LOS ANGELES – Mazda is not expecting a significant volume increase in the U.S. with the release of its new fuel-efficient Skyactiv gasoline engine in the refreshed ’12 Mazda3, but says new body and engine configurations should help attract new buyers.

The ’12 Mazda3 offers three engines. The first two are carryovers – the 2.0L MZR and 2.5L inline 4-cyl. The third is the new Skyactiv 2.0L I-4, which achieves 28-40 mpg (8.4-5.8 L/100 km) city/highway in the sedan model equipped with the new Skyactiv 6-speed automatic.

David Matthew, vehicle-line manager, says the ’12 model lineup includes a hatchback with the Skyactiv 2.0L engine. Previously, the 5-door was available only with the 2.5L.

“There are buyers out there that needed the utility and styling of a hatch and said, ‘Wow, it would’ve been great if Mazda had a 2.0L for me, but I’ve got to seriously consider a (Honda) Fit or something else’ because they don’t,” he tells WardsAuto at a media event here.

“So there is opportunity there. We could have additional volume.”

The Mazda3 is the Hiroshima-based auto maker’s highest-volume model in the U.S., accounting for 40% of its business, with half of total sales in the Northeast and Western regions. Sales in the U.S. regularly hit 100,000 units annually, the auto maker says.

Matthew says Mazda decided to offer the three engines and two body styles in response to a growing number of options in the crowded C-car segment. Newer entries, such as the Ford Focus, offer a wide range of vehicle configurations in an attempt to appeal to a greater number of consumers.

“Some people use the C-segment as a move-through vehicle because of where they are in their life stage, and there are others who see a car that size as more of a destination, because it feels good and handles well and carries enough stuff,” he says.

The Skyactiv engine will help bolster Mazda’s positioning in fuel economy, the fastest-growing consumer demand in the C-segment, Matthew says.

“If you look at top purchase reasons in the C-segment, fuel economy has moved up. As fuel economy became more important, competitors came into the marketplace with vehicles that got 40-41 mpg (5.7 L/100 km). At the same time, gas prices are going up and the economy is suffering, so we figured the timing was right.”

The 2.5L has been retained because Mazda market research indicates some consumers in the segment want power and aren’t as concerned with fuel economy.

The 2.5L produces 167 hp and 168 lb.-ft. (227 Nm) of torque. It achieves 20/28 mpg (11.7-8.4 L/100 km) city/highway when equipped with a manual transmission and 22/29 mpg (10.1-8.1 L/100 km) with the 6-speed automatic.

In addition to a new powertrain, the ’12 Mazda3 receives a revised front fascia and updated 5-point grille opening. The front end was changed largely due to criticism of the outgoing model’s fascia, which some said resembled a smile.

“It’s no secret the front end was kind of polarizing, so one of the things we were working on for the refresh is to see if we could address that and make the front end more aggressive and still have sportiness,” Matthew says.

The car’s aerodynamic properties are enhanced by the addition of a larger, smoother engine cover, front-tire deflectors and clamshell silencer that sits on an angle with the road surface.

The result is a 0.27 coefficient of drag for the Skyactiv sedan, a 7% improvement over current models. The hatchback has a 0.29 Cd, also a 7% improvement.

Mazda changed the ’12 model’s center stack to a black-matte finish with silver-color trim. The auto maker says studies show a silver-on-black color scheme accentuates the location of common controls and switches, lessening the time it takes drivers to find them.

The ’12 Mazda3, due in dealerships by month’s end, starts at $15,200 for the base i SV trim level with a manual transmission, and tops out at $23,700 for the s Grand Touring with an automatic. Prices do not include a $795 destination and delivery charge.