Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE -

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.

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