Volkswagen Golf R 2019 review: Special Edition
Just how special is the Volkswagen Golf R Special Edition? We threw it into the deep end of a very wet racetrack to find out.
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In 2010 AMG made a huge statement with the 6.2-litre V8 powered, gullwing-doored SLS. A properly exotic GT, it was built from the ground up by the boffins in Affalterbach, and cost around half a million Australian dollars.
Since then, Mercedes-AMG has exploded in popularity, and the brand has gradually been woven into the fabric of the broader Merc range. To the point where, from the lofty heights of the SLS, this new entry model – the A 35 4Matic – gains you entry to the once ultra-exclusive AMG club for just over $67,000, before on-road costs.
So, the ‘Compact AMG’ range is now a thing, with the arrival of this car, and a new second-gen version of the full-fat A 45 S due in early 2020. We were invited to the A 35’s local launch in North-East Tasmania.
|Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2020: A35 4Matic|
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
To put it in context, the relationship between the A 35 and A 45 S is a bit like a VW Golf GTI relative to the Golf R, an Audi S3 to an RS3, or closer to home, a Merc-AMG C 43 and the barking mad C 63 S.
It’s for those who want a spicy Jalapeno hot hatch without the drama and fiery swagger of a Habanero-style experience. And the car’s looks reflect that sporty (but not outrageous) performance positioning.
Always a subjective call, but I reckon the standard A-Class’s restrained, simple exterior design is super cool, and to pick the A 35 car spotters should of course look out for the tell-tale badge on the hatch door, the AMG-specific twin-louvre grille, additional vanes in the front vents, AMG Line front apron and side sills, and racy 19-inch alloy rims. Plus, around the back, a spoiler lip at the rear of the roof, and a deep diffuser with fat 90mm tailpipes either side.
The interior is familiar A-Class territory with the customisable MBUX media and data delivered via a pair of sleek 10.25-inch widescreens.
There are three AMG display styles for the instrument cluster: "Classic", "Sport" and "Supersport". The latter with a central, round rev counter and additional information presented in bars to the left and right. And a heap of AMG-specific read-outs including engine data and a G-force meter are available.
The signature turbine-style vents are present and accounted for, and sports seats in two-tone leather are standard.
Worth pointing out our launch review car was fitted with the optional ‘AMG High Performance Seat Package’ ($3290) and ‘AMG Aerodynamics Package’ ($2490) , the former featuring heavily sculpted single-piece backrests and cushions in the front, and the latter adding canards (also referred to as ‘flics’) on the outer edge of the front bumper, and a pronounced spoiler standing proud from the top of the rear hatch door.
At a little over 4.4m long, a fraction under 1.8m wide, and just over 1.4m tall the A 35’s footprint is in line with compact hot hatch competitors like the Audi S3 Sportback, and Volkswagen Golf R.
Storage up front runs to two cupholders in the centre console, a lidded bin/armrest between the seats (including twin USB ports), decent door pockets with room for bottles and a medium-size glove box. There’s also a wireless charging pad in the front of the centre console (for compatible devices).
Switch to the rear and sitting behind the driver's seat set to my (183cm) position, I enjoyed adequate knee and foot room, although headroom isn't as generous.
A centre fold-down armrest incorporates two cupholders, again there are generous pockets in the doors with room for bottles, and adjustable ventilation outlets are set into the back of the front centre console is a welcome inclusion. No map pockets on the (optional) extra racy sports front seats, though.
There are three belted positions across the rear, but the adults using them for anything other than short journeys will have to be good friends and flexible. Best for two grown-ups, and three kids will be fine.
Boot volume is a reasonable 370 litres (VDA), expanding to 1210 litres with the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat down. There are tie-down hooks, a storage net, a 12-volt outlet and elasticised storage pockets either side of the load space to further enhance useability.
But beware, the Merc-AMG A 35 is a no-tow zone, and don’t bother looking for a spare of any description, a repair/inflator kit is your only option.
A price tag nudging up towards $70K (okay, $67,200) before on-road costs is no small chunk of change for a hot hatch and puts the A 35 in the same bracket as the Audi S3 Sportback ($64,200) and BMW M140i Finale Edition ($62,990).
Yes, the BMW finished its local market run in June, 2019, but you never know what’s lurking in dealer stock. It also makes the slightly less powerful, but still cracking Volkswagen Golf R look like a steal at $54,990.
For that money you’d expect a generous basket of standard fruit, and the A 35’s equipment list includes, 19-inch AMG alloy rims, sports seats trimmed in ‘Lugano’ leather, the AMG-specific body kit, ‘AMG Night Package’ (black front splitter and side sill panels, tinted windows from the B-pillar, and tailpipe trim in black chrome), heated and electrically adjustable front seats (with memory), dual-zone climate control air, ‘AMG Ride Control’ sports suspension, ‘Energising Comfort Control’ (tweaks interior lighting, climate control, music, and seating), keyless entry and start, leather-trimmed multi-function sports steering wheel, reversing camera (with dynamic guidelines), rain-sensing wipers, 225-watt nine-speaker stereo (with digital radio plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity), plus twin 10.25-inch media and instrument screens running the MBUX system including sat nav, audio, heating and ventilation, and more.
There’s also the ‘Mercedes me connect' voice control system, cruise control, auto LED headlights (with 'Adaptive high-beam Assist'), LED DRLs and tail-lights, tinted glass, ambient lighting (choice of 64 colours), one-touch control on all four of the electric windows (which is a nice, err… touch), and a panoramic glass sunroof.
Yep, that’s a pretty comprehensive package, and we haven’t mentioned the included safety and performance tech covered in later sections.
For the first 18 months (and an extra $6990) early adopters can snap up an AMG Edition 1 version of the A 35 4MATIC featuring, ‘Tech Gold’ highlights over ‘Denim Blue’ metallic paint, black/’Magma Grey’ Artico (faux leather)/Dinamica (faux suede) upholstery with polished aluminium trim elements. Plus AMG Performance seats, the AMG aero pack and ‘Livorno’ AMG 19-inch alloys.
The A 35 is powered by an AMG tuned version of Merc’s M260 2.0-litre four-cylinder, single-turbo-petrol engine.
Unlike its even more potent A 45 S sibling (powered by the M139 2.0-litre turbo four), the A 35 misses out on the brand’s "One man, one engine" assembly process, which is reserved for AMG’s highest performance engines.
But it’s a new design all-alloy unit, featuring direct-injection, ‘Camtronic’ variable valve control (on the intake side) and a single twin-scroll turbo, with drive going to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission (complete with wheel-mounted shift paddles).
Outputs are 225kW at 5800rpm and 400Nm from 3000-4000rpm, which is plenty, and not a million miles away from the first-gen A 45 (280kW/475Nm).
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 7.6L/100km, the A 35 emitting 172g/km of CO2 in the process.
But on our 200-plus km launch drive over mostly rural B-roads the on-board computer threw up an average figure of 8.9L/100km.
Stop-start is standard, minimum fuel requirement is 98 RON premium unleaded and you’ll need 51 litres of it to fill the tank.
So, Mercedes-AMG claims a rapid 4.7sec for the sprint from 0-100km/h time, facilitated in no small part by the standard ‘Race Start’ launch control system, and there’s no doubt the A 35 feels sharp, and eager.
A nice, round 400Nm is plenty of torque in a car this size, with all of it available between three and four thousand rpm. And it’s delivered with minimal hesitation because the twin-scroll turbo is divided into two ducts, connecting with pairs of pipes in the exhaust manifold, the ignition sequence determining how the exhaust pulses into the turbo.
The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission features an AMG calibration and it’s quick, especially in Sport and Sport+ or even better when shifting manually.
Merc’s ‘Dynamic Select’ is standard, adjusting the engine, transmission, exhaust and suspension across five modes (Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual).
We settled on an Individual setting that dialled the engine, transmission, and exhaust up to maximum attack while leaving the suspension in comfort mode. An ideal combination for the twisting open B-roads covered on the launch drive program in and around Launceston.
Suspension is strut front/four-link rear with adaptive dampers, and even in Comfort the ride is firm. Not harsh, but definitely firm, which is kind of what you’re signing on for with a car like this.
In the sportier modes the exhaust sounds great (an automatically controlled flap in the system shifts from ‘balanced’ to ‘powerful’ depending on throttle position and engine load) with a rorty growl building as revs rise, and pops and bangs on the way back down through the ratios dialling up the fun factor.
Also worth noting the car normally starts in a neighbour-friendly quiet mode, but when you’re in the mood ‘Motive Start’ means holding down one of the shift paddles before you hit the button delivers an impressive snarl as the engine fires into life.
Default drive ratio is 100 per cent to the front, variable up to 50/50 front to rear (via an electro-mechanically multi-disc clutch in the rear axle), and extra bracing in the front end and an aluminium shear plate under the engine help tighten up torsional rigidity.
Torque distribution is determined by a combination of road speed, lateral and longitudinal loads, and steering angle, as well as the difference in rotational speed between individual wheels, the gear selected and throttle position.
On top of that 'AMG Dynamics' uses the ESP and torque vectoring (by braking) to vary the level of stability and slip between 'Basic' (Slippery and Comfort) and 'Advanced’ (Sport and Sport+) modes.
A small, colour LCD controller on the steering wheel allows easy switching between Dynamic Select and AMG Dynamics set-ups.
The car feels planted and composed as you start to push the pace through twisting sections with body control well buttoned down, snappy throttle response, and loads of grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber (235/55 ZR19).
The variable ratio electrically-assisted steering points accurately, but despite fitment of AMG-specific front steering knuckles it’s not exactly the last word in road feel. Not bad, but could be better. And the brakes are well up to it, with vented and perforated rotors all around (350mm fr / 330mm rr), and four-piston monobloc calipers at the front.
The grippy sports seats (optional AMG Performance units in this case) feel as good as they look, and the leather trimmed sports steering wheel is just right.
5 years / unlimited km warranty
The A 35 is loaded with active safety tech, including the usual suspects like ABS, BA, EBD, plus stability (three-stage) and traction controls.
Then there’s a reversing camera (with dynamic guidelines), 'Active Brake Assist' (Merc-speak for AEB), Adaptive Brake', 'Attention Assist', 'Blind Spot Assist', 'Cross-wind Assist', 'Lane Keep Assist', a tyre pressure warning system, 'Traffic Sign Assist' and 'Adaptive High beam Assist'.
If all that fails to prevent an impact you'll be protected by nine airbags (front, pelvis and window for driver and front passenger, side airbags for rear seat occupants and a driver's knee bag), the ‘Pre-Safe’ accident anticipatory system, and the 'Active Bonnet' automatically tilts to minimise pedestrian injuries.
A first-aid kit and hi-vis vests in the boot are also thoughtful additions.
The A-Class was awarded a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2018, and for smaller occupants there are three child restraint/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX on the two outer positions.
The Mercedes-AMG range is covered by a three year/unlimited km warranty, which, like Audi and BMW lags behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz Road Care assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled at 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an 'Up-front' or 'Pay-as-you-go' basis.
At the time of publication indicative costs for the A 35 hadn’t been published, but for guidance pre-payment for the first-gen A 45 delivers a $500 saving, with the first three services set at a total of $2950, compared to $3650 PAYG. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase.
Just when you think there aren’t any more niches to fill in the Mercedes performance range, along comes the A 35 4Matic. It hits a daily driver sweet spot between the mainstream A-Class range and the ferocious A 45 S.
It’s not perfect… you’ll be signing on for a firm ride, the back seat could be roomier, the luggage space more generous, and the price tag is still substantial. But it is a beautifully executed hot hatch that’s brilliant fun to drive. Niche neatly filled.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
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