Let’s start with the A35
If we can describe the A250 as mild, the A35 is the medium offering in the A-Class range, playing a role of coaxing more buyers into the AMG fold. Mercedes-Benz South Africa is offering the A35 4MATIC hatch, A35 4MATIC Sedan and CLA35 4MATIC. We’ve seen this sort of medium-heat introduction by AMG in recent times – remember the introduction of the 43-badged variants as well as the later 53-badged cars? Here we go again.
So the A35 is less powerful than the previous-gen A45 but Merc is quick to point out that aside from having 55kW less, this A35 is equally up to the task as far as outright handling and braking is concerned. The new A35 engine is the tweaked 2.0-litre turbocharged unit found in the A250, now with 225kW and 400Nm unleashed from within. I like it. It plays exactly where it needs to – it’s not the full beans AMG madness you get from the most powerful unit, but its urgent enough to excite.
Launch control? Tick. And it’s really become as simple as it should have been all those years ago. Snap it into Sport+. Hard on the brake. Then hard on the throttle. Wait for the message on the display and let go brake pedal.
The A35 hurtles off the line without fuss and mayhem, the only drama being the building sound as it climbs through the gears. The ratios here in Sport+ are well matched to the requirements of the track. There was the odd occasion when the change-down didn’t happen quite as quickly as I needed it, but that’s more about getting the combo of driver-track-car right and that comes with seat timeI suppose. The manual, paddle-shift function is the other option if the 7G dual clutch box doesn’t quite work for you but I found it absolutely up to the task.
The 4MATIC system in line with an AMG-tuned suspension means that the generally FWD system is constantly at the ready to send power to the rear wheels where needed. It’s very good if you like drama-free hot laps. Understeer says hello when that front end is pushed to the limits but it takes some fair work getting there.
There’s a slight difference in the at-limit behaviour of the sedan vs the hatchback, the shorter-backed version slightly more twitchy and light under hard braking and aggressive turn in. But they are all handy and composed, yet fiery enough to let you know that they mean business. They’re nimble little crackers and yes, that AMG badge has its place here.
We don’t have to tell you much about the new generation of Merc interiors but there are a few touches on this version to set it apart. AMG seats and sports steering wheel (options) with DYNAMIC Select buttons on the wheel give it that sporty flourish. Updated sporty screen layouts and graphics on the MBUX system add a further level of cool to what is one of the most improved parts of previous-gen A over this new generation.
If you’re entirely about the best-looking, you’ll know we like the CLA in general so we’d opt for that one. But there are some small practical, budget-related and lifestyle related differences between all three.
It’s perhaps the easiest entry-point into AMG-ness as far as exciting driving is concerned. It sounds decent, handles competently and ensures some exciting experiences behind the wheel, and that’s just from the 12 or so laps I experienced around the track. Real world driving impressions will have to wait for another day.
Add the AMG-touches on the styling and interior and it’s sure to steal some thunder from Golf R and Audi S3 for sure. It plays right in the ballpark against these two and Mercs going to have some of the limelight for a few months as we eagerly anticipate the arrival of S3 early in 2021 and then theGolf R we suspect is at least a year away. Good start to the morning then…
The Most Powerful Production 4-cylinder: The A45S
The A45S turns the heat up from good to spicy hot. I waited a while to drive this car, filled with the anticipation of a number of Internet spoilers. But they didn’t quite prime me for the onslaught of that 310kW power figure. Yes, this is dealt out from what Merc claims to be the most powerful 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder production motor ever made. We can’t argue with that and I’ll tell you, it’s fantastic.
Setting up Launch Control is much the same as the A35 – but that’s where the similarities end. The ensuing acceleration is a marvel when you consider this is in effect, an entry-point into performance motoring at this level. It’s a beast off the line and will win a number of robot to robot dashes against some fancier named equipment I’m certain. 0 – 100km/h? 3,9-seconds in the hatch and 4.0-seconds flat in the CLA. Where’s that emoji with huge eyes?
Being able to hop out of the A35 and straight into this is the best test for really understanding the 85kW and 100Nm difference between them. The A45S is leagues ahead in sheer acceleration terms but there’s much more to it than that. AMG engineers have in effect, put together a new car recipe to maximise performance. The chassis is all new, the body structure is completely changed and of course, the engine is imbued with sorcerous stuff acquired, so Merc says, from its racing genes. There’s braces and struts and plates in and around the engine and suspension for reinforcing and seriously uncompromised handling. The M139 engine has been turned around with the exhaust manifold now at the rear and the air intake near the front. They’ve focused on improved engine management and cooling here. There’s a new twin-scroll turbocharger and new fuel injection system.
The 4MATIC all-wheel drive system is new. The other trick of the system is the addition of something called AMG Torque Control. As the name suggests, the system uses clutches in the rear differential to transfer power between not just the front or rear but to specific wheels at any given time. Part of its trickery allows for headline- grabbing, YouTube-Video-watching Drift Mode – in an A-Class.
Yes it works, the A45S does do spectacular drifts but it does require some getting used to as the system counters everything you think you know about drifting. All that steering angle correction and throttle control must be forgotten. In A45S, just floor it, keep it flat and compensate much less with steering angle. The car does the rest and of course, flat taps makes for some great ‘look-at-me’ insta pics but also performs the tune of that screaming, red-lining 4-pot. It’s a decent sound, and yes the requisite pops and crackles make an appearance too.
That Torque Control however, isn’t just about Drift Mode. Out on track, the A45S has noticeably more race pace and race characteristics than its cheaper sibling. The front is pointier now and the rear is lucidly compliant each playing a part in getting around corners quickly. It’s very good, and from the helm you can feel the torque control distributing the power between the wheels. It makes you look much better than you actually are. Bury yourself too far into a corner and yes it will understeer but it will then assist you in correcting itself to bring traction back where it can.
I must also mention the power delivery here. The turbocharging means the A45S does have a very slight bit of turbo lag from GO. But as the revs soar higher, it’s here that you really want to play games with the A45S. It has a lovely character from say 4 000rpm and onwards, beautifully powerful and quite predictable in its delivery so there’s never any surprises from the crazy exploits of your right foot and in fact, you’ll just want to keep going.
Exterior markers are the usual AMG cues. Bigger wheels in various designs, fins and aero trim bits around the bodywork and of course, the now signature AMG-grille and four-pipe layout at the rear. You can spec the cars with a few packages to suit you. You like big wings? Spec the Aero package. If you like the classic look, spec the Edition 1 package.
The A45 is available in hatch and CLA variants only. No sedan here. Like the A35s, these cars behave slightly differently at the limit but it’s nothing that should sway your consideration. These new 45-badged cars are mesmerisingly quick and this time, they have the dynamic prowess to match. They're the winning car in this environment.
What’s it like to live with? We’ll let you know…as soon we can.
South African Pricing of the Mercedes A35 and A45S:
Mercedes A35 Hatch R841 000
Mercedes A35 Sedan R850 000
Mercedes CLA35 R948 000
Mercedes CLA45S R1 101 000
Mercedes A45S R1 222 000