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Kia Sorento Plug-In Hybrid Efficiency Test: Sport Mode On 60 Mile Road Trip

Yesterday, I revisited a roughly 60 mile road trip I took earlier this year to test a certain principle I am unsure about. Specifically, I repeated a drive to a neighboring city but this time used Sport Mode for about 10 of those miles to see if I might get better combined fuel efficiency by doing so. The result was less conclusive than I expected.

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Back in April, I wrote a piece about the first leg of a long family road trip. Repeating this same route yesterday from the Seattle suburbs to the Olympia, WA area I was able to complete the approximately 60 mile leg of the trip and get 56.1 MPG combined, compared to 62.1 MPG the original test in similar weather but with a little extra weight this time around. The fact that I also have studless snow tires mounted this time through the test certainly accounts for slightly lower scores. Also, the additional weight I am hauling (about an extra 150 - 200 pounds) probably reduces my overall fuel efficiency by a small amount. I am guessing 1 MPG or less for the additional weight, and from my previous test I am estimating that the snow tires reduce efficiency by another 4 MPG combined or so in this test. That only leaves about 1 MPG difference between these tests that were in similar temperatures, traffic, and other conditions. That is within a margin of error.

Technically, I was able to get better mileage by not using Sport Mode, but with these parameters it was a very minor difference, at best. Therefore, I believe what is needed is a truly long distance test of 100 miles or more, using the Sport Mode to recharge the battery for around ⅓ of the distance (which should come close to recharging the battery to its fullest capacity). I’ll come up with such a test on my next trip of that distance as my final investigation of the Sport Mode setting and do another write up. And in case this helps explain why I am focusing on the Sport Mode and its effect on efficiency, after I continued on my drive from Olympia toward Oregon’s Willamette Valley, I tried driving in Sport Mode for another 10 miles on the freeway at a steady state speed of 73 MPH. During this stretch, I saw my fuel efficiency go down by .7 MPG. Almost immediately after switching back to the Eco/HEV mode, I saw my fuel economy begin creeping back up (eventually to about 3 MPG better than I was getting on the freeway while in Sport Mode). So I might assume that over time, predominantly using Sport Mode, would result in fuel efficiency of at least a few MPG less than I would otherwise get in Eco Mode.

If you are asking yourself, “why does this guy even care about testing this?” it is because I am both innately curious about the functionality of my vehicle and because if it turns out to be true that the use of Sport Mode, at least in some circumstances and conditions, can get one the same or possibly even better fuel economy, this seems like a valuable point of clarification. People will drive however they like to drive in terms of the mechanical process. Of course the harder one pushes their vehicle the more energy it is going to consume, and nothing is really going to change that. But if, for example, I prefer to have the more responsive character of Sport Mode as my usual drive setting, because driving should be fun, but I also don’t want to sacrifice much, or any, efficiency, I think it is important to know what the real impacts are and where the limits of performance and efficiency intersect. Before you say “he’s just trying to have his cake and eat it too”, let me say that one, if that were possible, who wouldn’t?! And two, if this “research” that I am doing is in any way helpful for people to find both greater satisfaction in their use of the Kia Sorento PHEV (or the closely related Sportage PHEV and Niro PHEV) and better efficiency, then how is that not a win?

Stay tuned for my next piece, which will look at gas only hybrid mode touring in the Sorento PHEV on a long and winding meander through the back roads and rural settings of Oregon’s pinot country. Please leave any questions, comments or requests below.

Vineyard with yellowing vines in October fog

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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