With Leftlane's coverage of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit now complete, let's look at some of the big news.

Detroit in January rarely seems like a good place to be, but if you were in the Michigan city's Cobo Hall convention center earlier this week, the mood was nothing short of positive.

That stands in stark contrast to Leftlane's last few visits to Detroit during the second week of January for the annual North American International Auto Show, where glum automakers showed off some new and some warmed-over models on bleak stands.

This year, the lights were bright and the smiles big from nearly everyone.

Although show organizers chose to group all of the important announcements into one very long media day (we never saw daylight, having arrived before most Americans were awake and finally leaving the show during the BCS Championship game), there was no shortage of exciting new reveals.

Hometown heroes

General Motors took the wraps off of its new small Buick Verano, a 31-mpg four-door that slots in below the Buick Regal and rides on the same advanced architecture as the new Chevrolet Cruze. While the bowtie's offering gets a pair of low-displacement fours, the Verano offers GM's familiar 2.4-liter Ecotec four.

The Verano's style was mostly penned in China, where Buick is, oddly enough, a trend-setting brand. We like the mini-Regal look, although the curious "chrome eyes" tail lamp design screams Angry Birds to us. We're also miffed at the mediocre fuel economy - 31 mpg is a mere 1 mpg better than the larger Regal, but we'll reserve judgement until we get behind the wheel of one.

Chevrolet's new Sonic, meanwhile, features a remarkably upscale-feeling interior and a very sporty style. Shame about the name, which seems too gimmicky for what could be the most grown-up subcompact to hit the road.

At Ford, some of the big news was already spilled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But in addition to the Ford Focus Electric, the Blue Oval also showed off the U.S.-spec version of its C-Max, a five-door, Euro-bred minivan that will take on the Mazda5. Furthering Ford's European push was the concept version of its next-generation Escape, the Vertrek, which looks just like a SEMA-modified European-market Ford Kuga and leaves us wondering what Ford's U.S. designers are up to these days.

Chrysler showed off a fleet of Fiat 500s and it also finally debuted the Chrysler 300 sedan, which looks much more fluid and complete in person than it does in pictures. The redesigned Jeep Compass, on the other hand, actually manages to look better online, where it is easy to click your way to another page.

We also spotted former DaimlerChrysler czar Dieter Zetsche - Dr. Z - peeking his head inside a Jeep Grand Cherokee. We thought we overheard him mutter "Zis vas not zuppozed to turn out zis vell," but our German isn't very good.

On foreign ground

The Detroit show - much like the streets of the Motor City - isn't generally very welcoming to foreign automakers. Nissan and Infiniti stayed away, while recently liberated Saab set up camp across the street.

Mercedes-Benz made a presence, but the automaker kept its refreshed C-Class away from us on the day of the show, choosing instead to reveal it only at an invite-only event the night before. We took pictures and downed some light appetizers, all in the name of journalism.

And Porsche returned for the first time in several years, where it introduced a high-performance 918 RSR concept racer, a test bed that will undoubtedly eventually spawn an electrified 911.

BMW showed off its pricey but delicious-looking 1 Series M and Audi unveiled its new A6 and A6 Hybrid, which boast stunning interiors and look poised to finally make an impact in the midsize luxury sedan segment in this country.

Audi boss Volkswagen finally revealed its Passat replacement. After years of teasers that only called the car the NMS - or new midsize sedan - VW revealed that the new car will be called... wait for it... Passat.

It looks good in a conservative way, but it follows exactly the same cost-cutting, mass-market formula that knocked down the Volkswagen Jetta in our eyes. It looks to offer among the most premium interiors in its class, but it's just not quite the VW of yore. Cheap plastics, faux wood trim, hood props, gooseneck trunk hinges, no trunk lid lining and simple designs help cut costs - at the expense of an upmarket feel.

We're sure the Passat will sell well, even if most buyers end up with fairly thirsty five-cylinders, but it does little to ignite our enthusiast passions.

Asian invasion

Some of the biggest news out of the Detroit show this year came from Toyota. After a presentation from company chief Akio Toyoda, the automaker debuted its new, taller Prius v. Looking like the humpback of Notre Prius, v - for vendetta? - offers additional space but dings buyers on fuel economy and doesn't come with a third row of seats.

A smaller Prius hatchback is also on the way, probably set for a debut next November at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Hatchbacks were the big news at Hyundai, too, where the production Veloster bowed. It offers better-than-Honda CR-Z fuel economy without the added expense, weight and limitations of a hybrid powertrain. The CR-Z doesn't seem to be a hit, but maybe Hyundai has the goods.

Honda debuted very lightly-concepted versions of its next-generation Civic coupe and sedan. The concepts might look like the outgoing models, but Honda promises Hyundai Elantra-like 40 mpg ratings for most models and sharper dynamics. We like the recipe and we're optimistic on the ingredients.

Red state

A few years ago, a number of Chinese automakers showed cars in Detroit. Most - no, make that all - were miserable vehicles that had us wanting tetanus shots when we were in their proximity. This year, however, the Chinese contingent was whittled down to just one: BYD.

That stands for "Build Your Dreams" and has more to do with light bulbs and batteries than tighty-whiteys.

BYD's presentations - and its promises - have become more realistic and professional every year, but we're still not putting money on any of its products winding up for sale in a showroom near you in the next few years. Still, brand representatives told us that BYD is just two years away from bringing over its last-generation Lexus RX 350, err, uh, BYD S6 DM crossover. It promises incredible range, very little power and, apparently, no wheel well lining and an interior made from shiny rubberized cows that smell like turpentine.

Good news or just pomp and circumstance?

Detroit - and the rest of the auto industry - is hardly out of the doldrums just yet. Sales are still weak and even if they were way up last year, they were miserable in 2009.

Still, the upbeat mood was a refreshing change of pace, even if it might be masking reality. Stay tuned for more as we still have several major auto shows to go in this season.