Mercedes-Benz previews the striking appearance of the new entry-level sedan that will go on sale as part of the German automaker’s upcoming 8-model-strong fourth-generation compact car portfolio with the unveiling of the Concept A Sedan at the Shanghai auto show.

Set to reach the U.S. by early 2019, the production version of the new 4-door concept has been conceived to challenge the likes of the Audi A3 and next-generation BMW 1-Series sedans. The BMW currently is produced and sold exclusively in China, but company officials say the car likely will be offered globally when the third-generation model is launched in 2019.

Like its closest premium-brand rivals, the new Mercedes sedan is set to offer buyers a choice of 4-cyl. gasoline and diesel engines, including a close to 400-hp turbocharged 2.0L gasoline unit in a range-topping A45 4Matic sedan. That specific model is said to be closely previewed by the Concept A Sedan and likely is earmarked for the Mercedes-AMG lineup in 2019 as a direct competitor to the recently introduced Audi RS3 sedan.

Also planned is a plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid version of the new price-leading Mercedes sedan that insiders say will offer a pure electric range of up to 31 miles (50 km). Alongside standard front-wheel drive, the A-Class sedan also is being engineered to support a multi-plate clutch 4Matic all-wheel-drive system in combination with most engines in a move mirroring that of the A3 and 1-Series.

The new A-class sedan will be offered alongside successor models to the A-Class, B-Class, CLA, CLA Shooting Brake, GLA and a new BMW X1-rivalling CUV that is likely to take the name GLB into production. The eighth model in the new lineup remains under wraps, though Mercedes insiders suggest it may be a 2-door cabriolet version of the new CUV to counter the recently introduced Land Rover Evoque Cabriolet.

The planned introduction of the A-Class sedan comes in response to calls for a more practical alternative to the German automaker’s existing price-leading 4-door model, the CLA.

Key design elements include what Mercedes-Benz describes as the predator face – an aggressive front section dominated by a low-set, oval-shaped grille, large trapezoidal headlamps and a contoured hood. The striking new look will be shared across the new A-Class lineup as well as other new Mercedes models, including the successor to today’s second-generation CLS due later this year.

The styling reveals a conscious shift away from the heavily sculptured treatment of existing Mercedes models toward a smoother appearance with fewer crease lines in a traditional 3-box silhouette with short overhangs, which aims to match the practicality offered by the A3 sedan and 1-Series sedans.

The new styling, described by Mercedes design boss Gorden Wagener as a development of current “Sensual Purity” lineage first adopted by the C-Class in 2014, aims to provide future Mercedes models with a more timeless aesthetic.

“Our Concept A Sedan shows that the time of creases is over,” he says. “Form and body are what remain when creases and lines are reduced to the extreme. It has the potential to introduce a new design era.”

As well as closely hinting at the design of the new A-Class sedan, the Concept A Sedan also reveals the so-called Panamericana grille treatment, with its vertical slats, as well as the aggressively styled front bumper to be adopted by AMG versions of the new model.

Mercedes officials had indicated the A-Class sedan would be assembled in a joint venture operation with Nissan’s upmarket brand Infiniti at a plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico. However, those plans are now under review.

“There have been question marks about our efforts for a joint compact platform (with Infiniti),” Mercedes-Benz CEO Dieter Zetsche said in early February. “We’re in the process of looking at whether we’ll use a shared platform or components or not in the end.”

Despite the review over its joint-venture plans, Mercedes confirms it will begin assembly of its GLA crossover at the Aguascalientes plant in 2018.