BMW has taken a leap of faith after looking over the fence at Mercedes and its highly successful A-Class and launched its own front-wheel-drive hatchback, the new 1-Series. Naturally, since BMW is a manufacturer with sporting aspirations, its new 1-Series will be sold as an all-wheel-drive hot hatch too, the M135i that almost perfectly mirrors the formula (and specs) of the spiced up Mercedes-AMG A35.

It’s as if the two rival manufacturers copied each other’s formulas, then went ahead and materialized the idea in their own way and their own style. The result is two highly enticing premium hot hatchbacks with oodles of appeal and bags of charm - but which one do you go for?

There are probably few rival models in the world right now that are so close in so many ways, yet their manufacturers are completely separate entities. If you were to choose one of these cars based on performance, you’d have a very hard time doing so because they are almost identical. But even so, they will undoubtedly be cross-shopped, so a conclusion should be reached as to which one is the better buy - a tall order, no doubt, that will require an in-depth analysis of each taken separately, as well as both together and in the current market context.

Exterior Design

2020 BMW M135i vs 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35
- image 841371

BMW has fully embraced the fact that its new 1-Series is a front-wheel drive car with a transverse-mounted engine. As a result, the car’s front part is quite short by BMW standards and, overall, the vehicle’s look and proportions are very clearly those of a traditional front-driven hatchback. That means the automaker was able to turn the new M135i into a very believable hot hatch with a few tweaks.

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The M135i has a more aggressive bumper compared to lesser 1-Series models, a unique pattern and finish to its grille, more aggressive side skirts, and bigger wheels with a design unique to this model.

What’s a bit unusual about the design of its bumper is the ‘mouth’ on the lower part of the bumper - it really does look like it was modeled after the the Joker’s mouth from The Dark Knight Batman movie; so it’s essentially constantly smiling at you, but it’s a sinister, menacing smile. I’m not sure that’s what BMW’s designers were going for, but that’s what they achieved.

For the rear end, BMW went with a fake diffuser style lower part of the bumper, completed by vertical fake to the sides. With that being said, it’s not a bad look, undeniably helped by the sheer size of its twin exhaust tips - it’s these exhausts that dominate the look of the rear end, along with the oversized light clusters. The rear end look is rounded off by a subtle spoiler stuck to the top of the hatch.

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Should you want to make it even more eye-catching and extreme looking, BMW offers a whole host of M Performance parts to dress it up. These really spruce up the car and make it look like a bit of a touring car - a look that will please some hardcore enthusiasts, but one that others may question and declare that “it is a bit too much.”

Just like the M135i, the Mercedes-AMG A35 is a dressed up version of lesser A-Class models.

However, unlike the BMW that looks much more restrained without the M Performance bits, the A35 already looks like it has all of them fitted.

Its front bumper is already more aggressive in its design than that of the regular A-Class (bigger vents and a bigger ‘mouth’), Mercedes also added small winglets on the sides of the bumper; the lower winglets are actually connected and form a mini-splitter along the lower leading edge of the bumper.

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It’s not a bad look; it’s just more obvious out of the box. Down the sides, you notice the big rims finished in black, black blades that run along the side skirts and black mirror caps and trim pieces. The rear bumper features what looks like something much closer to an actual diffuser (one that does actually let air through, it’s not just there for show like on the M135i). Just like the M135i, the A35 has two big exhausts sticking out, vents on the side of the bumper, and badging to let you know what it is.

Where it trumps the BMW is in the rear spoiler department. The Mercedes-AMG has a big bolt-on wing that is placed atop the small spoiler that all A-Class models have. It definitely adds to the aggressive look and makes the A35 look like a more serious piece of kit (especially in conjunction with the more believable diffuser element lower down).

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Overall, the Mercedes just wins out in the exterior design category, looking like a more mature and serious car than the BMW.

Looking at the M135i with all the M Sport bits stuck to it, it looks a bit childish and ridiculous, yet the Mercedes has similar elements fitted as standard (no need to pay extra for a styling pack here), yet it just pulls off the look even better. The M135i does have more interesting and intricate rim designs, though, and by comparison, the ones on the A35 don’t really look that special. This I think is still not enough to turn the visual tides in the BMW’s favor, though.

2020 BMW M135i vs 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35
2020 BMW M135i 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35
Length 4319 4436
Width  1799 1992
Height 1434 1405
Wheelbase 2670 2729

Interior Design

2020 BMW M135i vs 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35
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All the interiors that BMW fits to its front-wheel-drive line of cars look and feel less premium than what you get in their more expensive rear-wheel-drive cars.

However, for the new 1-Series and the M135i, they actually didn’t do that and went ahead and gave the car all the main bits you also see in the larger 3-Series. This is good because while BMW’s front-wheel-drive cars do feel like a step down in quality and ambiance, the 1-Series doesn’t.

From the driver’s seat, it really does feel like the larger 3-Series, complete with optional fully-digital gauge cluster, new style buttons, the same new design steering wheel, the same gear selector stalk, and the same good overall ambiance. The M135i has a sportier steering wheel with the usual BMW overly-thick rim, Alcantara-trimmed sports seats with blue contrast stitching, unique blue mood lighting built into strips on the door panels and some aluminum-effect bits of trim. It’s not a dramatic makeover from the regular 1-Series, but it is enough to make it feel special.

2020 BMW M135i vs 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35 Interior
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Unlike BMW, Mercedes has chosen to give the new A-Class and the AMG A35 its own style.

Sure, it has the same two 12.3-inch screen setup and the same steering wheel as most sporty Mercedes models, yet the design of its cabin is utterly unique. While materials are not as pleasant to the eye or to the touch compared to what you get in the M135i, the design is certainly one step above the BMW. It looks like a car from the near future that you can buy now, with even more minimalist approach to placing buttons and switches.

It just looks more modern, and it makes the M135i’s interior look a bit plain, unimaginative, and rooted in the past. The AMG A35’s interior is unashamedly futuristic, and it’s all the better for it. Its steering wheel looks nicer, and with that thinner Alcantara-trimmed rim, it will be to more people’s liking (and more people will be able to grip it properly. Overall, it’s just a more dramatic and special feeling place to sit - except for the seats that look sportier in the BMW, the rest of the interior I think is better in the Mercedes. At least until you start feeling some of the plastics, most of which do feel cheaper than on the BMW.

2020 BMW M135i vs 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35
- image 841388

There’s nothing to choose between them when it comes to the seating position, though.

Both offer a shallow and sporty feeling and surprisingly good visibility at the same time.

Powertrain & Performance

2020 BMW M135i vs 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35
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The 2019 BMW M135i and the 2019 Mercedes-AMG A35 have very similar engines with nearly identical specs, and both have all-wheel drive. However, only the BMW has a mechanical limited-slip differential on the front axle, whereas the Mercedes has an open diff just like any lesser A-Class.

The M135i has a 2.0-liter that has been turbocharged to achieve 302 horsepower (306 PS) between 5,000 and 6,250 rpm and a peak torque rating of 450 Nm (332 pound-feet) that’s delivered flat between 1,750 and 4,500 rpm.

BMW claims these figures are good to propel the M135i from naught to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.7 seconds (with the optional M Performance pack specced) and its top speed is an electronically-limited 250 km/h (155 mph).

BMW says that the M135i shouldn’t use more than 7.1 l/100km (33.1 U.S. mpg) on the combined cycle and that’s with the bigger 19-inch wheels fitted. With the standard 18-inch rims, the figure is improved to 6.8 l/100km (34.6 U.S. mpg), and the car is undeniably a bit more comfortable too.

2020 BMW M135i drivetrain specifications
Engine In-line/4/4
Effective capacity cc 1998
Stroke/bore mm 94.6/82.0
Compression ratio :1 9.5
Horsepower 306 HP @ 4,500–6,250 RPM
Torque 331 LB-FT @ 1,750–5,000 RPM
0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) 4.7 seconds
Top Speed 250 km/h (155 mph)

While most lesser 1-Series models come with a seven-speed self-shifter in automatic guise, the M135i has an eight-speed automatic as standard. It features a launch control function, can be manually operated via steering wheel-mounted paddles and it varies its character dramatically depending on which driving mode is selected.

2020 BMW M135i vs 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35 Exterior
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The 2019 Mercedes-AMG A35 also runs a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot, with the exact same power output of 302 horsepower (306 PS) but less twist, 400 Nm (295 pound-feet) that peaks at 3,000 rpm (it’s not delivered over a wider rpm range as is the case with the engine in the M135i). Its gearbox is a seven-speed dual clutch unit, and just like the M135i, it sends power mainly to the front wheels, occasionally sharing power with the rear axle when the car starts sliding, understeering, or just on corner exit when the road is slippery.

2020 Mercedes-AMG A35 drivetrain specifications
Engine 2.0-litre R4 with exhaust turbocharger
Displacement 1991 cc
Max. output 225 kW (306 hp) at 5800-6100 rpm
Peak torque 400 Nm at 3000-4000 rpm
Transmission AMG SPEEDSHIFT DCT 7G dual-clutch transmission
Acceleration 0-100 km/h 4.7 s
Top speed 250 km/h
Even with less torque than the BMW, though, the AMG A35 completes the benchmark sprint in a claimed 4.7 seconds and has an identical limited top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph).

Average claimed efficiency is rated at 7.3 l/100km (32.22 U.S. mpg) - the BMW therefore just nudges ahead in this respect, especially on the smaller rims.

BMW M135i Mercedes-AMG A35
Engine 2.0-liter four-cylinder twin-turbocharged 2.0-liter turbocharged
Horsepower 302 HP @ 5,000-6,250 RPM 302 HP
Torque 332 LB-FT @ 1,750-4,500 RPM 295 LB-FT
0 to 62 mph 4.7 seconds 4.7 seconds
Top Speed 155 mph 155 mph

Regarding these two cars’ handling prowess, so far only the Mercedes-AMG A35 has been tested by automotive journos who have praised it for its straight line punch and excellent cornering capabilities. It does make up for the lack of an actual limited slip differential which it simulates electronically, using the car’s front brakes and the result is actually surprisingly convincing (and it makes the car very quick to launch itself out of corners; power is not squandered on the inside wheel as is often the case with open-diff cars).

Its engine was deemed eager and responsive, especially since it has to move a car that weighs 1,555 kilograms (3,428 pounds), but it’s apparently the A35’s gearbox that won the most praise. The seven-speed box not only offers blisteringly quick shifts in its sport modes, but it also kicks you in the back, and during all this, the exhaust makes a noise that could only be described by comparing it to wild animal sounds.

The A35 is able to change direction very quickly, and the steering is very sharp.

Feel is not really present, but since it is a variable rack, the fact that you don’t have to apply much lock to make the car move a lot helps keep it feeling sporty. If you don’t judge corners right and carry too much speed, though, the car will wash wide, and there isn’t a whole lot of adjustability through the throttle. Even when the rear axle starts to receive power, if the car is understeering, it’s apparently a bit hard to cull. This is better in Sport mode as the car is more eager to shuffle power to the back, so it would be advisable to always switch it to this mode when you want to get your hoon on.

The BMW M135i has not yet been reviewed on road or track, but with between the limited slip differential, the extra torque, and superior torsional rigidity, it will probably be a bit quicker than the A35 in the real world. And if any recent BMWs (and MINIs) are anything to go by, the steering will be even sharper and also provide some feel and the entire experience will be a more connected one. Furthermore, the new 1-Series has a nearly perfect 50:50 weight distribution, a rare feat in the world of FWD hatchbacks with a transverse-mounted engine and this will make it easier to drive fast, more balanced and forgiving on the limit.

These two cars definitely need to be driven back to back in order to even stand a chance of noticing these differences, though, but there is a very high likelihood that the BMW will come out on top, not only from a performance standpoint but also form a driver involvement and enjoyment standpoint too.

Which is Actually Better?

2020 BMW M135i vs 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35
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Picking the better car out of these two is not easy - they both have strong and weak points. The 2019 Mercedes-AMG A35 is the much nicer car to look at, with a design that just flows better and it also looks less like a crossover. The 2019 BMW M135i just looks a bit tall from the side, and a bit too like the X2 crossover from certain angles and it can be made to look really garish and boy-racer like with all the optional M Sport bits fitted.

Inside the BMW has better materials, but a less imaginative and less futuristic looking design. The Mercedes should also prove just that little bit more comfortable on longer journeys, though, as is usually the case when comparing similar cars from these two rival manufacturers. Both feel premium and quite special to sit in, but there is just a bit more sense of occasion when climbing aboard the A35.

Out on the road, the M135i has the edge on handling and in-gear punch.

They both have identical claimed performance figures, but with the extra torque on tap and the stiffer shell, the BMW will just nudge ahead on a twisty bit of tarmac. It will pull away from the A35 on corner exit too, thanks to the standard-fit limited-slip differential that is a hugely important bit of kit for any performance car, regardless of where it sends its power to.

But it’s really a very closely wrung thing, this comparo, as both cars are extremely good at tackling a tight road, an environment where they are probably as fast (if not faster than) a supercar with more power and tech. We’re eagerly awaiting the first full comparo videos between these two cars to cast our final judgment on which is best and for what type of motorist.

Further reading

2020 BMW M135i vs 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35
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Read our full review on the 2020 BMW 1 Series.

2020 BMW M135i vs 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35 Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2020 Mercedes-AMG A35.

Andrei Nedelea
Andrei Nedelea
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