Extreme testing in the Valley of Death

| Environmental Testing

Kia Sportage in Mojave desert proving grounds
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Andy Pye reports on the intensive hot weather development tests taking place for the all-new Kia Sportage as part of an extreme and rigorous vehicle testing programme.

The all-new Sportage made its global debut at the 2015 Frankfurt International Motor Show in September, and will go on sale globally in the first quarter of 2016.

Now entering its fourth-generation, Kia’s all-new compact SUV is undergoing the final stages of its development, with engineers testing the Sportage in Death Valley – one of the hottest places on Earth, with temperatures rising as high as 56C in the summer months. A fleet of development test vehicles has been subjected to numerous durability and reliability tests, equivalent to a cumulative mileage of more than 5.5 million kilometres – approximately 137 circulations of the Earth around the equator, and a far greater distance than many motorists will cover in a lifetime of driving. For the Sportage’s hot weather test, particular focus has been placed on developing its heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Among the various individual hot weather testing methods, three gruelling tests are often employed by Kia’s vehicle test engineers, placing huge demand on the HVAC systems and the effects they have on engine and transmission cooling when used in the extreme heat.

The first of these tests is the uphill climb, in which the vehicle is soaked in the midday sun for an hour to bring the cabin temperature over 50C. The Sportage is then driven from sea level to almost 5000 feet elevation through the aptly-named Furnace Creek area of Death Valley, a steady climb over 27km at 100kph. The test is designed to ensure that the additional load placed on the engine has minimum impact on the car’s ability to cool itself and its occupants.

The second test, the stop-and-go drive, simulates typical conditions in a congested urban centre. Engineers drive at 40kph for 2min through Furnace Creek, before stopping and idling for another two minutes. The process is repeated several times and – again – is designed to put additional strain on the engine, transmission and HVAC systems and eliminate any possible flaws.

The final test, devised by Kia’s engineering teams, is a slow drive, which takes place at the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin – around 86m below sea level. After another one-hour heat soak, the vehicle is driven at 40kph for 30min at a time, allowing vehicle engineers to verify – and improve – the capacity of the HVAC system when there is a dramatically reduced level of airflow to the air conditioning condenser unit.

Mojave Desert – Kia’s California proving ground

Accelerated weathering equipment

In addition to the demands placed on the car by the extreme conditions of Death Valley, Kia also carries out a series of hot weather tests at the company’s own North American testing facility – the Mojave Proving Ground. Located deep within the Californian Mojave Desert, the Proving Ground was established in 2004. It is around 177 km from Los Angeles. The 17.4 sq.km centre carries out extensive on-road and off-road testing across numerous types of surface, and – in this notably hot, dry part of the world – the facility also enables development teams to put car materials and components through some of the most strenuous climatic conditions.

The Proving Ground is made up of 120km of paved and off-road routes, including a 10.3km high-speed oval, gravel off-road tracks, high-vibration road surfaces, brake test facilities and different gradients. Each of these enable engineers to evaluate and refine the ride, handling, brakes and NVH of prototype and production vehicles.

The Mojave site also houses a material weathering facility, where full cars and a variety of parts are exposed for a full year to the continuous UV radiation from the California sun’s intense rays. This exposure is accelerated through different testing equipment, ultimately ensuring that the various parts and components do not deteriorate under extreme heat, and remain intact throughout the whole life of a vehicle.

Andy Pye

Andy Pye

Andy Pye is a graduate of Cambridge University and has had a high profile career in the technical press as well as being a pioneer in web publishing.
Andy Pye

Latest posts by Andy Pye (see all)

About Andy Pye

Andy Pye is a graduate of Cambridge University and has had a high profile career in the technical press as well as being a pioneer in web publishing.

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