Why there are two sides to the story with this pocket rocket AMG35
Our much-touted self-drive and electric eras are already being accused of threatening to kill the fun of driving fossil-fuelled cars such as the one I had for review this week.
Maybe those critics should take a closer look at things. Electric doesn't mean dull; neither does self drive (that is for another day, admittedly). I often think so-called experts paint far too glum a picture. I believe there are great times ahead; great times when the tedium will be taken out of the boring driving bits and the zest restored where appropriate. Fingers crossed.
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I just can't imagine not driving a car at least some of the time can you? For me that's what makes driving the unbelievable privilege it is - the sense of movement, energy and control.
Incidentally this bit of a rant is being brought to you courtesy of my 1,000+km' driving reflections on the new Mercedes-AMG35 hatchback.
I can safely say I wouldn't pay €70,000 for the pleasure of owning it, regardless of what was propelling it or what technology was employed to bestow such prowess. Who in God's name will splash such cash on a small pocket-rocket hatchback merely for the infrequently possible buzz of performance? But there are people prepared to spend that sort of money. More luck to them, though you'd hardly blame me for my reluctance to embrace such outlay.
After my drives in the 1,991cc turbo, 306bhp, automatic, all-wheel-drive (0-100kmh 4.7 seconds) things changed a bit, I'll admit.
For a start I stopped seeing it as a last great throw of the fossil-fuel dice for a performance car. Take away the petrol engine (a wonderfully powerful piece of engineering), retune the suspension, dampers, steering etc accordingly and put a powerful electric package (battery, motor) in its place and would you not have the makings of an even more potent force? I'm sure you would. So, hey, there can be a great future for performance cars of this ilk. It will just take time to get heads around the idea that we won't always need petrol to do the work.
Until that day arrives - and it's not as far off as you think maybe - we'll have to 'settle' for the likes of the AMG35.
This is a high-performance, radically overhauled, version of the Mercedes A-Class: stripped to its essentials and rebooted with strength, power and poise to go like hell.
It is a car that predictably, given it is designed for public-road driving, has the ability to be a sedate, composed family hatch carrier - and a pouch of surging energy.
I found it deceptive: demure to look at (disappointingly so to my way of thinking), and for the most part, to drive.
Rousing it from its slumbers took more than an instant. If I had a criticism it would be how long it took to kick into super-power mode.
But when all the horses were pulling together I was treated to a metamorphosis of some magnitude.
It was something: the perspective changed; the mood altered. Where there had been gradual progress there was a massive gush of energy transferred to wheels and suspension, and accompanied by a sparky exhaust burble. I could have driven this for a long time but really - and you probably guessed I'd say this - risking a lifetime's penalty points by testing this anywhere near capacity would have been seriously remiss.
Within legal limits, I thoroughly enjoyed my several drives. There was real appeal and ability.
However, there were non-performance related criticisms. Not having electric seat adjustment in a car like this just struck me as nonsensical. Indeed, I disagree with the tendency to play down the whole concept so much. If I'd spent €70,000 on a small performance hatch I'd want to give some sort of clue I'd paid a lot.
So, I am left to ponder if I'd buy this before the likes of the Volkswagen Golf R, Honda Civic Type R, Audi S3, BMW M135i, Focus RS etc (yes there are quite a few of these hot-hot hatches). I think the Golf R and Audi S3 edge it while the Focus is outstanding. I'd put the AMG in the top three of my choices.
I can understand you asking why I'd even bother with such esoteric motors at a time when everything from tax to insurance militates against them? Well, apart from being such fun, they showcase technology that ultimately filters down to the ordinary cars you and I will drive. The same will apply, in large measure, to future electric and self-driving cars.
So a bit like the AMG35 there are at least two sides to the story.
Facts & Figures
Mercedes-AMG A35 THEMATIC:
1,991cc, 306bhp, auto, all-wheel-drive; 0-100kmh 4.7 secs, €570 tax.
Price from €59,245; with options €70,072.
Spec includes AMG input all over: suspension, styling, exhaust, dynamic select, sports pedals, etc; reversing camera, MBUX multimedia system, auto climate control, LED headlights, sports seats.
Extras included 19in AMG alloys, Premium/Night packages.