What are you driving?
The Mercedes-AMG A 35 represents the entry-level to full-on AMG ownership (not to be confused with the 'AMG Line' trim level), but 'entry-level' is a relative term, as this car starts at €59,245. That's explained somewhat by the mouth-watering technical specification. Under the bonnet is a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine making a chunky 306hp and 400Nm of torque. That's sent through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission to all four wheels in a variable split. Simple-to-use launch control helps it post a 4.7-second 0-100km/h time.
That level of performance and the five-door hatchback layout puts the A 35 into competition with the likes of the Audi S3, new BMW M135i and Volkswagen Golf R, though buyers may also be tempted by front-wheel-drive alternatives such as the Honda Civic Type R or Renault Megane RS.
And in case you're wondering if this A 35 is just a Mercedes A-Class with a big engine and body kit, it's worth remembering that AMG has overhauled the whole chassis, including the steering, suspension and brakes. For the record, the car pictured here is fitted with a handful of options (19-inch rims, AMG Night package, panoramic sunroof, etc) that bring the price the wrong side of €70,072.
Name its best bits
The A 35 looks great with a smidgen more attitude than AMG Line cars, but isn't OTT in the least. Leave out the dark wheels and detailing of our optioned-up example and it looks more subtle again, though we'd urge you to go for the classy Denim Blue metallic paint colour shown here.
Inside, AMG's approach has been restrained too, but it's clearly of great quality and, as we've said about most modern-day Mercedes cars, we love the full-width MBUX infotainment system and steering wheel mounted thumbpads that operate it.
The driving experience is well judged too. Sure, it feels firm at urban speeds, but the upshot is seriously good body control at pace. That initial firmness makes way for decent composure and big bump absorption at higher speeds, which makes it feel very capable. There's no body lean in the corners to speak of and, though the steering could be quicker (despite it being a variable ratio system), it has plenty of feedback, so you can sense the levels of grip and traction at hand. And there is huge traction to be had as well, thanks to the 4Matic four-wheel drive. It's superfast in operation so you don't really feel it dividing up the power. Only 50 per cent goes to rear axle at most anyway so the rear end is tidy rather than overtly mobile. Makes for very fast and secure progress though. Should be brilliant in the wet.
If anything, this car is over-braked, as the cross-drilled and ventilated discs and their callipers are huge, and you will never challenge them on the public road. Reassuring, anyway. After all, this car is seriously fast by any measure. The 2.0-litre engine develops its maximum outputs in all settings, but you'll need to switch the driving mode into Sport or Sport+ for the proper expected AMG sharpness. Then it's ballistic, and if you also press the manual shift button you'll be surprised how quickly the rev limiter comes around. It is set quite low (appears to be 6,400rpm), and the engine whips around to it, sounding as good as any four-cylinder engine on the market. In Sport + mode the exhaust cackles and pops suitably, too.
There's a sensible range of mode options as well - it defaults to Comfort, while the driver can choose Slippery, Sport, Sport+ and Individual. The latter is fully customisable, which I like.
Anything that bugs you?
As lovely as this car's cabin is, I really am not at all sure about the shape of the steering wheel. Along with the obligatory flat bottom section, it gets squared-off sides, too. Give me a perfectly circular wheel every day of the week.
Other than that, the only significant criticism I could level at the A 35 is to do with its pricing; it's steep for what diehard petrolheads will see as the 'baby' of the AMG family, which means it's a good deal more to buy than the likes of the Golf R, Civic Type R and Audi S3.
And why have you given it this rating?
While expensive to buy, there's nothing junior about the A 35 in the Mercedes-AMG line-up. It's very much a fast road car rather than one you'd regularly take to a track, but that's ok as its high quality and decent specification make it one you'd want to drive every day. This is a wonderfully restrained addition to the practical hot hatch ranks, but don't let that fool you into thinking that it's not exciting to drive.
What do the rest of the team think?
The A 35 AMG hits its marks by being blisteringly quick (have you seen that 0-100km/h time?) and yet totally useable and comfortable. Great interior, and great looking too, but I just feel that it's not quite exciting enough to truly justify the AMG badge. It needs a little dose of insanity to really earn the name.
Neil Briscoe - Editor-at-Large