The stakes have just been raised in the hot hatchback segment as new rivals have entered the den to compete against the dominators. Of course, VAG has always ruled this segment with the Volkswagen Golf 7.5 R and Audi S3 Sportback but now the other two German manufacturers want a piece in the pie of fast compact hatches. Ever since the Mercedes-AMG A35 was revealed, many people thought it would become the new king but BMW also revealed their latest M135i xDrive which is directed at this segment according to its specs.

On this review, I will be comparing the following: Engine, Performance, Exterior, Interior and Price. This is a very important segment as most hot-hatch enthusiasts go for these types of cars.

Engine

I should mention that all manufacturers decided to use similar engine configurations and that means they will be closely matched with the power output. The BMW M135i utilizes a 2.0 liter twin-turbocharged 4-cylinder with 306 hp (225 kW) and 450 Nm of torque, the power is shifted on an 8-speed auto transmission which makes it the one with most gears amongst the four.

The A35 AMG has a 7-speed AMG Speedshift DCT assisting the 2.0 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder which produces the same power output as the M135i, 306 hp (225 kW) and 400 Nm of torque. But then the A35 AMG chows more petrol with fuel consumption of 7.3-7.2 L/100 km compared to the 7.1-6.8 fuel consumption of the M135i.

We all know that the Audi S3 and Golf 7.5 R are based on the same platform but don’t use the exact same engine even though they have the same power output. The Golf 7.5 R uses a 2.0-liter TSI 4-cylinder with a 7-speed DSG gearbox whilst the Audi S3 uses a 2.0-liter TFSI inline 4-cylinder with a 7-speed S-Tronic DCT, and both produce the same 310 hp (228 kW) and 400 Nm of torque. The Golf 7.5 R has a fuel consumption of just 6.9 L/100 km and the Audi S3 is 7.1-7.0 L/100 km, and not so surprising the Audi uses more petrol. So overall the BMW has more torque whilst the two VAG hot hatches produce more power than the other two Germans.

Performance

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The performance will be down to the power output, the drive system, and top speed. I am really surprised because these cars are so closely matched; however, the VAG group seems to be leading still. For the other two Germans, the M135i does 0-100 km/h in just 4.8 seconds which is slower than the A35’s 4.7 seconds. The VAG cars sprint to 100 km/h in just 4.6 seconds thanks to the 228 kW of power but that’s just a 0.2 and 0.1 seconds times off the M135i and A35 AMG.

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All cars have a limited top speed of 250 km/h because of government regulations. I am not going to talk about who is going to set the fastest lap around the track but BMW has always been that faster around the track than its competitors.

Mercedes-AMG has developed the 4Matic system to work seamlessly but sending most of the power to front wheels of the A35. BMW has also implemented the same setup with its updated xDrive system to improve grip and traction. The 4Motion in the Golf is alright but Audi’s Quattro system is well known for its dominance of perfecting a four-wheel-drive setup.

Exterior

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I just have to admit straight away that I am not fond of the M135i’s exterior design. I mean sure the back looks badass with twin exhaust pipes, sporty boot spoiler, and L-shaped lights but the front just looks terrible with that ridiculous larger grille. The Audi S3 looks a bit like a normal Audi A3 S-Line but at least the quad exhausts distinguish it from its normal counterpart.

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It’s the same story with the Golf, it doesn’t seem to be that different from a normal Golf. At least the GTi has unique distinctive features to be identified as a hot hatchback. The Golf R does have those unique parts like an aggressive front bumper, silver mirror caps, 19-inch Spielberg wheels, and quad exhaust pipes.

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The car that excels in design is the A35 AMG because it looks aggressive yet elegant. To make it more properly good looking, one must opt for the AMG Aerodynamic pack which adds on the famous AMG aero boot spoiler, black AMG rims, and a sportier front bumper. All these cars come as standard with LED Lights and my favourite lights are the Audi and Golf because they feature a swiping indicator light.

Interior

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I have to say, the interior of the A35 AMG is the best of them all. The layout is simple and luxurious, you get a dual-screen setup, you get nice turbine-style air vents, the latest MBUX infotainment system featuring the “Hey Mercedes” voice feature, and an AMG specific digital instrument cluster. The BMW M135i xDrive also managed to snatch a 10.25-inch infotainment screen together with a digital instrument cluster and BMW’s AI voice control system.

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Even though the Audi infotainment setup needs to be updated in the S3, it is still impressive with its Virtual Cockpit and an old-school swivel wheel to control the Audi MMI system. The Golf 7.5 R also has some features to keep up with the competitors featuring an Active Info display which is very much configurable and the Sport Human Machine Interface capable of learning your desired driving options. All cars come with a panoramic sunroof and leather upholstery for that added extra touch of poshness.

Price and Verdict

I’ll just cut to the chase, the Golf 7.5 R starts at R676 000 and the Audi S3 Sportback starts at R671 000. These two cars are closely matched with everything and one might wonder which one is better. The Audi may be considered for its build quality but concerning running costs, the Golf 7.5 R makes a lot of sense.

The A35 AMG and M135i are set to be launched in SA in the next coming months and already prices have been announced. The BMW M135i xDrive starts at R705 451.50 and the Mercedes-AMG A35 starts at R755 198. That’s R50 000 more than the M135i and around R75 000 more than the two VAG cars and you still going to add options to the A35 which might set you back close to R900 000.

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For now, it seems like the Audi is cheaper but remember that not many equipment comes as standard and you driving an S3 while an RS3 exists seems embarrassing. The BMW M135i is not a good looking car, to be honest, and the Mercedes-AMG A35 is a bit expensive which leaves the Golf 7.5 R as the chosen winner. You get a lot more for less, simple as that.