DEATH VALLEY, NEXT STOP MOJAVE
Death Valley. It’s a desolate place that holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded, 57C in July, 1913.
Summer is drawing to a close in the US but it’s still stinking hot in the long narrow valley near the border of California and Nevada — 51C outside the Furnace Creek visitor centre. Everything is hot to touch — the petrol pump, the plastic paper towel dispenser, even the tap water.
This is where Kia comes to do its hot weather testing and we’re in the mid-sized Sportage SUV, due in Australia early next year — we’re the first journalists anywhere in the world to drive the car but we’re sworn to secrecy.
It’s barely recognisable in camouflage paint and wraps and is festooned with wires and instruments inside to take measurements. The Death Valley exercise was a curtain raiser to a drive at Kia’s Mojave Desert proving ground.
Launched in 1993, the stylish Sportage five-seat wagon is Kia’s largest selling model in Europe and the second largest in Australia behind the Cerato. It’s a big deal for Kia and the brand doesn’t want to get it wrong.
Death Valley is not red like our Outback, but has the same dry dusty feel, with low, sparse scrubby vegetation and occasional scrawny coyotes.
Hot-weather testing in part puts materials under stress, such as the steering wheel heat treatment (pictured left). It also checks the performance of the airconditioning under extreme loads. The goal is to reduce the cabin temperature to 22C-25C within 20 minutes of starting the engine and moving off.
The cars sit in the sun waiting for the cabin to reach the 50C starting point.
We wait in whatever shade we can find, chugging down bottle after bottle of water.
Our photographer has to wear gloves to stop from burning his fingers on the hot metal casing of his camera. The camera in the phone of a Canadian journalist has stopped working altogether.
On the engineers’ signal, we get in and close the doors quickly to keep the heat in, then await the OK to turn on the air (truth be told,it’s still cooler inside than out).
With the air set to full blast, we start the engine and move off, keeping our speed as close as possible to 100km/h.
The air blasting from the vents is bliss and we are asked every few minutes to rate our comfort level — on a scale from 1 to 10.
Supervising engineer Ron Murray also does cold weather testing in Minnesota near the Canadian border — where it gets down to -40C.