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Kia Sorento PHEV Road Trip: Car Camping On San Juan Island

I am finally taking a weekend camping trip in my Kia Sorento plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and that means not only will I be spending a couple nights sleeping in the back, I will also test fuel economy with a cargo box installed on the roof and about 850 pounds of people and stuff onboard. This is going to be epic!


First some background on the destination, conditions, and other details for those that may be curious about the particulars of my latest test of the Kia Sorento PHEV’s capabilities. We are headed out from the Seattle suburbs to San Juan Island in the Puget Sound for a weekend of camping and whale watching off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia (BC). The late summer weather is a skosh on the warm side, by Pacific Northwest standards, but really it's just about perfect with high temps in the mid-upper 70’s F and overnight lows in the mid to upper 50’s. The driving distance to our campsite is just over 100 miles (and includes an hour-long ferry ride). My wife and I are going to sleep in the back of our Sorento. I have purchased an amazing, 3-inch thick inflatable, memory foam embedded mattress exclusively for this purpose (it fits perfectly between the wheel wells with the middle and rearmost seats folded down). We stuff a couple blankets between the captains chairs to plug the gap between them and there is plenty of space for me, at 6’ 1” (185.4 cm), to lay flat on my back without pulling my legs up or laying on my side. My wife is only 5’ 4” so it’s practically palatial, for her. Our daughter and my sister-in-law are with us and will sleep outside, next to the Sorento, in a tent (it’s a spacious rig to spend the night in, but it’s not that big!).

If you’re unfamiliar with the San Juan Islands, they are a breathtakingly gorgeous collection of small islands between Canada’s enormous Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia and mainland Washington State. They epitomize the natural beauty and ruggedness of the Puget Sound region where the mountains and forests of the region meet the sea. It is a tranquil, slower paced haven roughly in the center of the three largest metropolitan areas in this part of the Pacific Northwest: Vancouver and Victoria, BC, along with Seattle, WA.

We set out in the early afternoon in 74 degree weather with sunny skies and mildly heavy traffic (for the Seattle area). Heading north on interstate 405, I am only occasionally able to drive at or slightly above the speed limit (60 mph) and can’t get over 50 mph for about ⅔ of the way to interstate 5, north of Seattle. I used up about 6% of the battery the first few miles of the trip (to make space for capturing charge from coasting or braking) and switch to Hybrid (HEV) mode after a few miles, later toggling manually between electric (EV) and HEV modes in sections where traffic slows below 45 mph. 51 miles into our trip, the speed limit increases to 70 mph and I am able to set the cruise control to stay at that speed (except for a few miles where the limit drops back to 60 mph), until we exit the interstate and head west on a 55 mph state highway for Anacortes, WA where we will catch the ferry to San Juan Island.

Kia Sorento PHEV with cargo box mounted on roof

A few miles before pulling into the long queue at the ferry terminal, after having used 36% of the battery for about 12 miles of the 92.5 mile drive up to this point, the display read 38.4 mpg. I forgot to record it after I switched back to EV mode for the last 5 miles of the drive through the city of Anacortes, which means my real combined mpg figure was a little higher. Also of note: in addition to the heavy load and worsened aerodynamics from the cargo box, I am running a “car fridge” off the 180W 12V outlet in the rear of the vehicle, charging multiple devices and running the AC too; this is absolutely the worst EV range I have gotten all summer long at an estimated 30 miles of range based on this outbound leg, so far. Assuming I don’t use up a big chunk of the hybrid battery running the car fridge at the campsite or recharging devices, I can better confirm the EV range in my follow up piece. I notice that there are some free 240V charging options on the island I may try to use to top off the battery while we enjoy a meal out and a beverage at a local brewery. Otherwise, the last 10.5 miles of our trip from the ferry docks to our campsite is done fully in HEV mode (including about 5 minutes of idling in line to get off the ferry), and we only get 29.7 mpg on the 25-45 mph two lane roads leading us there. The time spent idling certainly didn’t help our mpg.

Breaking up the segments of the trip with multiple stops fractures the overall picture of our fuel efficiency, but at the end of an unexpectedly long day (our ferry was delayed a few hours due to missing crew), our total, combined stats were about 38 mpg. In my book that is pretty good for 97 miles of highway driving with the weight we were carrying and the aerodynamic drag from the cargo box. I would certainly have gotten better efficiency otherwise, but I still beat the efficiency of the most fuel efficient HEV alternatives to our Sorento PHEV, namely the Toyota Highlander Hybrid or the Sorento (non plug-in) Hybrid.

Have you done any camping in the Sorento PHEV yet? Do you have questions or comments about this part of my test? Please leave any questions or comments below and come back soon for part 2 of my camping review.

Images courtesy of Justin Hart.

Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 14 years, including a first generation Nissan LEAF, second generation Chevy Volt, Tesla Model 3, an electric bicycle and most recently a Kia Sorento PHEV. He is also an avid SUP rider, poet, photographer and wine lover. He enjoys taking long EV and PHEV road trips to beautiful and serene places with the people he loves. Follow Justin on Twitter for daily KIA EV news coverage.