Bunker Talk: Let’s Chat About All The Stories We Didn’t Report On This Week

Joe has held down the fort while I was away tending to some very exciting business, but we should be getting back to our normally scheduled programming now. So with a bit of reduction in coverage this week, and if the recent comments section is any indication, we have a lot to talk about.

It's time for Bunker Talk!

This is a weekend open discussion post for the best commenting crew on the net, in which we can chat about all the stuff that went on this week that we didn't get to. In other words, literally an off-topic thread.

We can chat about the fact that a swarm of dicks took down a bomber squadron CO:

Or what about this terrifying video of one ferocious sea:

This premature bit of pomp and circumstance is a fairly awesome fail:

Even with all the crap bolted onto her deckhouse, USS Zumwalt still looks like it a movie prop from a high-budget futuristic military thriller:

Once again, this is an entirely open exercise, so let's get after it.

Welcome to Bunker Talk!

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

Russia Just Launched Five Objects Into Space. One Problem, There Were Supposed To Be Four

The Russian military says it successfully placed three classified communications satellites into orbit today, along with the upper stage of the rocket that put them there. But according to the U.S. military's Combined Space Operations Center, or CSpOC, a fifth object, possibly another, unannounced satellite, may have hitched a ride into space on the launch.

The Rokot/Briz-KM launch vehicle blasted off from Pad 3 at Site 133 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Western Russia at just before 5:30 PM local time on Nov. 30, 2018, according to RussianSpaceWeb.com. At approximately 7:12 PM, the three Rodnik communications satellites had deployed into their assigned orbits. Russia has named the trio of satellites Kosmos-2530, Kosmos-2531, and Kosmos-2532.

This would all be rather banal had the CSpoC, as well as the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), not recorded the launch slightly differently. Information on Space-Track.org, a U.S. government website that publicly releases data on space launches from the CSpoC and NORAD, listed Objects A through E as resulting from the launch from Plesetsk. This would include the three satellites and the upper stage, but the fifth object is unexplained.

It is possible that the upper stage simply fragmented into multiple pieces that were large enough for the U.S. military to track independently. Three of the objects – A through C – have essentially same perigee, the point in their orbit at which they are nearest to the earth. The other two objects – D and E – share a different general perigee.

The data regarding the Nov. 30, 2018 launch from Plesetsk Cosmodrome on Space-Track.org at the time of writing.

But there is also the distinct possibility that this could be yet another so-called "inspector satellite." More on that later, but we've actually seen almost exactly the same thing happen at least once before.

On May 23, 2014, another Rokot/Briz-KM launch vehicle put three Rodnik communications satellites into orbit. Again, the U.S. military tracked five objects, with Object E, in that case, turning out to be an inspector satellite known as Kosmos-2499. The perigees and other data for the five objects are extremely similar in both cases.

The five objects that the U.S. military tracked after Russia's launch of three Rodnik communications satellites on May 23, 2014. It is noteworthy that in this case the inspector satellite Kosmos-2499, also shared the same perigee as the upper stage.

If this new Object E turns out to be another inspector satellite, the Russians will have now launched at least five of these that we know about. Russia launched the first three – Kosmos-2491, Kosmos-2499, and Kosmos-2504 – between 2014 and 2015. In June 2017, the Russians put a fourth such satellite into orbit known as Kosmos-2519.

To make matters more confusing, that satellite subsequently deployed another one, Kosmos-2521 in August 2017. A third subsatellite, Kosmos-2523, subsequently appeared from this cluster two months later. These three small satellites are typically treated as a single system.

So, what is an inspector satellite? They ostensibly do just that, inspect other objects in space. From a benign perspective, this makes good sense, since it gives personnel on the ground a means of investigating damaged or malfunctioning objects in space remotely before deciding how best to proceed with repairs or replacement.

There have even been proposals to give these maneuverable satellites their own limited ability to perform repairs. The United States and China, as well as Russia, have all be developing these types of satellites.

The video below shows a concept the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been working on regarding an advanced inspector-type satellite called a Robotic Serving Vehicle (RSV).

However, as we at The War Zone have noted on multiple occasions in the past, these same orbital inspectors could double as orbital spies or weapons. The craft are, by definition, capable of precise maneuvering to get close to the object of interest, have cameras, and may have small manipulator arms to help with their work. This would just as easily allow them to gather intelligence on foreign satellites or possibly disable or destroy them. They might even carry their own electronic warfare suites or other systems to blind or jam their targets.

They might offer the Russians a way to locate top-secret spy satellites that certain countries, such as the United States, might not even acknowledge exist and that might be otherwise shielded from detection. We at The War Zone have previously explored the compelling information available that the U.S. government has been actively developing stealth satellites, or is at least very interested in the applicable technology, specifically to shield its space assets from potential terrestrial and space-based threats.

In addition, their diminutive size could make them hard to track, especially if they hid next to their target, lying in wait, or blended in with the extensive amount of "space junk" floating about the Earth's atmosphere. The ability for even smaller satellites to act as motherships for even tinier systems, as was apparently the case with Kosmos-2519, -2521, and -2523, could make it even harder to judge exactly what "inspector" capabilities an opponent may actually have in orbit. Inspector satellites have also generally been small enough for the Russians to include unannounced in other launches in the past.

The Kremlin has categorically denied that any of these satellites, which it calls "space apparatus inspectors," are weapons. Most recently, the Russians denounced concerns that Yleem Poblete, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, raised in August 2018 about the purpose of Kosmos-2519 and its associated sub-satellites as "unfounded, slanderous accusations based on suspicions." The Russian government, however, has not provided any hard evidence to support their insistence that the satellites are entirely non-threatening.

But it is also clear that the Russians have an active and multi-faceted anti-satellite weapons program. In September 2018, The War Zone was first to report on the emergence of a new, air-launched anti-satellite interceptor and a specially modified MiG-31 Foxhound fighter jet to carry it. Russia also has ground-based interceptors that could engage satellites and claims to be working on airborne laser systems that may be able to blind or damage the optics on spy and early-warning satellites.

A MiG-31, in the foreground, carries what appears to be an air-launched anti-satellite interceptor during a test flight in September 2018.

This makes perfect sense for the Kremlin. As such, the Russian military and intelligence agencies, which have far fewer satellites in orbit than the United States, have strong incentives to develop various means to curtail the significant American advantages in space-based early warning, intelligence gathering, navigation and weapons guidance, and communications during any potential future conflict. China, for similar reasons, has also been pursuing a robust anti-satellite capability.

The United States has woken up to its reliance on space-based capabilities and the growing threats to the support infrastructure, including satellites, which we have explored in detail in the past. Unfortunately, at least at present, addressing these issues has found itself wrapped up in defense budgeting and domestic politics, distracting from the real issues at hand.

On top of that, space-based weapons present unique challenges for the international community, especially since neither the United States nor Russia has so far been able to articulate the exact threshold for what would constitute a conflict in space. The U.S. government also opposed treaties that have been proposed so far to limit space-based weapons, arguing that the language is vague and unenforceable and the terms are unverifiable. Dual-use systems that have legitimate non-weapon functionality, such as inspector satellites, don't help efforts to try and firmly establish these definitions.

In the meantime, Russia doesn't appear to be slowing down the development and expansion of its anti-satellite capabilities. As part of that push, it may very well have just added to its constellation of possible "killer satellites."

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

2020 Kia Soul and Soul EV: Great Things Come in Small Packages

Year, Make, Model: 2020 Kia Soul & Soul EV

Topline: Making its debut at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, Kia's redesigned Soul aims to update their volume subcompact, maintaining a competitive edge without sacrificing what makes the Soul unique.

What's New: The 2020 Soul is slightly longer, resulting in an additional five cubic feet of cargo capacity. By utilizing Advanced High Strength Steel, Kia hopes that the more rigid structure is safer, too.

The interior has been designed to offer a "visceral musical experience," while the available 10.25-inch touchscreen and heads-up display keep the Soul on the cutting edge of infotainment. Performance & appearance models—the GT-Line and X-Line, respectively—add some additional excitement and personalization to the boxy subcompact.

There's also a host of Kia Drive Wise features available, such as lane keeping & lane change assist, forward collision assist, blind spot warning, smart cruise control, and high beam assist, among others.

The 2020 Soul is powered by either a 147 horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder or a 201-horsepower 1.6-liter gasoline direct injection turbo. The 2.0-liter will be backed up by either a six-speed manual or an "IVT" (Intelligently Variable Transmission); the 1.6-liter turbo will be available only with a seven-speed DCT. The Soul EV is powered by a 201 horsepower electric motor with an impressive 291 pound-feet of torque.

The Soul EV's battery has been similarly upgraded, to a liquid-cooled lithium-ion unit good for 64 kWh. While Kia hasn't completed testing, but driving range should be over 200 miles, assuming it's the same battery found in the Kia Nero concept unveiled at CES.

Quotable: "Since the Kia Soul first arrived on the scene in 2009, it has established a very real and remarkable connection with music," read the press release. "This continues to be a core attribute of the Soul's persona and the volume has been turned up to 11 with a new mood lighting system that tailors the interior ambiance according to a variety of selectable “moods”: Hey! Yo!, Party Time, Traveling, Romance, Midnight City, Cafe."

What You Need to Know: While growing slightly larger and more upmarket (check out that Range Rover-esque front fascia!), the Kia Soul looks to offer more of the same to subcompact buyers—and that's a good thing.

In addition to value and utility, the new Soul seems to put at least a passing emphasis on driving enjoyment—at least, surprisingly enough, in the Soul EV model. Small cars now are a far cry from the penalty boxes they were a few short decades ago.

Available Harmon-Kardon premium audio, performance options, and a variety of available styling themes lead us to believe that, despite the popularity of SUVs and crossovers, there's space in the market for a premium small car. At least Kia seems to agree with us.

Natalie Decker Joins DGR-Crosley For 2019 NASCAR Truck Series Debut

On Friday, DGR-Crosley announced that Natalie Decker will make her NASCAR Truck Series debut in Daytona, according to NBC Sports.

The team, which is co-owned by former Cup Series driver David Gilliland has signed the 21-year-old Eagle River, Wisconsin native as part of its 2019 driver development program. As part of the program, Decker will compete in select Truck Series races in combination with ARCA and K&N Pro Series races.

“I’m really excited to be making the step up to the trucks, especially with DGR-Crosley,” said Decker in a statement released by the team. “Making the transition to trucks is going to help me progress my career and build my skill set. I think it’s very important that I’ll have the same team around me whichever series I’m running and having David (Gilliland) there to help coach me and give me advice.”

Natalie Decker has competed in the ARCA Series the past two seasons. In 2018, Decker finished seventh in the points while scoring two top-five and nine top-10 finishes. Decker also holds the title of becoming just the fourth woman to win a pole at Daytona International Speedway.

“I’m excited to be adding Natalie to our 2019 driver roster at DGR-Crosley,” said Gilliland in a team release. “We have really competitive cars and a lot of talented drivers lined up for next year, so I’m excited to see what we can do together.”

Decker’s full schedule for 2019 along with her car numbers, crew chiefs and sponsors for her three rides will be announced at a later date.

The 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Will Cost More Than $115,000 in the UK

The 700-horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk will be available for sale in the UK in early 2019, but folks looking to get the over-the-top Jeep will have to fork out quite a bit of money, according to Autocar. How much, exactly? £89,999, or about $115,697, mate.

The reason for the stratospheric price is the mandatory 20-percent new car sales tax applied to the vehicle overseas. So while a fully loaded Trackhawk could top out around $106,000 in the U.S., it starts at $115,697 in the UK and could climb up to $138,000

Like the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk that you can buy at your Jeep dealership starting at $86,000, the UK-spec Trackhawk is powered by the 6.2-liter HEMI V-8 with a 2.4-liter supercharger mounted on top, resulting in a power output of 700 horsepower and 640 pound-feet of torque. The Hellcat enables the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk to sprint to 62 miles per hour from a standstill in just 3.7 seconds and reaches maximum velocity at 180 mph.

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk 6.2-liter HEMI V-8 with a 2.4-liter supercharger

Power from the SRT tuned engine is channeled to all four wheels via a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission with five driving modes. Other performance parts in the Trackhawk consists of Bilstein active damping suspension for improved handling and Brembo brakes to stop the Grand Cherokee in a short and safe distance.

Spotting a standard Jeep Grand Cherokee in the UK is rare. But, if you ever need to spot the difference between the Trackhawk and its less powerful siblings, just look for the sculpted hood with functional vents, body-colored wheel arches, quad exhaust tips, and 20-inch wheels.

Inside, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk features leather seats with embossed Trackhawk logos, a 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, a 7.0-inch digital information display screen between the tachometer and the speedometer, and an 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Interior (UK Spec)

So, if you are interested in this supercharged SUV from the new country, you better hurry because FCA will only export 20 units of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk across the Atlantic in 2019.

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk (UK Spec.) Right Front Three Quarters 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk (UK Spec) Right Rear Three Quarters

U.S. Is Betting Big On Naval Mine Warfare With These New Sub-Launched and Air-Dropped Types

With naval mines seeing a renaissance of sorts in recent years, the U.S. Navy has been work to modernizing its mine-hunting and sweeping capabilities. At the same time, the service is also developing its own new and improved air-dropped and submarine-launched mines, which could be important weapons for itself and the U.S. Air Force to have in any future high-end conflicts against a major adversary with a large conventional navy.

U.S. Navy Captain Danielle George, the service’s Major Program Manager for Mine Warfare, gave an overview of the systems in development now and projects that have just recently begun at the National Defense Industry Association’s (NDIA) annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference on Oct. 16, 2018. NDIA just posted her presentation online earlier this week.

At present, the Navy fields the Quickstrike family of air-dropped naval mines and the Submarine-Launched Mobile Mine (SLMM). The U.S. Air Force also employs Quickstrike types on various aircraft, but the program is Navy-managed.

The Quickstrike family includes 500-, 1,000-, and 2,000-pound class types, known as the Mk 62, Mk 63, and Mk 64 respectively. Theese converted from Mk 80-series high-explosive bombs and feature a fuzing system that detonates the weapon when it detects an appropriate acoustic, seismic, or pressure signatures from a passing vessel. A fourth type, Mk 65, is another 2,000-pound class Quickstrike mine, but is based on an actual purpose-built mine casing rather than an existing bomb.

An airmen prepared to load a Mk 65 Quickstrike mine onto a B-1 bomber during a drill.

For more than four years now, the Navy has been pursuing two related upgrade programs, known as Quickstrike-J and Quickstrike-ER, for the Mk 80-series members of the Quickstrike family. The first of these simply combines the mine with a GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) guidance package, while the latter adds a pop-out wing kit.

These are game-changing upgrades that allow aircraft to precisely employ the mines from any altitude and, in the case of the -ER types, loft them at targets up to 40 miles away. This speeds up the process of laying the minefields overall and dramatically reduces the vulnerability to the aircraft carrying the weapons, which would otherwise have to fly low-and-slow to perform the mission. You can read about both of these mines in more detail in a recent profile of them here at The War Zone.

In addition to these upgraded Quickstrikes, the Navy is developing a new air-dropped mine called Hammerhead. This will serve as a replacement for the Mk 60 Encapsulated Torpedo, or CAPTOR, which the service retired years ago.

A very different type of weapon from the Quickstrike mines, CAPTOR consisted of a Mk 46 lightweight torpedo inside a launch canister. After hitting the water, an anchor would deploy, holding it in place at depths up to 2,000 feet.

Airmen prepare to load a Mk 60 CAPTOR onto a B-52G bomber during an exercise in 1989.

The weapon had a Reliable Acoustic Path (RAP) passive sonar targeting system that could discriminate between hostile submarines and surface vessels and friendly submarines that might also be operating in the area. Once it detected an enemy target, it would fire the torpedo, which would then use its own guidance package to home in on the opponent. The Mk 67 SLMM, which is still in service, is of the basic design, but gets shot out of a submarine’s torpedo tube.

Unlike the shallow-water Quickstrike mines, CAPTOR did not require the target vessel to pass directly overhead. Its deep-water capability also made it more effective against enemy submarines and difficult for opponents to detect in general.

The Navy’s Hammerhead program plans to leverage the older CAPTOR’s basic casing and air-drop components, such as the lugs to attach it to an aircraft. However, the new weapons will have improved targeting sensors, electronics, and software, along with better batteries to power the upgraded systems.

The mine will also have a modular design and use open-architecture software with an eye toward adding in new and improved detection and other capabilities in the future. Depending on the improvements made to the batteries in Hammerhead, the weapon could potentially lie in wait even longer than the CAPTOR, which could remain active for months.

A graphic showing Hammerhead's internal configuration and what components it will leverage from the earlier Mk 60 CAPTOR

Work on the Hammerhead only began in 2018. The Navy expects to issue a classified request for information to defense contractors interested in building the weapons in 2019, Captain George’s briefing explained.

It’s not clear whether submarines will be able to launch Hammerhead, as well, at which point it could serve as a replacement for the Mk 67 SLMM. The Navy had initially planned to retire these existing submarine-launched mines in 2012, but U.S. Navy Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, interceded personally to save that capability.

Separately, the Navy is developing a new mine that both submarines and future large unmanned undersea vehicles will be able to employ, known as the Clandestine Delivered Mine (CDM).

A low-quality image of one of the CDM prototypes that accompanied Captain George's breifing.

Very little information appears publicly available on this particular system, development of which began in 2016. Prototypes are in testing now, according to Captain George’s briefing.

In its budget request for the 2018 Fiscal Year, the Navy asked for $5.8 million specifically to work on developing an unmanned underwater vehicle that could carry two CDMs at once. That same request also outlined plans to investigate integrating the Mk 67 SLMM into an underwater drone.

A full end-to-end test of the system is scheduled to occur in 2019. The Navy hopes to begin taking delivery of the first production mines in 2020.

The Navy is already set to gain a major boost in capability with the Quickstrike-J and -ER. Being able to rapidly emplace complex minefields over a wide area can only prompt an opponent to reconsider their plan of action and make them leery of operating in certain areas. It also requires them to dedicate additional resources to searching for and clearing the hazards, which can be a time-consuming and dangerous process under the best of conditions.

A Quickstrike-ER mine under the wing of a B-52H bomber.

Since these Quickstrike mines don't require a low-altitude release, stealthy aircraft will also be able to penetrate deeper into hostile territory and lay them down in rivers and canals. Add in submarines or unmanned undersea vehicles, or submarine motherships carrying underwater drones, able to discreetly seed mines in certain areas, potentially well away from a main theater of operations, and the threat to enemy naval movements and logistics chains would be even more pronounced.

The Hammerhead will likely have a major anti-submarine role just like CAPTOR did previously. This comes at a time when the Navy, in particular, is sounding the alarm about expanding submarine threats from potential "great power" adversaries, such as Russia and China. Advanced non-nuclear submarine technology is steadily proliferating, too, meaning that smaller states will increasingly be able to field more capable types.

A graphic from the US Navy's 2004 roadmap for unmanned undersea vehicles discussing possible payloads for underwater drones, including mines.

Altogether, the Navy's forthcoming naval mine arsenal will be extremely valuable in constrained naval environments, such as the Baltic Sea, where minefields could effectively block access entirely to an opposing force. The mines will be just as important in expeditionary and distributed operations across large maritime environments, such as in the Pacific Ocean, where the known presence or threat of mines could slow down a hostile force or help channel them in specific directions.

Naval mines also have defensive applications and being able to rapidly emplace them could provide an additional layer of defense around strategic naval bases and ports, as well as established or temporary outposts on small islands, during a crisis. In the latter case, they could be useful in deterring immediate enemy amphibious counterattacks and give ground units some extra breathing room to continue establishing a beachhead for follow-on forces.

With American aircraft able to rapidly create shallow-water minefields and the threat of submarines and underwater drones covertly emplacing threats in deeper waters or behind the front lines, an opponent might find themselves wary of just leaving port when it matters most. The Navy's new and improved stockpile will help ensure the service maintains these important capabilities to deny enemies freedom of movement and force them to reconsider their plans of attack.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

2019 Nissan Murano: Quirky Crossover Receives New Safety Tech and Mild Facelift

Year Make Model: 2019 Nissan Murano

Topline: A slight update to the exterior and interior of the Nissan Murano brings with it the Nissan Safety Shield 360 safety tech suite.

2019 Nissan Murano 2019 Nissan Murano 2019 Nissan Murano

What’s New: The untrained eye might not notice, but the Nissan Murano has a new look for 2019. The changes in its off-beat styling include a more pronounced “V-motion” grille in front, new LED lighting in front and back, new wheels available in 18- or 20-inch sizes, and three new exterior colors.

The Murano's cabin gets a little nicer with the new availability of semi-aniline leather seats with diamond-quilted inserts giving it a bit of an Infiniti vibe. There are also three new trim finishes making the details of the Murano a little more customizable.

What drivers will likely enjoy the most from the Murano’s 2019 update is the new availability of the Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite of driver assistance tech. This includes front and rear automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, and high-beam assist. Also available is Nissan’s rear door alert, traffic sign recognition, and intelligent lane intervention.

2019 Nissan Murano 2019 Nissan Murano 2019 Nissan Murano

Quotable: "Los Angeles is where it all began for Nissan in the U.S., so we're proud to support this always vibrant auto show with the first showings of these two new flagship models, Maxima and Murano," said Dan Mohnke, senior vice president of Nissan North America's sales and marketing operations. "Both vehicles embody the vision for the future that we call Nissan Intelligent Mobility, which provides technology in ways that move people to a better world."

What You Need to Know: There are a lot of vanilla crossovers on the market, but the Murano stands out as one of the more unconventionally styled offerings in this segment. Its 2019 update keeps it fresh, retaining all of the quirkiness that its drivers enjoy while getting a lot safer and a little more comfortable.

The midsize crossover segment is more competitive than ever and these upgrades give the Murano a fighting chance against its more conventional, higher-volume rivals.

Porsche Says 918 Hybrid Successor Must Beat 6:30 Nurburgring Time

At the 2018 L.A. Auto Show, Porsche's head of motorsport Frank-Steffen Walliser revealed a bit of especially promising news about the brand's hypercar future.

During an interview with Top Gear, Walliser spooned out a few details on a followup to the company's 918 Hybrid that may or may not be currently in the works. The executive was adamant about achieving one goal with this new car: a lap time around the 13-mile Nurburgring Nordschleife in under six and a half minutes. The 918 was able to run the course in 6:57, meaning Porsche engineers would have to find a way to shave at least 27 seconds off of the new car's time.

Walliser told Top Gear, "It must achieve a 6:30 at the Nürburgring. I don’t care about the drivetrain, 6:30 is the target. Sports cars are defined by their performance, then we have to look how to achieve it. An electric car in 6:30 is quite a challenge.”

His statement seems to imply that Porsche has ruled out the possibility of a fully electric drivetrain for its next hypercar. The vehicle could exclusively use a combustion engine, like the 991 GT2 RS that rounded the 'Ring in 6:47., though it's likely that it will utilize hybrid technology similar to that of the 919 Hybrid EVO race car, which finished the course in a blistering 5:19, the fastest lap time for any vehicle, ever.

The Porsche exec also mentioned that finding the right racing crew is imperative when chasing down the fastest possible lap time. "The main part is preparation for safety. Nothing just happens—we need a very experienced driver, a very good team taking care of every detail, and we have to be careful."

Whatever form the new Porsche hypercar takes, there's little doubt that it will be able to meet Walliser's goal, especially with the advancements in aerodynamics that have been made since the 918's release in 2013.

2019 Nissan Maxima: One of the Final Surviving Sedans Gets Updated

Year Make Model: 2019 Nissan Maxima

Topline: Nissan is keeping its big sedan alive with a 2019 refresh to its aesthetics and technology.

2019 Nissan Maxima 2019 Nissan Maxima 2019 Nissan Maxima

What’s New: The Nissan Maxima’s 2019 update might be easy to miss for the casual observer, but it’s enough to keep the brand's flagship sedan fresh as the eighth-generation model lives on. Its exterior changes include a facelifted front end with a revised “V-motion” grille and a new rear fascia with updated taillights as well as quad-tip exhaust finishers. Newly available on the inside is diamond-quilted Rakuda Tan semi-aniline seats among other updated materials.

Like several other 2019 Nissans, the updated Maxima is now available with the Nissan Safety Shield 360 safety tech suite. This includes blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, front and rear automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and high-beam assist. Also available is Nissan’s rear door alert, traffic sign recognition, and intelligent lane intervention.

2019 Nissan Maxima 2019 Nissan Maxima 2019 Nissan Maxima

Quotable: "Los Angeles is where it all began for Nissan in the U.S., so we're proud to support this always vibrant auto show with the first showings of these two new flagship models, Maxima and Murano," said Dan Mohnke, senior vice president of Nissan North America's sales and marketing operations. "Both vehicles embody the vision for the future that we call Nissan Intelligent Mobility, which provides technology in ways that move people to a better world."

What You Need to Know: With the Ford Taurus and Chevy Impala now on death row, the Nissan Maxima is about to be in a very small segment of full-size, front-wheel drive, non-luxury sedans. The only other players in that field are the Toyota Avalon and Kia Cadenza (you forgot the Cadenza existed, didn’t you?). Now that the Maxima is about to have the least competition it’s ever had, we’ll see if that translates into more market share and more sales of this pseudo-luxury/pseudo-sport sedan.

Chase Elliott Is NASCAR’s New Most Popular Driver

Chase Elliott has replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr. as NASCAR’s most beloved athlete. Elliott was named the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series Most Popular Driver during the series awards banquet Thursday night at The Wynn Las Vegas, becoming the only driver other than Earnhardt Jr. to claim the honor in over 15 years..

Chase Elliott attends the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards banquet at The Wynn Las Vegas, where he was named 2018 Most Popular Driver, on Nov. 29, 2018.

“It definitely is an honor,” Elliott said in accepting the award, presented by Earnhardt Jr. “As it got a little closer, I’m glad it worked out like it did. Somebody asked me earlier about it, what would it mean? It’s always hard to say what it would mean when you don’t know. Just seeing the fire at the race track and how fired up people were to see me and my team do good throughout the season and all the hats and t-shirts, that to me is probably the biggest piece of it.”

Earnhardt Jr. was voted Most Popular Driver in the Cup Series by online fan vote for 15 consecutive seasons between 2003 and 2017, but he retired from NASCAR Cup Series competition at the end of last year. Elliott’s assumption of the Most Popular mantle keeps the title among the Elliott and Earnhardt families for a span of 28 years with Darrell Waltrip being the last outsider to win the award in 1990.

Chase Elliott’s father, 1988 Cup Series champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, holds the record of Most Popular Driver awards in NASCAR’s top series with 16, including 10 straight between 1991 and 2000. Earnhardt Jr.’s father, seven-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, was named Most Popular posthumously in 2001. Bill Elliott won the award one last time in 2002 before removing himself from consideration for the yearly honor.

Chase Elliott receives a congratulatory hug from father Bill Elliott after his first-career win at Watkins Glen International on Aug. 5, 2018.

The Most Popular Driver in each of NASCAR’s other two national series, the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series, were announced separately on Tuesday evening, and both have ties to the Earnhardt Jr.-owned JR Motorsports race team. Elliott Sadler was named the Xfinity Series Most Popular Driver for the third consecutive year and the fourth time overall after finishing his career in 2018, keeping the award with JR Motorsports for the seventh year running. Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Noah Gragson was named 2018 Camping World Truck Series Most Popular Driver.