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Kia Sorento PHEV Road Trip: San Juan Island Camping Continued

I’ve spent the last two days camping in my Kia Sorento plug-in hybrid (PHEV) on San Juan Island, WA. I have to say that my Sorento PHEV is an excellent camping vehicle and Friday Harbor is one of the most charming seaside towns I’ve ever seen.

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I’ve learned a few things about my Kia Sorento PHEV on this trip. Some of it I could have probably gleaned from the manual, like how to turn off the auto shutdown feature which only stays off until you manually shut down the car, resetting to either 30 or 60 minutes when you turn it back on depending on which you most recently used. Switching off the auto shutdown feature is useful if you want to tap the hybrid battery to power things like my portable fridge that I run off the 12V outlet in the rear of the vehicle and to recharge phones, camera batteries, flashlights, etc. when you are not otherwise driving the vehicle. I’ve also learned: The Sorento is comfortable to sleep in with the right equipment and set up; the cruise control does not always stop fast enough in a “panic” stop scenario (or rather it isn’t as proactive as it should be, waiting a little too long and then not braking hard enough); the auto high beams work extremely well and react to an oncoming car coming around a corner almost instantaneously; and the driver/seat memory button doesn’t seem to remember the side view mirror settings (or at least mine doesn’t).

Friday Harbor, WA

I also learned some interesting things about the history and beauty of the San Juan Islands. For one, we almost went to war with Great Britain, for a third time in less than a hundred years, in 1859, over a pig! Talk about pointless, but I digress. If you are ever planning to visit the Pacific Northwest, and you’re a fan of scenic, even breathtaking, natural landscapes, you owe it to yourself to hop on a ferry to one of the San Juans and spend a day or six exploring these unique islands that were almost part of Canada, instead. Thanks, Emperor Wilhelm I for settling that one! Though part of me secretly wishes we were part of Canada (think of all the poutine and ketchup chips!).

While staying on the island, I was able to make use of free 240V charging in the parking lot of a bank. I recharged on two different occasions while exploring the lovely town of Friday Harbor. The first time, I charged to 95% from 54%, adding approximately 17 miles of range, and the second time I charged to 65% from 47%, adding approximately 8 miles of range. About ⅔ of the driving I did on the island (approximately 49 miles) was in electric (EV) mode, and had I known I could have recharged so easily and only needed about 3 - 4 miles of range for all the time I ran my fridge and charged devices over the weekend, I would have been able to cover 100% of the distance I drove on the island in EV mode. Note taken!

Some final notes on efficiency and the experience of car camping in the Kia Sorento PHEV: while car camping is a highly subjective thing (some may hate it, others love it), I find it a very comfortable, relaxing thing to do with a 10 year old daughter in particular, my mini me that would much rather have the comforts of home and all her particular foods and accoutrement. What makes it so comfortable is not the Sorento part itself (because the gas or hybrid versions would have just as much space and capability to haul our stuff), but its plug-in hybrid capability. If I save enough of the battery, I can run my portable fridge for days, or even weeks, and recharge whatever small devices I may need to. I could do the same with a portable solar panel and battery - and I actually do that too - but the point is I don’t have to. I have the option to keep my food and beverages cold for as long as I want, adding this simple but important comfort and convenience is a brilliant feature one may utilize in the PHEV Sorento without using any gas (do remember to leave the car on though, not in Accessory mode but all the way on, when tapping the hybrid battery for running/charging devices while parked). Also, while I drove us from our campsite and onto the ferry home, 100% on battery, my wife (with her need for speed) drove the longest leg of the trip home, about 90 miles and 82% in HEV mode. Her fuel efficiency for that distance was an impressive 39.6 MPG (better than my outbound drive). Take that Mr. Efficiency!

Please leave any questions or comments below, and if you’re in Canada and a fan of my articles, please send ketchup chips. My daughter is about to divorce her loving parents if she doesn’t get some, soon!

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.

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JustinHart (not verified)    September 14, 2022 - 3:13AM

In reply to by John Goreham

Thanks John! I do truly appreciate having that large battery (compared to a regular HEV) for camping. It is capable of supplying plenty of electricity for basic camping needs or uses like I describe in the article. I am sure a full EV could provide the same, however one would need to be extra certain that they have all the charge they need to get back out of the wilderness, too (which may only be an issue in the most remote of places/most distant from reliable charging resources). Cheers!

Greg (not verified)    March 15, 2023 - 4:51PM


When you were sleeping in the car, did you use the HVAC? To me, that is the main benefit of car camping. If you left the car ON while sleeping, the HVAC should have been available to use(I assume).


Greg in Cincy

Justin Hart    March 17, 2023 - 5:29PM

In reply to by Greg (not verified)

Hi Greg! I did try that out (cooled off the interior for a bit before we crawled into bed). Note, if you want to do this in the Kia for more than 30 mins, you have to go into the car’s settings and change the auto-off feature. By default in the US it will turn off after 30 mins (which is fine if all you want to do is “pre condition” your sleeping chamber). You can set it to 60 mins, or disable the feature entirely if you want to keep the car on. Note, my suggestion, if you are using the HVAC for heat though, would be simply to heat up the interior for a bit, then turn the car off (because the engine will run more or less continuously otherwise as the Kia uses it to produce heat). If you are only using it to cool off the vehicle, then an 30 - 60 minutes may be adequate to cool the vehicle down at night while you fall asleep. Running the AC all night long would probably consume most of a full charge otherwise, depending on whether you had it at maximum cooling. Once the battery is depleted, the car would start the gas engine for a bit to recharge the hybrid battery a little, and then shut off for a time until that charge is used up. Cheers!

Greg (not verified)    June 14, 2023 - 8:00AM

Justin, Could you explain exactly how you disabled the Auto-Shutdown? I only found one mention of it in the manual and no instructions on how to disable and I also scoured the menu in the vehicle and could not find it there either. Thanks!

Justin Hart    June 17, 2023 - 11:38AM

In reply to by Greg (not verified)

OK Greg, here’s how to disable the Australian-Shutdown. First, go the Home menu in your infotainment display (press the little house shaped icon in the upper left corner of the screen when you are in an app, like the radio for example). From Home, select Settings (the cog wheel, which may be in the lower right of the screen after pressing Home). From Settings, then select Convenience. Scroll to the bottom of that section and you should see Auto shift-off. You can choose 30 mins, 60 mins or to disable it from there. I may not have remembered the labels exactly correct, but it should be obvious/very close to what I described, I assume. Good luck and I’ll include screenshots and instructions in the article I am working on now.