New Mercedes-AMG A35 vs BMW M140i
Mercedes-AMG’s new entry-level A35 isn’t as extreme as some hot hatches, but still promises to give BMW’s M140i a run for its money...
BMW M140i 3dr
- List price £36,000
- Target Price £33,745
A big straight six engine and rear-wheel drive mark out the M140i as unique in the class.
Mercedes-AMG A35 4Matic
- List price £35,580
- Target Price £33,777
AMG’s newest model comes with 302bhp, four-wheel drive and a dual-clutch auto ’box.
If you’re travelling between Devon and Hampshire, you’ll want to take the A35, which conveniently links the two. Hang on, hang on: before you start thinking we’ve gone to DEFCON Boring and turn the page, we mention this because the road serves as an apposite analogy to describe its namesake, the new Mercedes-AMG A35. AMG’s newest hot hatch also spans two points, between mainstream A-Class models and the all-singing, all-dancing second-generation A45, which is due this autumn.
The A35 is the brand’s new ‘budget’ performance model, designed to give buyers a cheaper route into the AMG world. Its 302bhp is some way shy of the 400bhp-plus that its big brother is reputed to be getting, but it follows the A45 formula in other ways, with its standard four-wheel drive and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
What, then, do we put it up against? Well, at £35,580, the A35 costs more than our favourite hot hatch, the Honda Civic Type R GT, and besides, something with a similarly premium badge seemed a more fitting match. With the Audi S3 being off sale for the time being, that left BMW’s M140i as the obvious choice.
Compared with the A35’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, the M140i’s 335bhp turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six seems more fitting for a thoroughbred sports car than a hot hatchback. We’re not complaining, though, because together with its rear-wheel drive layout, it’s something of an enthusiast’s dream.
These are two very different interpretations on the hot hatch theme, then, but which is better?
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Crikey, these are quick cars. Granted, the wet, wintry day of our test didn’t aid their getaways, but in the 0-60mph dash – that time-honoured ‘starter for 10’ asked of every hot hatchback – both produced blistering times. Still, only the A35 dipped under five seconds, helped by the fact that all four of its wheels are on call to put its power down. Nor do you need much skill to make that time happen; simply activate launch control, mash the accelerator and release its brakes. Job done.
In the wet, the M140i needs a more sympathetic approach. You can’t rely on its launch control because a), the initiation procedure isn’t as easy, and b), it isn’t all that effective when the road is slippery; when you pull the pin, instead of extreme forward motion, you get mostly wheelspin. We managed to set our best time without it, teasing the M140i away gently, feeding in its power smoothly and only giving it full beans once it was rolling above 30mph or so.
That said, we’ve previously timed an M140i at 4.5sec from 0-60mph, so we suspect it would have beaten the A35 in the dry. The fact is that, while the A35 is quick by most standards, the M140i feels even more ferocious. Its powerful engine pulls harder from low revs and spins more keenly to its limiter; that’s why its 30-70mph time, which reflects overtaking ability, is substantially quicker.
The M140i’s engine is a more joyous thing to work hard, too. Those six cylinders play a silken, sonorous tune, and despite the A35’s purposeful parp – infused with detonations from the exhaust pipes as you lift off – it’s just not quite as invigorating.
Then there’s the curious purgatory the A35 places you in if you accidentally hit the engine’s rev limiter. It simply leaves you hanging, refusing to let you change up for a frustrating second or two. It’s easy to do if you’re using the gearbox in manual mode, too, because the redline is at just 6500rpm – 500rpm lower than in the screaming M140i. The M140i’s conventional eight-speed automatic gearbox also responds more snappily to downshift requests, although those changes are somewhat slurred; when they happen in the A-Class, they’re altogether more aggressive.
Neither car can quite emulate the handling prowess of the hot hatch glitterati (the Civic Type R being the best of all), but the A35 is a fine thing to drive, with more grip than its rival, better traction out of corners and, on standard passive suspension (adaptive dampers are a £695 option), fine control of body movements along uneven roads.
The steering is rather slow but weights up as you apply lock to foster a reasonable sense of what the front tyres are doing, so all in all the A35 is a breeze to drive swiftly along a tortuous back road. But while there are some handling nuances to discover – it’ll trim its line into a corner if you lift off the accelerator and will shift drive front to rear to help stop it from running wide on the way out – it’s more staccato than fluid. There’s no denying its effectiveness, but it’s hardly effervescent.
The M140i is just the opposite. The optional adaptive dampers (£515) fitted to our test car allow a little too much vertical movement in Comfort mode along bumpy country roads; it feels less hunkered down as a result, often still recovering from the first bump as you encounter the next. Stiffen up the suspension in Sport mode and you lose that excess movement but also the suppleness to absorb the initial hit fully, leaving you somewhat betwixt and between.
The M140i initially feels more eager to turn in to corners, thanks to its quicker and more precise steering, but without the well-judged heft of the A35’s wheel, it’s far from perfect. Despite all this, though, deep down the M140i is a proper driver’s car. This is not a point-and-squirt job like the A35; instead, it requires you to think hard about your accelerator and steering inputs and concentrate on finding the groove. When you do, the dopamine hits are higher.
The rest of the time, when you just want to relax, the M140i settles better into the role of accomplished mini grand tourer. That softer Comfort mode for the suspension becomes just the ticket for removing the sting from bumps around town and ridges on motorways, but while the A35 is certainly firmer, it’s no boneshaker. It’s quieter at 70mph, too, mainly because it generates less wind noise, although both cars, riding on relatively big wheels, suffer from some tyre roar.
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