercedes-Benz.

Mercedes-AMG still offers that experience in 2021, via the latest CLA 45. But as a first exposure to AMG, I'd heartily recommend the new A35, which strikes a far better balance between comfort and usability. I'd happily road-trip this pocket rocket, thanks to its perfectly even character, impressive tech suite, and ultra-reasonable price tag.

Pros

An AMG Value?

An AMG Value?

Hear me out. No, Mercedes-AMG products don't typically qualify as good values. But with the average price of a new vehicle price finally cresting $40,000, it's hard to look at the AMG A35's performance, equipment, and $45,860 starting price as anything but a bargain. That's doubly true when you consider the bits that matter – the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, all-wheel drive, 18-inch AMG-branded wheels, and MBUX system with twin 10.3-inch displays – are standard.

You can walk out the door with a stripper A35 and still enjoy a righteous sports sedan. But even if you dig into the options, the smallest AMG is still worth a look. Take the model featured here – it’s $51,635 and carries almost every desirable option. An AMG steering wheel with the AMG Drive Unit? Yep. Blind-spot monitoring? Sure. Augmented-reality navigation? Of course. Heated seats are here too, as are proximity entry, adaptive dampers, and the flashy AMG Night styling pack. Realistically, you can option a well-equipped A35 without cresting $50,000. So yeah, that factory-fresh AMG isn't as out of reach as you thought.

Perfectly Balanced Driving Character

Perfectly Balanced Driving Character

The way the A35 drives is as much a part of its value as the price tag. It's a near-perfect mix of commuter and corner-carver, adaptable to the situation at the mere twist of the AMG Drive Unit on the steering wheel. In Comfort, it is your average Mercedes A-Class – the ride's a little firmer, but overall, the experience is one that's relaxing and quiet. But in Sport or Race, the entire car comes alive.

The exhaust sings a throaty song as the 2.0-liter punches out 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed dual-clutch promises crisp upshifts and downshifts, while the 4Matic all-wheel drive system guarantees immeasurable grip off the line. My tester's adaptive dampers and 235/40/18 tires make for exciting cornering, while the well-weighted steering provides plenty of feedback. The AMG A35 is the ideal blend of the borderline obnoxious AMG A45 (not sold here) and the relaxed A220 – like the other middle children in the Mercedes-AMG family, it's the one you want to drive every day.

Looks Darn Good

Looks Darn Good

Yeah, this is subjective, but I dig the look of the A35 treatment. The sharp headlights distinguish it from the increasingly smooth styling from elsewhere in the Mercedes lineup, while the profile, with its three-box design, feels more confident than the swoopy CLA-Class.

In the cabin, the AMG makeover includes red seat belts as standard (black belts are a no-cost option) and an improved steering wheel with a thicker rim. The A35 is available with AMG multi-function seats, but the no-cost chairs with their black/red color scheme and faux suede/leatherette finish are enough of a statement on their own. My only complaint is the tacky AMG aluminum trim, which both covers up the real aluminum and feels overly shouty.

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Cons

The $45,000 Conundrum

The $45,000 Conundrum

The A35 is a value for an AMG, but its $45,000 starting price sits in something of a minefield of potential competition. In its own class, the Audi S3 and BMW M235i Gran Coupe are available at $43,000 and $45,500, respectively. From outside the class, there's pressure too. V8-powered muscle cars like the Ford Mustang GT and Dodge Challenger R/T make the same kind of statement as an AMG product but with a blue-collar flair, more noise, and lots of tire smoke. And your main concern is the badge on the nose rather than the performance behind it, Mercedes' own C300 is a roomier, more comfortable sedan overall.

The A35 is a great car because it can cover so many bases, but for single-minded shoppers only interested in performance, luxury, or prestige, there are better options.

Base Seats Are Uninspiring

Base Seats Are Uninspiring

There are certain weirdos folks on the Motor1.com staff that dislike AMG's performance seats. I'm not one of them. I adore them. They're as comfortable and supportive as they are attractive. And while the $3,200 price for the chairs on the A35 is substantial, I'd don't care. The standard chairs come straight from the A220 and are fine for everyday driving.

There's enough support and padding, and the seating position is fine for taller folks. But a good performance seat puts you in the mood for driving, and I missed that quality during my test. The only argument I'd make against the AMG chairs is that they retain the Dinamica/leatherette combo, rather than making the switch to real hide.

Could Look More Exciting

Could Look More Exciting

The main problem the A35 has in terms of aesthetics is that Mercedes designers are forcing it to play second fiddle to the CLA45. Where that car features menacing body kits, a sportier grille, and four square exhaust tips jutting out the back bumper, the A35 appears far more benign. The grille is largely a carryover (for now), the front fascia enjoys only minor changes, and in back, tiny tweaks to the twin exhaust tips appear. This is not a boring design, but especially in subdued shades such as Night Black, it doesn't always feel as assertive or aggressive as an AMG product deserves.

AMG A35 Competitor Reviews:

2020 Mercedes-AMG A35 4Matic

Engine Turbocharged 2.0-liter I4
Output 302 Horsepower / 295 Pound-Feet
Transmission Seven-Speed Dual-Clutch
Drive Type All-Wheel Drive
Speed 0-60 MPH 4.6 Seconds
Maximum speed 155 MPH
Efficiency 22 City / 29 Highway / 25 Combined
Weight 3,461 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 8.6 Cubic Feet
Base Price $45,680
As-Tested Price $51,635