MONTREAL -- Mazda is banking on its 2011 Mazda2 being a key player in a subcompact surge over the next two years.
The automaker said it expects subcompact sales in the United States to double by 2012 to 1 million annually. The segment includes vehicles such as the Honda Fit, Kia Soul, Mini, Nissan Versa, Scion tC and Toyota Yaris. Mazda expects most of the sales to be fueled by Generation Y, which it defines as an estimated 73 million people between the ages of 16 and 32.
"We expect that for 25 percent of our buyers, this will be their first new-car purchase," said Robert Davis, senior vice president of product development and quality at Mazda North American Operations. A comfortable ride, good handling characteristics and a solid feel to the vehicle were priorities during development.
The new Mazda2 is a five-door hatchback, the smallest and lowest-priced vehicle the automaker will sell in the United States. Sales begin in August.
The Mazda2 and the 2011 Ford Fiesta share vehicle architectures and a handful of parts sets: front and rear wheel bearings, front bumper strut mounts and the front sway bar and links. But everything else is unique to each vehicle, including the engine and transmission, Mazda says.
This is the third-generation Mazda2. The two previous generations were not sold in North America. After the U.S. launch this summer, the redesigned Mazda2 will go on sale in Europe, Asia and Japan.
One noticeable difference between the Mazda2 and the Fiesta is in horsepower and torque. Mazda's standard 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine has 100 hp and 98 pounds-feet of torque. The Fiesta has a 120-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 112 pounds-feet of torque.
Chris Hill, vehicle line manager, said Mazda's focus during development was on the driver and front-seat passenger -- "maximizing their experience in a subcompact car" rather than adding weight by increasing the wheelbase to boost rear legroom, for example.