Testing Kia Sorento PHEV Winter Driving Performance: The Road Trip Continues
As I described in my previous article, I have finally taken my first longer trip in my Sorento plug-in hybrid. My outbound results were excellent, but the return home was even better. I was able to get 45.2 mpg on the final leg of my trip (which was approximately 60 miles, see photo above). Note that I stopped roughly midway through the return leg, and technically I got 38.9 mpg for the first 47 miles of of the return trip which was mostly on 70mph freeway (see below).
And, for those that may wonder, after over 700 miles of driving my Sorento PHEV, my accumulated average mpg is 90.2 mpg. I suspect, but will have to wait until I get my smashed window replaced and can put in several more months of normal use, that 90 mpg is going to be close to my lifetime average for this vehicle. It represents about 70% of miles done in EV mode. In my previous plug-in hybrid (a Chevy Volt), I had a lifetime average of about 90% in EV mode, but that vehicle had a longer EV range and was used primarily for commuting to work. I will certainly use my Sorento PHEV similarly (but now have a shorter commute), though I plan to take more road trips in my Sorento.
I’ll mention here too that I have seen several people upset by an error Kia made in their owner’s manuals for the Kia Sorento PHEV re: the true size of the gas tank (which is only a little over 12 gallons) and the true range of the vehicle on a full tank + full charge, which the EPA estimates to be 460 miles. I am happy to report that this range, while certainly optimistic, is not entirely impossible to achieve. Here’s why I say that: I did not top off my tank when I fueled up before setting out (I let it stop at first cut off), I drove for about 10 miles in the less efficient Sport mode in order to test its performance, and while it wasn’t very cold out, it was less than ideal as far as temps go in terms of achieving maximum range. I drove 210 miles and still had 198 miles of gas only range showing on the dash (about 60% of a tank left). Had I put in a little extra fuel, skipped the Sport mode, and the temps been in the 60-70 degree range, I am sure I could have gotten a total range of 440 miles or so, which is pretty close. Anyway, I know many drivers aren’t going to like the thought of sticking close to the speed limit in order to achieve close to the maximum range, but that’s how it works for all vehicles, and especially larger, heavier, less aerodynamic SUVs and trucks. Also, I am sure that bitterly cold weather, more cargo weight, and certainly additional drag from rooftop mounted accessories or towed items would greatly diminish one’s efficiency and range, but again that’s true of any vehicle.
Speaking of bitterly cold, my testing conditions certainly were not and I am especially thankful for that (since that smashed out window would have made it much harder to be comfortable). But I did test the heat and I can say it was plentiful and kept me toasty warm despite the busted out window. Several people have complained about both the heat the Sorento PHEV puts out and the effectiveness of the heated seats as well. I have some thoughts and experience that may be of use to people trying to figure out how to better meet their expectations or who are just curious about what might be going on with the heating in the Sorento PHEV.
First, people’s perceptions are certainly an important factor. What is comfortable to me, what is hot, what is warm, may be different for the next person. Next, the thickness and material of the clothing we are wearing while driving, our respective sizes and weights, and the ambient temperatures we each are used to all affect our perceptions. Still, no one is going to argue when it’s -15 degrees outside, that’s really cold! I have heard, read about and witnessed dozens of instances in as many different models of hybrids of people saying their hybrids don’t provide adequate heat to feel comfortable. There is unquestionably truth behind these claims. Hybrid engines are intended to maximize efficiency, they are often smaller in displacement and designed to minimize the loss of energy to heat. A smaller block will cool off faster in extremely cold temperatures and be less able to retain heat given its smaller volume. One way manufacturers may overcome HVAC performance issues in extreme temperatures, is to include electric heating elements. Doing so of course increases the cost of the vehicle and means less of the stored energy in the battery will be used for propulsion (thus increasing the cost to “fuel” the vehicle too). For those that find their Sorento PHEV lacking in heat, switch it into HEV mode first, before turning on the heat, since only turning on the heat while in default EV + Eco mode will simply idle the engine and it will not get as warm as quickly, or even get as warm period, as when the vehicle is operating in HEV mode. If that still isn’t warm enough, try Sport mode for a time, as it revs the engine higher (and also slowly recharges the hybrid battery… about 1-2 miles of range per 10 miles of driving on this limited test). I can also report that the heated seats and steering wheel were satisfactory and took about 7 minutes to reach my desired temperature.
Finally, I’ll say that trying out the Sport mode, in addition to giving me an idea of how fast it might add range to the drive battery, proved something else to me: Sport mode definitely alleviates the slight hesitation I and others experience in some conditions when depressing the accelerator in the default Eco mode. Hopefully I’ll get my window fixed soon and can take my Sorento PHEV into the much colder mountainous areas in Western WA to continue my winter driving performance tests. But please, leave your comments and tell me what else you might want to see tested about this exceptional vehicle or Kia PHEVs, generally.
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.