One of the more welcome surprises at this week's Shanghai show was the radically different direction Mercedes seems to be intent on taking the humble A-Class.

The manufacturer revealed its new Concept A in China - a sculpted, flowing design which is hotly tipped to form the basis of the forthcoming production version.

An A-Class built along such distinctive lines would finally offer Mercedes a genuine competitor to the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series.

While some of the more extravagant show model touches will inevitably disappear, the sporty profile and an all-new platform will distinguish the new A-Class from its more modest predecessor.



The Concept A's interior is also predictably flamboyant - with dials and air vents inspired by a fighter jet's afterburner - but the retail model is expected to receive the high-grade switchgear currently seen in the C-Class.

The Shanghai version comes with a 204bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine which will form the core of the engine choices (albeit in lower-powered spec) but Mercedes' compact saloon will also share its four-cylinder engines with the A-Class.

Expect an AMG version to arrive later with a 300+bhp output to compete with the RS3 and 1-Series M Coupe.