Remember when cars were individually recognisable? And badge nomenclature made sense? Well, those days are well and truly gone as the nichetastic nature of the motoring industry is showing no signs of slowing down with this, the Mercedes-AMG A35 Saloon.
It’s a four-door saloon version of AMG’s entry-level baby hot hatch set to take on the Audi S3 Saloon. But, confusingly, it’s not a CLA. More on that later. What it is, is a fast A-Class (but not too fast to step on the impending A45) with four doors and a bigger boot.
It’s 130mm longer than the A-Class hatchback but just as wide, and pretty much the same height when stood back-to-back. The 2,729mm wheelbase is also identical to the A35 hatch and it’s powered by the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine with 301bhp and 401Nm. So, in the power stakes, it’s nestled neatly between the 296bhp Golf R and 316bhp Honda Honda Civic Type R and just under the 306bhp arch-rival Audi S3 Saloon. Just like the hatch, AMG’s DCT seven-speed dual-clutch transmission still swaps the cogs, and it’s still got AMG suspension and the variable AMG Performance 4MATIC all-wheel drive system to see off 0-100kph in 4.8 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 250kph.
As you can see, the aggression has been turned up a bit. It’s not full on ‘grrrr’ as that’s what the A45 is for. There are some new wheels, an AMG Line front lip with flics on the air intakes, a front splitter and silver chrome trim. To our eyes, from the side, it’s got quite a flabby arse – so maybe a few more squats were in order before finalising it. But if you want a small, fast car for four people with headroom and plenty of space for junk in the trunk that’s smaller than a C-Class, this is it.
On the inside, you get the A-Class’ new, and quite excellent, MBUX infotainment system that blows Audi’s interior out of the water. That means voice control that actually works, and if you tick the right option box, flash augmented reality sat-nav. Meanwhile, S-Class-level driver assistance tech keeps you pointing in the right direction. And screens. BIG screens. Ones that are seemingly endlessly configurable and control an ambient cabin colour of whatever-the-hell-you-like.
But the A35 Saloon is more evidence that niching niches is now modus operandi for Mercedes. See, we’ve now reached the point where the only way of deciphering a car isn’t by something sensible – say its shape, size or engine – but by its roofline. Yes, roofline. Case in point, this new AMG. Now, being a four-door saloon version of the hatch, you’d think it’d be badged CLA like the last one. But it’s not. Because that’s coming shortly and will be a four-door small saloon but one with a more coupe-ish raked roofline, making it sleeker but less comfortable to be in the back. One no doubt that’ll also get the ‘35’ treatment from AMG. Then the ‘45’, because more models mean more variety and more money. More is more in this niche-busting world.
If you just want an A35 with a little more headroom if you’re four-up – and, crucially, you want it right now – the A35 Saloon is for you. But this or the Audi?