Mercedes A35 wild, sporty yet practical

Peter Atkinson
The new Mercedes-Benz A35 will suit the boy racer as well as the suburban mum

For such a quiet, respectable family, Mercedes-Benz certainly has a lot of wild children.

Through its AMG sub-brand, the German marque has produced some of the fastest and most powerful machines on the road - turning the brand's conservative, luxury-focused reputation on its head.

That extends from the big, V8-powered executive sedans that have helped make a household name of AMG - right down to the growing fleet of furious little four-cylinders that have enticed a large and fresh group of buyers into Mercedes showrooms in recent years.

They're expensive and exclusive, but they're also a very important part of the equation for the folk from Stuttgart.

Australians buy more AMG models, as a percentage of overall sales, than any other market in the world. We've always loved our big, noisy V8s - and if we can afford one with a fancy European badge on the bonnet, all the better.

Recently, though, Mercedes has watered down the AMG recipe with a series of slightly less aggressive, less powerful and less expensive models, but still wearing the AMG badge.

This includes a range of six-cylinder hot-rods that sit slightly below the V8s in terms of performance and price - and more recently, some toned-down versions of Benz's turbo-charged light car fleet.

Cars such as this one - the new A35 hatchback, that sits midway between the conventional A-Class and its frighteningly-quick alter-ego, the ballistic A45.

A kind of AMG-lite, if you like - in much the same way as BMW bestows its famous M badge on several models that, strictly speaking, aren't "M" cars at all. That includes the very smart little M135i hatchback that we enthused over in this space just a couple of weeks ago.

Fitting, then, that we're testing its German arch-rival in such close proximity.

This A35 and the M135i appeal to precisely the same buyers - mostly cashed-up young executives who want to drive something special but can't justify the full-blown performance models.

Not that either of these rivals want for much. With similar price tags ($67,200 for the Benz, $63,990 for the Beemer) and almost identical outputs (both 225kW), they make frighteningly good sense for their target buyer - delivering a stepping-stone between a "garden variety" German hatch and the really angry models they replicate.

The A35 looks and sounds special, but comes without many of the aerodynamic wings and aggressive styling features that adorn the full-blown A45.

There's a tasteful yet subtle body kit, wafer-thin low-profile tyres and an aggressive, low-slung stance that makes clear its athletic intent.

A slightly more civilised, less obvious take on the physics-defying, mind altering A45 - a four cylinder hatch pumping nearly 300kW from its four cylinder engine.

The A35 is still quick - gut-stirringly so - with a sonorous exhaust note, as well as handling and braking capabilities to rival the A45. All at a price that probably saves you the better part of $15 grand.

Truth is, very few people who drove the A35 and A45 back to back would be able to tell the difference. Unless, of course, they were on a racetrack or particularly brave (or foolhardy) on some kind of urban speedway. The A45's stratospheric performance is unrivalled in this market segment - but in the vast majority of cases is a potential largely untapped on Australia's speed-restricted roads.

Which, at the end of the day, makes the lesser-powered A35 an even more tempting proposition.

It gets almost identical interior trim as the A45 - from the glorious, body-hugging sports seats to the chunky little flat-bottomed steering wheel; the Ferrari-like red button on the wheel allowing you to scroll from comfort mode to Sport and the foreboding Sport Plus; and the same super high-tech treatment the A45 shares with other more modest versions of this classy new A-Class.

That includes a pair of high-resolution screens stretching from the instrument binnacle across to the centre stack - giving touch control to a vast array of performance, comfort and convenience settings.

It rumbles and grumbles when you start it up, rides firmly to the point of being harsh, and sticks to the tarmac like a cat to carpet.

If not a wild child, then perhaps the wild child's slightly more respectable brother.

Of course, by that logic the conventional A250, with its all-wheel grip and turbocharged two-litre engine, isn't all that far behind the A35 in terms of performance, even if it looks a little more on the bland side.

But let's not confuse things.

At the end of the day this car delivers the best of both worlds. Enough performance and sporty intent to satisfy the boy racer in you - yet comfortable and practical enough to double as a family runabout when required.

After all, family is what it's all about.


HOW BIG? Based on the volume-selling A-Class hatchback, the A35 offers impressive interior and cargo space for what is essentially a compact vehicle - which is nimble to park or drive in city traffic.

HOW FAST? It will reach the speed limit in 4.7 seconds which is quick in anyone's language - let along a family hatchback.

HOW THIRSTY? The official consumption figure is 7.6L/100klm - not great for a small hatchback but decent enough for a car with this much performance.

HOW MUCH? Not cheap with a starting price of $67,200 plus on road charges, not to mention the welter of extras available with this brand.

Peter Atkinson