Enthusiastic Moods and Upscale Models Dominate Day Two of New York Auto Show

The CEOs of Mazda and Subaru made the trek to New York from Japan with enthusiasm that helped the second day of the New York Auto Show look a lot more like the glitzy ones of days gone by.

With both of those companies, along with upstart brand Kia presenting new cars, the mood in New York was lighter. Austere? Sure. But that let the cars be the stars.

Subaru had already released pictures of its new and larger Legacy sedan, but today was the real life debut. Large headlights and a clean profile speak volumes about Subaru's intended upscale image. But the real surprise was the unveiling of the all-new Outback wagon. Arguably the most important model for Subaru's all-weather, backpacking, rock climbing image, the Outback is touted as more capable than ever. Both the Outback and Legacy were developed specifically for the U.S. market, and with good reason: Subaru was the only brand to post sales growth in America in 2008.

Click here for photos of the show.

Across the floor, Kia's spokespeople had plenty to be excited about, as their aim of turning the Korean budget brand into a full-on Scion fighter is moving forward. Kia's new Soul hatchback has been universally lauded by the press, and sales started in March.

Kia took advantage of the New York show to launch a brand new compact sports coupe, the Forte Koup (no royalties to the former surgeon general). The little Koup has appealing sheet-metal and loads of standard safety features, as well as a spate of optional gadgets. There will be a choice of engines and transmissions, offering a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder and a more sporting 173 horsepower 2.4 liter 4-cylinder too. Going on sale in late summer with a price between $14,000 and $18,000, Kia's Forte Koup should have no problem making inroads with young enthusiasts.

Americans in search of upscale SUVs certainly had plenty of new options from New York's first day of car launches, and the list grew even more on day two. Mercedes showed off its first hybrid, the ML450, which offers a powerful V6 and a fuel economy rating of 21 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway. Audi has taken an alternative "alternative energy" direction with its competitor product, the 7-passenger Q7. Instead of hybrid power, Audi opted for a clean turbodiesel V6 with 406 lb-ft of torque. It is estimated to deliver 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on the highway — all yours for a $52,000 base price, announced today.

Hyundai rounded out the day by reminding us that auto shows have always been about wild concept cars. Their "Nuvis" crossover concept defies description; you'll just have to see the pictures.