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The Benz is yet to come

The Benz is yet to come

Botchi Santos

A35 AMG 4Matic is proof that there’s a Merc for every market segment

All have been quiet at the Mercedes front, the brand having faced is fair share of difficulties over the past few years, as did everyone else. But the brand is striving hard to be relevant once again and provide cars which bear its namesake’s promise of ‘The Best Or Nothing.’

Perhaps the finest of the breed with sporting intent are its AMG models, a highly refined evolution of the basic Mercedes-Benz vehicle (if you can ever consider a Mercedes vehicle as ‘basic’). The AMG models have sport tuned suspension, powerful brakes, equally powerful engines, and functional aggressive body addenda to separate them from the usual Mercs we associate more with grand daddies driving in a stately and genteel manner. No, AMGs are serious sledgehammers of speed. The company traces its roots all the way back to 1967, 55 years ago when German car enthusiasts and former Mercedes engineers Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher established their speed shop and racing outfit in the town of Grosaspach, Aufrecht’s hometwown. That’s where the AMG acronym comes from (Aufrehct, Melcher and Grosaspach).

At one end of the AMG model range, we have today’s feature vehicle, the A35 AMG, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, the super rare and limited edition AMG GTR Black Series with a fire breathing 720hp, an orbit stopping 800 Newton-Meters of torque driving the rear wheels to over 300km/h. It reaches 100km/h from rest in a staggering 2.9 seconds and has lapped the famed Nurburgring Nordschleife (Northern Loop) in an unbelievable 6:43.616 seconds.

But that doesn’t mean the A35, the most affordable model in AMG’s line-up is a slouch. The A35 comes equipped with Mercedes-Benz AMG’s M260 2.0 later open-deck alloy block engine that pumps out a very respectable 301hp and 400 Newton-Meters of torque driving all four wheels via a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Drive is predominantly front-wheel but can shift as much as 50% more torque to the rear, depending on tire slip and steering angle. Merc reps said that AMG judged this set-up best for two things: a predominantly front-wheel drive layout will help save fuel by deactivating the propeller shaft which causes drag in steady-state highway cruise driving, and the majority of AMG customers who are entering the world of high-performance car ownership and driving will feel safer and more secure with a front-wheel driven biased car.

The exterior is aggressive: a huge front bumper feeds cooling air to the engine, while 19-inch alloy wheels shod with licorices-thin ultra high-performance Pirelli tires provide oodles of traction. A fixed rear wing provides downforce to match the canards up front, and massive multi-piston brakes clamp down on dinner-plate sized disc brakes to haul the Merc to a stop. Inside, the A35 comes with Mercedes’ new design interiors featuring a massive 10.25 inch dual LCD display in lieu of a traditional mechanical gauge cluster that shows engine vitals and other parameters, plus the latest MBUX infotainment system with voice command (just call out ‘Hey Mercedes’) and of course equipped with Apple CarPlay.

But for today’s short but admittedly manic, fast and furious test drive, audio was on silent, and our only audio was the raspy exhaust note from the engine as we tackled the short hillclimb route inside Tagaytay HIghlands, heading towards Tagaytay Midlands Mercedes-Benz PH had arranged for us. The challenging mountain road is akin to a special stage on a tarmac rally, or a togue, for you JDM / Initial D fanboys. Think really twisty, lots of undulation, blind crests and decreasing radius hairpins. Throw in some light mud, grass and running water from the constant rain and you get an idea of how tricky and somewhat dangerous the conditions were, yet Mercedes-Benz Philippines pretty much gave us lots of latitude to explore the limits of the A35 AMG.

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Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting a lot. Mercs are known for super-fast straight-line specialists, and AMG GTR Black Series aside, not very popular canyon carvers as a choice of enthusiasts. But the A35, with its regular hydraulic-mechanical sport-tuned suspension, immediately put us all at ease. The transmission was perfectly geared, and the 306hp / 400 Newton-Meters felt almost too powerful for today’s roads and driving conditions, but even with my modest driving skill, I was able to confidently push hard both going up, and going down the steep path. Not that I wanted to test them too, but the car’s safety features did give me some extra confidence should something untoward happen. ABS-EBD brakes with emergency brake assist, action / stability control, seven airbags, hill-start assist and more should be de-rigueur in any car of this price and performance potential.

As something to provide context too, Mercedes-Benz PH brought along an older CLS63 AMG and a late-model GLA 45 AMG 4Matic to help provide a comparison. In these conditions, the A35 was the best car indeed. The CLS felt like a typical long-distance cruise missile, while the GLA45 AMG felt a little too nervous with its adjustable air suspension. The A35 AMG felt very analog, progressive and approachable on the limit; the type of car you’re willing to push, tread on the edge, gently probing how much more faster you can go before you completely just lose it. The CLS required lots of skill and patience, while the GLA felt aloof to its driver.

Is the most affordable AMG model the sweetest one yet?