The reason PHEV drivers don’t like the idea of burning gasoline for heat is that it feels wasteful. In the grand scheme of things, it probably is considering how much energy goes into producing the gasoline used for cabin heat in PHEVs like the Kia Sorento PHEV. The alternative (an electric resistance heater or heat pump) would be more energy intensive in the near term though considering the energy and resources, and likely additional battery capacity, used to manufacture the components solely responsible for providing electric heat are greater compared to the gasoline engine in a PHEV that is both for propelling the vehicle and for providing heat. But as long as your cold weather drives are more or less within the range of the battery in your PHEV (30-40 miles depending on how you drive and conditions for the Sorento PHEV), using the heat in your PHEV shouldn’t degrade your fuel efficiency nearly as much as when you are driving in Hybrid mode and using gas for propulsion. In my PHEV, I get anywhere between 50 mpg and often well over 150+ mpg (on the car’s display) when I am using gas strictly for heat, depending on how far I’m driving, and how cold it is. Of course as soon as I travel much further than about 40 miles, this changes and my fuel economy steadily drops until, after sufficient distance, it settles somewhere between the low 30’s to the mid 40’s in mpg. In case you’re wondering what that distance might be, it depends, but in winter I’d say it is another 30-60 miles.
My Kia Sorento PHEV, like any other PHEV, is designed to use gas sometimes. It is a requirement for keeping the engine in proper operating condition. As much as PHEV drivers might dislike this fact, or feel disappointed by it, it is the tradeoff we must accept for the flexibility, reassurance, and utility that having a gasoline engine can provide. It is worth remembering, and it is something I try to tell people who are either new to plug-in vehicles or who are interested in what they’re like, PHEVs will greatly reduce the amount of gas you use (if plugged in regularly and routinely), possibly by 90% or more (should you do about that much of your driving over distances that are within its all-electric range). But PHEVs will always need to use some gas, by design. Don’t let that deter you though, if your ambition is to get away from gasoline, or pollute less; PHEVs can get far better fuel efficiency than standard hybrids. In fact, if you are using the MPGe (or miles per gallon equivalent) ratings as a guide, some PHEVs are actually more efficient than EV’s.
What’s that you say, MPGe isn’t a fair comparison, or it’s because the EV weighs a lot more, etc. etc.? Well, those statements may or may not be true (but I tend to think they are truth-y), but compare the Rivian R1S all electric SUV at 69 MPGe to my Sorento PHEV at 79 MPGe as one example. This was one reason why I considered the Sorento PHEV in the first place, it was (potentially) about as energy thirsty as a much more expensive fully electric SUV. In my real world experience of driving the Sorento PHEV for a year plus though, so far I am a little bit under that 79MPGe figure, if I just go by the Kia’s display. The displays say I am a little over 68 MPGe so far, but I have used a tad over 100 gallons to drive over 8,600 miles, which means you could say I am getting about 86 mpg (though that ignores the electricity I used and isn’t a full measure of energy use as such). I have perhaps done a few more long distance drives in my first year of ownership though as I wanted to test my new Kia out on a variety of trips. Should I also start driving it for work commutes a little more often, which I can do without using gas, I am certain that the 79 MPGe rating is something I could achieve, depending.
At the end of the day, PHEVs are capable of delivering significant emissions reduction at a lower price point/lower use of materials while offering flexibility that EVs might lack, but only if those PHEVs are plugged in and driven in EV mode a majority of the time. This remains true even if/when the PHEVs must burn gasoline for cabin heat while they are within the range of their all electric mode and not using the gas engine for propulsion.
What do you think, readers? Are you thinking about getting a PHEV, or do you already own one? Have you had a different experience in winter driving efficiency? Please leave your comments and questions below.
Image courtesy of Justin Hart.
Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 15 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.