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Sorento PHEV Road Trip: Outstanding MPG In Winter, Too

Back in April, I took my first long road trip in our Kia Sorento plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and the first leg of that trip was the roughly 60 miles drive to my brother’s house in Olympia, Washington from our house in the Seattle suburbs. Today I just repeated that first leg of the trip to go and visit my brother, but it was done in vastly different conditions this time and I am intrigued by the efficiency figures I ended up with.

On our first trip in April, with our all season tires mounted and a full load of cargo (about 700 pounds in total) and in temperatures just below 60 F, we got just over 62 miles per gallon in combined electric only and hybrid drive modes. I manually switched between EV and HEV modes as I tend to do. I do this because I am fairly certain I can get a little bit better fuel efficiency by doing so when I more proactively engage the gas engine for uphill stretches or switch to EV mode for downhills, slower stretches, and other scenarios that might favor one mode or the other. This time, we set out in 34 degree weather, with our neighborhood streets covered in a thin, slick sheet of ice due to an overnight ice storm with Blizzak snow tires mounted, and a few hundred less pounds of humans and cargo on board (I’d estimate just a skosh over 500 pounds, all in). We will need to use the heat on this trip given the temps, and the roads are in bad shape, at least off the freeways, so I expect to be driving a little bit slower.

Here’s how things unfolded and a few things I noticed on the outbound trip. First, I had to creep down the hills surrounding my house to get to the freeway. Even with the snow tires on, this was a little bit nerve wracking because all the streets were iced over so I kept the Sorento in 2nd gear and under 20 MPH for the first mile of the trip. Once we got to the freeway though, it was pretty clear, though as I soon discovered we needed to increase following distance from vehicles because large chunks and sheets of ice were flying off of cars. One sheet hit us and the noise was so loud I thought we had blown a tire or something for a second! Once on the freeway, I drove mostly at 55-63 MPH for the 57 miles to my brother’s exit, but there were a few sections where I had to slow to 40 MPH due to traffic. There was a steady, heavily misting rain for about ⅓ of the drive, and the rest was either dry or lightly misting.

As I had before, I used EV mode for the first 7 or so miles of the trip (in order to have capacity to recapture charge from braking and coasting), then switched to HEV mode for the next 23 miles. At exactly 30 miles into the trip, I switched the Sorento PHEV back into EV mode to test a theory: with the engine completely warmed up from the last 23 miles of driving, I wanted to see how far/for how long I could keep getting heat from the engine without it turning back on. The answer was for about 8-9 minutes. I did the same test a little later in the drive and it only went for 1-2 minutes before turning the engine back on again but I think that was probably because the engine literally wasn’t as warm when I switched it back to EV mode. I think how long it would keep the engine off depends entirely on how cold it is outside; if it were 30 below zero, I can imagine that the period the engine remained off but still able to provide heat could have been shorter. Why am I mentioning this? Because I think that it could be a good way to actually increase the fuel efficiency of the Sorento PHEV, if toggled correctly. Basically, if one can drive in HEV mode for 10-20 minutes at times when the temperatures are low enough to need heat, and then switch the gas engine off for 5-10 mins by going back to EV mode, you can eke out a few more MPG. Of course, your mileage may vary, but I intend to keep testing this because so far, it seems to be working; I got 60.1 MPG EV and HEV combined on this trip, just 1 MPG less than I got in warmer temperatures on tires and in conditions with lower rolling resistance. That is nothing short of spectacular, all things considered.

In case you’re wondering, I did a total of about 31-32 miles in EV mode on the trip (so basically what the Sorento PHEV is rated for, though all but 3 miles of that was on the freeway), and the rest on HEV mode.

Do you have any questions or comments about driving a PHEV in winter conditions or the Sorento’s performance in particular? Please leave your questions or comments 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.