Battle of the (mild) hot hatchbacks

When Mercedes-Benz unveiled the fourth-generation A-Class in 2018, it basically dropped a giant anvil on the hatchback market. Fitted with never-before-seen technology and infused with design cues from the bigger sedans inside and out, the new A-Class trumps the BMW 1 Series and the Audi A3 in just about every department. With a handful of models already available, Mercedes-Benz just unveiled the AMG A35. Offered for the first time, it slots above the A250 and below the upcoming AMG A45.

The A35 is Mercedes’ answer to the long-standing Audi S3 and BMW M135i and arrives just when these two hatchbacks are getting a bit long in the tooth. But while the 1 Series is almost out of the market, to be replaced by a front-wheel-drive model, the S3 was facelifted recently and will be around for a few more years. That’s why we decided to throw the S3 into the lion’s den and find out how it compares to the new Mercedes-AMG A35.

Exterior

Mercedes-AMG A35 vs Audi S3 Exterior
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Both vehicles bridge the gap between their standard siblings and their range-topping performance versions, so they’re basically regular model with a few sporty extras. But as it usually happens, one offers more than the other.

Front

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The S3 brings forward an updated language that borrows heavily from the Audi A4 sedan. In short, it looks a tad sportier than its predecessor thanks to sharper styling cues and a bigger grille.

However, it’s not very different from the standard A3 hatchback. Up front, it’s rather difficult to tell the two versions apart, as they’re almost identical above the bumper. It’s the latter that helps the S3 shine thanks to its taller side vents and separate inlet that surrounds the lower area of the grille. The grille itself is also a bit different, but you have to look very close to notice the revised horizontal slats.

The Mercedes-AMG A35, on the other hand, is a bit more noticeable in a pack of standard A-Class hatchbacks. Granted, the bumper is part of the AMG Line package, which can be ordered on the regular model too, but it’s significantly more aggressive thanks to the bigger splitter, the flics on the air intakes, and the small winglets on the sides. These features are also finished in black for a cool contrast with light-colored cars. The grille is also noticeably different thanks to the twin louvers on each side of the Mercedes star and the fine mesh behind it. All told, the AMG A35 is almost as aggressive as the outgoing A45 model.

Side

Mercedes-AMG A35 vs Audi S3
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These intermediate models don’t stand out as much when seen from the side, but there are a few extras to talk about. The S3 has a rather mild appearance package here. A quick glance reveals only slightly beefed-up side skirts, silver caps for the side mirrors (previously only offered on RS models), and new, sportier wheels. The S3 also sits a bit closer to the ground, but it’s less than an inch so it’s barely noticeable.

The AMG A35 sports similar modifications. The side skirts, taken from the AMG Line options list, sports a more aggressive design, while the wheels are larger and lighter.

The skirts also feature black, which adds a bit of extra sportiness. The Merc also appears to sit a bit closer to the ground than the S3, which further contributes to its aggressive stance. Finally, the AMG A35’s tailgate spoiler is much bigger, so you get that rally car look with this hatchback.

Rear

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The S3’s rear end is similar to front fascia in comparison to the regular A3. Changes are mild and limited to only a diffuser-like element and a revised tailgate spoiler. Unfortunately, the spoiler isn’t notably bigger, as it was just reshaped for better aerodynamics. The diffuser, on the other hand, looks aggressive thanks to the four vertical fins in the center and the two exhaust pipes integrated on each side.

Moving over to the AMG A35, the Merc is yet again the car with the most notable upgrades compared to the regular model. The first thing that catches the eye is the wing on the roof. Yes, a wing and not a spoiler.

While most hatchbacks in this niche sports small spoilers integrated into the roof, AMG went with a full-blown wing.

The tailgate and most of the bumper are shared with the standard A-Class, but the lower apron is unique and looks very aggressive. While it’s not a conventional diffuser with vertical fins, the center section is open and allows air to pass through. It’s a unique design compared to other performance hatchbacks. The diffuser-like unit is obviously flanked by big exhaust pipes. Although the AMG A35 has only two outlets instead of four, it actually looks a bit more aggressive than its Audi-badged rival.

Interior

2019 Mercedes-AMG A35 Interior
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The six-year difference between the two cars become more evident inside the cabin. While the AMG A35 benefits from a brand-new layout inspired by the bigger Mercedes-Benz models, the S3 soldiers on with the design language what Audi unveiled back in 2012.

Design

2019 Mercedes-AMG A35 Interior
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While the rest of the Audi lineup was redesigned in recent years and update to the company’s new design language, the A3 remained stuck with the old cabin architecture. Naturally, the S3 sports the same features, with a handful of add-ons making it stand out next to its standard sibling. Now I’m not saying that the S3 feels dated, but it doesn’t feel modern either. The fact that most surfaces are clean and the center stack isn’t cluttered helps a lot, but the S3 is no match for the AMG A35’s modern interior. But if we ignore the not-so-large displays and the cheap looking plastic, the S3 is a nice place to spend time in.

The AMG A35 is a completely different story.

A massive step forward in terms of design and quality compared to the outgoing model, the new A-Class is heavily inspired by bigger sedans, like the E-Class and S-Class.

It has the same round A/C vents in the center stack, a multi-tier dashboard, and two massive displays next to each other. It also has a better looking, more modern steering wheel with advanced controls, more ergonomic controls, and sportier seats.

Technology

2017 Audi S3
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Because tech evolves incredibly fast nowadays, a car from 2012 wouldn't stand a chance against one from 2018.

Fortunately, Audi made some serious upgrades in this department, starting with the infotainment system. The hatchback now features the company’s Virtual Cockpit. When it was unveiled in 2016, it was the first compact to have such an advanced infotainment system. Accessible through the big, 12.3-inch instrument cluster, it has multiple display modes, navigation, an audio system, and smartphone connectivity. It also includes new menus, a rotary/push-button control feature, a touchpad, Wi-Fi hotspot, and apps like Google Earth, Google Street View, and info for parking, traffic, and weather.

Unfortunately for Audi, Mercedes-Benz equipped the new-generation A-Class with the best technology it has. The main highlight is the screen assembly that stretches across the instrument cluster and the center stack. It’s made of two 10.25-inch displays and its identical to what you can find in the bigger C-Class and E-Class models.

2018 Mercedes-Benz A-Class
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Powered by the new MBUX system, the infotainment system has the ability to learn thanks to artificial intelligence and it can be customized in various ways.

What’s more, touchscreen operation of the media display and the navigation is made through augmented reality technology and intelligent voice control with natural speech recognition. All you have to do is activate it with the code word "Hey Mercedes" when you get inside the cabin.

The advanced steering wheel features built-in touch control buttons that can be used to intuitively select the displays of the instrument cluster and the multimedia system by means of horizontal and vertical swiping, just like on a smartphone. Optionally, it can be equipped with a round controller with an integrated display beneath the right-hand steering-wheel spoke, plus two vertically positioned color display buttons with switches beneath the left-hand steering-wheel spoke. You can use these to activate and change the AMG drive programs. Unlike Audi, Mercedes offers a special app to measure performance at the track. It’s called AMG Track Pace, and it records more than 80 performance-related features while driving on a race track. It also displays lap and sector times and keeps track of reference times.

Roominess / Cargo

2019 Mercedes-AMG A35
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Both cars are roomy enough for their class, but the AMG A35 wins the battle when it comes to numbers. The Merc offers a bit more headroom for both front and rear passengers, but the difference isn’t huge. Up front, the AMG A35 boasts an extra 0.7 inches, while rear passengers benefit from an extra 1.4 inches. The same goes for shoulder room and legroom, with the Merc offering between 0.5 and one inch of extra room for both front and rear passengers. When it comes to trunk capacity, the difference is a bit more noticeable. While the S3 can swallow up to 10 cubic feet of luggage, the AMG A35 offers room for 13 cubic feet. Granted, none of these hatchbacks are able to compete with the larger sedans or full-fledged wagons, but an extra three cubic feet will definitely count when you need luggage room for that long summer vacation.

Mercedes-AMG A35 Audi S3
Headroom front/rear (inches) 40.31/37.79 39.6/36.4
Shoulrder room front/rear (inches) 55.11/54.01 54.8/53.0
Trunk capacity 13 cubic feet 10 cubic feet

Drivetrain and Performance

Mercedes-AMG A35 vs Audi S3
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High-performance hatchbacks typically use four-cylinder engines and the Audi S3 is no exception from this rule. The facelift changed very few things under the hood.

Audi kept the previous 2.0-liter four-banger, but the turbocharged unit generates ten extra horsepower and 15 pound-feet over its predecessor.

Specifically, the S3 now cranks out a solid 310 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of twist.

Depending on the market, transmission choices include a six-speed manual and a seven-speed S Tronic automatic. Which gearbox you get is important, as performance varies based on them. For instance, the automatic model needs only 4.7 seconds to hit 62 mph, while the manual variant reaches the same benchmark in 4.9 clicks. As usual, top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.

Mercedes-AMG A35 vs Audi S3
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The S3’s suspension is almost identical to the standard A3, with MacPherson struts up front and a four-link setup to the rear. The standard layout includes fixed dampers, but you can order adaptive magnetic components for a more dynamic ride. Power travels to all four wheels thanks to Audi’s already iconic Quattro all-wheel-drive system. As a new feature, you can order an updated Electronic Stabilization Control system and a new multi-plate clutch for the AWD system.

The AMG A35 is very similar to the S3 when it comes to drivetrain components and performance. First up, AMG stuffed a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder under the hood.

The engine shares many components with the less powerful unit in the A250 model, but some internals were upgraded for increased performance. Output sits at 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.

Since it doesn’t have a predecessor, we can’t compare the AMG A35 with a car from past, but it delivers an extra 85 horses compared to the A250 trim.

Unlike the S3, you can't buy the AMG A35 with a manual transmission.

The AMG Speedshift is the only option no matter the market, so you’ll have to forget about a clutch pedal and rowing your own gears. However, the good news is that this transmission is just as good as the ones fitted in the V-8 models and will offer you enough thrills in a straight line and even on the race track. Charging to 62 mph takes 4.7 seconds thanks to the Race-Start function, while top speed is limited to the usual 155 mph.

Mercedes-AMG A35 vs Audi S3
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The all-wheel-drive system tuned by AMG comes standard and splits torque equally between the front and rear axles when needed. Otherwise, the AMG A35 remains a front-wheel drive car. A multi-disc clutch that is integrated in the rear axle transmission is responsible for the variable torque distribution. The suspension pairs McPherson struts at the front and a four-link axle to the back, while stopping power comes from beefed-up discs and calipers.

As you may have already noticed, both vehicles feature all-wheel-drive system and a similar suspension setup.

The engines have the same displacement and numbers of cylinders and almost the same output. The S3 boasts an extra four horsepower, which let’s face it, won’t make much of a difference in a race, while torque is actually identical. Both cars are equally fast to 62 mph with the automatic transmission. So it pretty much comes down to whether you can’t live without three pedals and a stick. If you want a manual hot-hatch, the Audi S3 is the way to go. There’s no other way to separate them in this department.

Final Thoughts

Mercedes-AMG A35 vs Audi S3 Exterior
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As I said earlier, it’s almost impossible to pick a winner based on performance alone. Unless you care about manual transmissions, of course. But while the AMG A35 and S3 are identical performance-wise, they’re very different in other departments. The AMG A35 looks decidedly more modern and sportier on the outside, and it boasts better technology and equipment on the inside. It also has more premium features, even if you don’t go for the optional goodies. You also get a bit more room in the A35. There’s not much room for debate here, mainly because the A35 is a brand-new car, while the current Audi S3 has been around for six years as of 2018.

Further reading

2019 Mercedes-AMG A35 Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Mercedes-AMG A35.

Mercedes-AMG A35 vs Audi S3 Wallpaper quality
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Read our full review on the 2018 Audi S3.

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