At the 2010 New York Auto Show today, Mazda announced that its 2011 Mazda2 subcompact would carry a low starting price of $13,980 when it arrives at dealers.

Not only that, but the first cars will show up in showrooms in late July, several months earlier than originally planned.

2011 Mazda Mazda2 at the 2010 New York Auto Show

2011 Mazda Mazda2 at the 2010 New York Auto Show

2011 Mazda Mazda2 at the 2010 New York Auto Show

2011 Mazda Mazda2 at the 2010 New York Auto Show

Like the Fiesta but different

Mazda USA CEO Jim O'Sullivan said the July date responds to "consumer enthusiasm and anticipation that has only grown" since the Mazda2 launched last December at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show.

The 2011 Mazda Mazda2 is the smallest car the company sells in the U.S. It shares much of its understructure with the 2011 Ford Fiesta, which will also arrive this summer at a starting price of $13,995.

Just two models

Mazda has deliberately kept its options and pricing simpler than Ford's elaborate array of choices. There are just two Mazda2 models--Sport, and for $1,455 more, Touring--in only six colors.

The base model includes air conditioning; power windows, mirrors, and locks; remote keyless entry; a four-speaker single-CD stereo system with MP3 input; tilt steering wheel; 60/40-split folding rear seat; and rear-window washer and wiper. Wheels are 15-inch steel with wheel covers.

The Touring model includes 15-inch alloy wheels, red piping on upgraded cloth upholstery, fog lights, roof spoiler, chrome exhaust tip, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, a trip computer, and a six-speaker stereo system.

Less pricey entree

Mazda thinks that the Mazda2 offers a new and less-expensive entree to the brand, for buyers who may have incomes lower than those who choose its Mazda3 compact, said Chris Hill, vehicle line manager for the Mazda2, at a dinner this evening.

The larger Mazda3 starts at $15,045 for the four-door sedan model, and $20,290 for the five-door hatchback.

Too slimmed down?

But Hill also acknowledged that he worries "slightly" that perhaps the Mazda2's slimmed-down array of options could be a little too Spartan. It's relatively easy for the factory to add additional features if demand proves to warrant it, he noted.

The 2011 Mazda Mazda2 uses a 100-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic transmission.

High mileage

While the EPA hasn't rated 2011 cars for gas mileage yet, Mazda expects it to come in at 28 mpg city, 35 mpg highway with the five-speed manual, and 1 mpg less on highway mileage with the automatic.

Competitors for the Mazda2 in the entry-level subcompact market include the well-reviewed 2010 Honda Fit, the 2010 Toyota Yaris, the 2010 Nissan Versa--which offers a bare-bones model for $9,995--and the aging 2010 Chevrolet Aveo.