TOKYO -- Not long ago, the term "subcompact car" was all but synonymous with "Japanese import." Not now.
Only one Japanese nameplate, the Nissan Versa, ranks in the segment's top 5 in U.S. sales this year. U.S.-brand entries such as the Chevrolet Sonic and Ford Fiesta have taken over.
Mazda Motor Corp. hopes a redesign of the Mazda2 hatchback will lift it from near the bottom of the subcompact pack. The car, due in the U.S. next year, has Mazda's Skyactiv drivetrain, body and chassis technologies.
Chief Engineer Ayumu Doi said the improved drivetrain, sportier styling and more premium interior will set the Mazda2, known in Japan as the Demio, apart. "We are aiming for 'upscale' worldwide," Doi said at the Tokyo unveiling. "Not in terms of higher price but in quality feel."
A high-compression, fuel-injected Skyactiv engine will replace a multiport one. The Mazda2 also will graduate to a six-speed automatic transmission from a four-speed. The car gets Mazda Connect, the brand's smartphone connectivity system, a precrash auto-braking feature and, in Japan at least, head-up display.
Globally, Mazda is targeting sales of 200,000 units a year, close to 2011's record 212,144. Mazda will manufacture cars for the U.S. and Europe at its new plant in Mexico.
The Mazda2 ranks 11th in the crowded U.S. subcompact segment, despite a 55 percent surge in sales to 11,112 vehicles through August, as dealers cleared the outgoing model.