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Can Mazda’s Skyactiv-Hybrid be as Zoom-Zoom-y as its standard Skyactiv cars?

2014 Mazda3 sedan

Can a Mazda hybrid avoid the unpleasant driving dynamics that so many other hybrids have suffered?

Mazda has been touting the efficiency of conventional internal-combustion engines with its Skyactiv powertrains, but now the Japanese carmaker appears to be hedging its bets.

Mazda says it will unveil hybrid and compressed natural gas (CNG) versions of the 2014 Mazda3 compact at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show.

The Skyactiv-Hybrid will pair Mazda’s 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G four-cylinder engine with an electric motor, and that’s all Mazda is telling us for now. The hybrid will go into production soon, but may not be sold in the United States.

The Skyactiv-CNG concept will have a bi-fuel system that allows it to switch between natural gas and gasoline. This is similar to the systems used on the 2015 Chevrolet Impala and numerous pickup trucks.

Using a bi-fuel setup gives drivers more flexibility. CNG isn’t as efficient to store as gasoline; it requires large tanks that eat up trunk space and typically can’t provide comparable range to gasoline. Allowing drivers to switch from one fuel to another eliminates range anxiety.

The Skyactiv-CNG is purely a concept; Mazda has no plans to put it into production. Nonetheless, these cars are an interesting wrinkle in the context of Mazda’s current product strategy.

Mazda has aggressively marketed its Skyactiv suite of technologies as a green alternative to hybrids, saying they yield comparable fuel economy and more driving fun.

Skyactiv encompasses redesigned body shells, more efficient engines and transmissions, and standalone tech like the i-ELoop regenerative braking system.

So far, the strategy has worked: Mazda’s recent models have been praised for their handling; the 2014 Mazda6 midsize sedan can get up to 40 mpg highway.

Everyone needs a Plan B, though. We’ll find out what Mazda has planned for the Skyactiv-Hybrid and Skyactiv-CNG concept when the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show opens.