BMW M135i vs Mercedes-AMG A35: which is the better bet?

These hot hatchbacks' credentials are similar on paper — but the two are actually quite different

29 March 2020 - 00:00
By , brenwin naidu AND Brenwin Naidu
The A35 AMG and latest BMW M135i are like day and night.
Image: Waldo Swiegers The A35 AMG and latest BMW M135i are like day and night.

The BMW M135i and Mercedes-AMG A35 are (obviously) not entry-level representatives of their respective lines. But nor are they the most potent options you can have.

In the case of the former, that top spot will be occupied by the M140i - yet to be confirmed but pretty much guaranteed if the Nürburgring spy shots are anything to go by. And in the house of the three-pointed star there is a new A45, which you can inquire about at dealerships after the current lockdown expires.

The Mercedes-AMG A35 is full of charisma and pizzazz.
Image: Waldo Swiegers The Mercedes-AMG A35 is full of charisma and pizzazz.

So, what can be expected from this duo of premium middle-management hot hatchbacks? Given that the A-Class is the oldest nameplate of the two, it can have the courtesy of taking the spotlight first. Birthed in 1997, this fourth-generation car is entirely far removed from the old pram-shaped original.

Power comes from a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a two-litre displacement, good for 225kW and 400Nm. The manufacturer claims a sprint time of 4.7 seconds and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is the default transmission choice. It tips the scales at 1,555kg and has all-wheel drive. It costs R753,000.

The interior of the A35 AMG.
Image: Waldo Swiegers The interior of the A35 AMG.

Its character errs on the rambunctious side, much like the Sun Yellow shade the tester wears. The suspension is firm, bordering on unforgiving in some instances. Road noise can be fatiguing. Not a particularly soothing steer this A35. But one could argue that the roughness around the edges befits the nature of an uncompromising hot hatchback in the traditional sense.

It feels suitably quick, with an assertive, ballsy voice. Remember, the same motor in a detuned state features in its lesser siblings - and in those applications it sounds like a sewing machine. Not so here.

The poised and reserved BMW M135i.
Image: Waldo Swiegers The poised and reserved BMW M135i.

When the M135i moniker adorned the F20-generation 1-Series, the recipe was totally different. It had a six-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive. This has neither of those characteristics.

By now you know that the latest, F40 designation model adopted the front-driving architecture that BMW first used in the 2-Series Active Tourer. This version, however, sees its power sent to all corners, as denoted by the xDrive moniker you will spot on the tailgate.

Like its rival from Stuttgart, it has a turbocharged, two-litre, four-cylinder engine producing 225kW, although it has 50 more Newton-metres of torque.

Still, its on-paper acceleration time is 0.1 of a second slower, though it weighs a smidgen less at 1,525kg. And it employs an eight-speed, torque-converter automatic. It costs R705,000.

It simply must be stated that the change of tack in this overall constitution of the BMW 1-Series has resulted in a character that is decidedly dour in comparison to the predecessor. That said, it rates higher in the aspects of interior spatial packaging, refinement and comfort.

The cabin of the latest M135i.
Image: Waldo Swiegers The cabin of the latest M135i.

But the spirit and essence that made its forebear such a unique proposition in the segment has been well and truly neutered.

If you were to ask me to write a summary to help make a choice as to which gets that promotion to the vacancy in your garage, how would it read? Well, the BMW M135i brings a reserved, poised character that makes it easy to live with. It is the sensible one, the payroll administrator. The Mercedes-AMG A35, especially in this guise, is full of charisma and pizzazz, though not without quirks. It is the slightly obnoxious creative director that wears sneakers with suits.