Kia Sorento PHEV Road Trip: San Juan Island Car Camping

First, some information on the destination, conditions and other details for those who might be curious about the details of my latest capability test of the Kia Sorento PHEV. We depart from suburban Seattle to San Juan Island in the Puget Sound for a weekend of camping and whale watching off Vancouver Island, British Columbia (BC). Late summer weather is pretty warm by Pacific Northwest standards, but it’s truly perfect with high temperatures in the upper 70s and nighttime lows in the upper 50s. Driving distance to our campsite is just over 100 miles (including a one hour ferry ride). My wife and I will sleep in the back of our Sorento. I bought an amazing 3 inch thick memory foam inflatable mattress exclusively for this purpose (it fits perfectly between the wheel wells with the middle and rearmost seats folded down). We stuff a few blankets between the captains chairs to close the gap between them and there’s plenty of room for me, at 6’1″ (185.4cm), to lie flat on my back without lifting my legs. legs or laying on my side. My wife is only 5’4″ so it’s practically lavish, for her. Our daughter and my sister-in-law are with us and will be sleeping outside, next to the Sorento, in a tent (this is a spacious rig for spending the night, but it is not this big!).

If you’re unfamiliar with the San Juan Islands, they’re a breathtakingly beautiful collection of small islands between massive Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia and Washington State. They epitomize the natural beauty and ruggedness of the Puget Sound region, where the region’s mountains and forests meet the sea. It’s a quiet, slower-paced haven roughly in the middle of the three largest regions metropolitan areas of this part of the Pacific Northwest: Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, as well as Seattle, WA.

We left in the early afternoon in 74 degree weather with sunny skies and lightly heavy traffic (for the Seattle area). Northbound on Interstate 405, I’m only occasionally able to drive at or slightly over the speed limit (60 mph) and can’t exceed 50 mph for about ⅔ of the way up. interstate 5, north of Seattle. I used about 6% battery the first few miles of the trip (to make room to capture load from coasting or braking) and switched to hybrid (HEV) mode after a few miles then manually switched between electric (EV) and HEV Modes in sections where traffic slows below 45 mph. 51 miles into our trip, the speed limit increases to 70 mph, and I can set the cruise control to stay at that speed (except for a few miles where the limit drops back down to 60 mph), until what we were leaving the freeway and heading west on a 55 mph state highway to Anacortes, WA where we will take the ferry to San Juan Island.

Kia Sorento PHEV with roof-mounted cargo box

A few miles before entering the long queue at the ferry terminal, after using 36% battery for about 12 miles out of the 92.5 miles traveled so far, the screen showed 38.4 mpg. I forgot to save it after switching back to EV mode for the last 5 miles of the trip through the town of Anacortes, which meant my actual combined mpg figure was a bit higher. Also note: in addition to the heavy load and degraded aerodynamics of the charging box, I run a “car fridge” on the 180W 12V socket in the rear of the vehicle, charging multiple devices and running the alternating current also; this is absolutely the worst range of EVs I’ve had all summer with an estimated range of 30 miles based on this stage one way, so far. Assuming I’m not using much of the hybrid battery to run the car fridge at the campsite or to charge appliances, I can confirm the EV range better in my follow-up article. I notice there are free 240v charging options on the island which I can try to use to recharge the battery while we enjoy a meal and drink at a local brewery. Otherwise, the last 10.5 miles of our trip from the ferry docks to our campsite is entirely in HEV mode (including about 5 minutes of idling in line to get off the ferry), and we only get 29 .7 mpg on the 25-45 mph two-lane roads get us there. The time spent idling certainly didn’t help our mpg.

Breaking up segments of the trip with multiple stops breaks the overall picture of our fuel efficiency, but at the end of a surprisingly long day (our ferry was delayed for a few hours due to a missing crew), our combined total stats were around 38 mpg. In my book, that’s good enough for 97 miles of highway driving with the weight we’re carrying and the aerodynamic drag of the cargo box. I certainly would have gotten better efficiency otherwise, but I still beat the efficiency of the more fuel-efficient HEV alternatives to our Sorento PHEV, namely the Toyota Highlander Hybrid or the Sorento (non-plug-in) Hybrid.

Have you ever been camping in the Sorento PHEV? Do you have any questions or comments about this part of my test? Please leave your questions or comments below and come back soon for part 2 of my camping review.

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, electric bicycle, and most recently, a Kia Sorento PHEV. He is also a SUP enthusiast, poet, photographer and wine lover. He enjoys taking long EV and PHEV trips to beautiful, serene places with the people he loves. Follow Justin on Twitter for daily news coverage of KIA EV.


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